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New boutique opens downtown

Paola Barral opened Cose Belle Boutique at 1002 Caroline downtown Fredericksburg. The store sells women's fashions from Europe. / Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi


PEOPLE ALWAYS ASK cancer researcher Paola Barral where she buys her clothes.

The Italian native, who now lives in Fredericksburg, normally shops for dresses, pants and accessories when she’s in Europe.

Fresh linen and cotton dresses with sunhats on display at Cose Belle Boutique. ------ 4 cols color

“I’m very passionate about fashion,” said Barral, an avid reader of fashion magazines who has friends who work in the fashion field.

So when she grew tired of making the long daily commute to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to research ways to improve cancer treatments, she decided to turn her passion into a business.

Barral recently opened Cose Belle Boutique—the name is Italian for “beautiful things”—at 1002 Caroline St. The women’s clothing shop is in the part of Caroline Street Café where customers used to place their orders. That business now focuses on catering and occupies the second floor of the building.

Cose Belle, which will have its grand opening Saturday, features clothing and accessories by emerging European designers whose comfortable, contemporary lines can be worn by all ages, depending on how they’re accessorized. Because they aren’t big names like Gucci and Prada, they offer quality at a more affordable price, she said.

Sun hats and purses match in fabric and are also from Europe.

Currently, Barral carries spring dresses that can be layered over organza skirts by Roshanara, a Parisian designer; feminine linen dresses by N & Willow, an English designer whose clothes are made in Italy; and vintage-inspired floral print dresses with matching fabric bags by Gabrielle Parker, a designer from the south of England.

One of the antique pieces she uses as display cases holds delicate crystal earrings with matching necklaces and bracelets. Another holds pearl jewelry perfect for a bride. The shop also carries hats and scarves.

Barral visited showrooms in Paris, Milan and London to find what she wanted, and ordered directly from the designers. She’s planning to attend trade shows in London and Milan soon, and by fall hopes to add Italian knitwear, a modern line from Poland for mature women and a vintage-inspired line from England that any age can wear.

“I’m trying to discover hidden treasures in Europe,” she said.

Running a boutique is a far cry from Barral’s original career. She did cancer research first in Italy, then England and New York City because the opportunities were greater. When her boss in New York moved to Richmond to work at VCU three years ago, she followed.

Barral eventually met and married William Colligan, who works in Washington. The couple decided to move to Fredericksburg because it was halfway between their jobs, but Barral began to tire of having both a stressful job and a stressful commute.

“I was leaving early in the morning and getting back late,” she said. “Sometimes you need a change.”

Barral decided to open a unique women’s clothing boutique downtown that offered women the type of clothing that she loves but that isn’t available in this area.

“I think Fredericksburg has charm,” she said. “There are very good restaurants around here. There’s good pizza. Kybecca has good wine. It’s charming.”

Barral and her husband spotted the “for lease” sign on the window of 1002 Caroline St. and could see its potential despite an exterior that needed sprucing up. She especially liked the exposed brick on one interior wall.

The couple leased the space in March, applied for and received a façade improvement matching grant through the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority, and started to turn the former café into a boutique shop by themselves.

The task proved more difficult than they’d expected. The floor, for example, needed to be replaced because there were holes where the café’s counter had been. Barral asked Luigi Castiglia, owner of Castiglia’s Italian Restaurant at 324 William St., if he knew someone who could help.

He recommended carpenter Brian Green, who helped do such things as pour a new concrete floor, divide the space to create a storeroom, build display shelves and create two dressing rooms by installing custom-made curtain rods in two corners of the shop. Red velvet curtains loop back on hooks when the dressing rooms aren’t in use to give the shop a more spacious feel.

Barral also maintains that impression by not displaying all the sizes and colors of the garments that she has in stock. She also rotates them periodically to keep the store looking fresh and interesting.

For now, Cose Belle is open from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, except on First Fridays, when it will be open until 9 p.m. It will be closed on Monday and open until 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“That’s for people who work,” said Barral who, in a nod to her former career, will hold fundraisers for cancer research. “I could never go to shops during the week.”

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407