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BASIC BLACK WORKS FOR HER

A fashion expert links a bricks-and-mortar store with her online shop.

A county that once was home mainly to the Wal-Mart crowd is about to get more upscale.

Sydney Alexander, a New Tampa woman who once managed the contemporary sportswear department at Nieman Marcus, is bringing her online store to a shop in the SuperTarget shopping center on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Wesley Chapel. It will be called Basic Black Collection and will sit between the Juice Zone and Ho Wok restaurant. She describes the store, which is set to open next month, as "trendy but classic."

"People want something a little more upscale," said Alexander, 40. "They're traveling to WestShore, to International Plaza. They want someone who can customize and cater to them."

Alexander, a Massachusetts native, always had an eye for fashion. Like many little girls, she wore her mother's red lipstick and heels. But she followed through by attending New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.

She also developed a business background by spending years managing her family's McDonald's franchise.

She dreamed of someday owning her own clothing store.

But living in the skiing mecca of Vail, Colo., where Alexander recently spent six years, made that difficult. Expenses were simply too high. She did some research and set her sights on low-cost, sunny Florida.

In the beginning, she saved money scrupulously, shifted debts around on credit cards and networked like crazy. She ticks off a number of names: Networking for Your Success, North East Tampa Women in Business, Free Networking International, Women of Wesley Chapel, and Women N Charge, which gave her a grant to start her online store.

The store, basicblackcollection.com, carries an array of high end designers including Joe Bush, Anatopik, Dillon Rogers, and singer David Culiner's Love This Life line, which has been seen on a number of celebrities, including Madonna. Alexander's slogan: Comfort, karma, fashion.

Alexander says she goes only for clothes made of the softest fabrics and that can be dressed up or down.

"My clients want things that will be able to go from day to night," she said. She also stocks only a handful of the same item, because her fashion-conscious clientele "don't want to see themselves everywhere in town."

A few items include a line made from vintage Levis. The face of Marilyn Monroe stares back from a skirt made from what used to be a pair of jeans.

Other items include chenille sweaters, robes and slippers, occasion dresses, belts and even jewelry Alexander and her mother design and make. They are now selling a special bracelet to benefit the American Cancer Society during Relay For Life season.

The average customer age is 35 to 40, though ages range from 28 to 60. Some are stay-at-home moms, but most are career women. Her prices range from $22 for T-shirts to $250 for embroidered jeans.

For now, she takes orders online or meets clients at home or the gym, "whatever works for them."

Personal trainer Jodi Labban, 39, mother of two, says she enjoys how Alexander caters to individuals.

"She really gets to know her clients," said Labban, who has been shopping with Alexander since she started her online business. She said Alexander will buy items with a specific customer in mind and then urges them to try it on. Labban said Alexander has sold her things that she would have never thought would look good on her but did.

"She's got a great eye for fashion and a great eye for taste," she said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or(813) 909-4604.

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