Even in retirement, Ruth Shaw's vaunted taste works

Editor's note: One in a series of occasional features on prominent local residents and the possessions they treasure.

Ruth Shaw was a revolutionary in Baltimore women's fashion when she opened here eponymous boutique.

She targeted sportswear by the greatest designers of the time. It wasn't unusual to find frocks from Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana on the racks of her Cross Keys shop. Running such an establishment required her to travel all over the world, viewing collections and meeting with designers — she maintained an apartment in New York City to allow her to be closer to the latest fashions.

Her store was such a novelty that when she first opened, developer Jim Rouse visited, looked around and remarked that her business would "never last." Countless customers later, the boutique is set to celebrate its 40th anniversary in September.

Though she no longer owns the business — she sold it to longtime employee Ray Mitchener in 2008 — reminders of the boutique are found throughout her home in a retirement complex in Hunt Valley. Many of the items reflect that same refined taste that influenced the shopping habits of Baltimore's fashion elite.

"For me, all these pieces are special," she said. "I don't have things that I don't like."

Now, the 85-year-old Shaw's days are spent enjoying life with a rescue poodle, Haddie, and a West Highland terrier, Flossie. She goes to the dog park daily, sometimes catches up with friends during trips to New York and rarely wakes up early — she's a night owl.

"I don't have any plans," she said. "I sort of play it as it goes."

She doesn't miss her days running the store. Nor does she sit around reminiscing about all of her accomplishments. She's quick to tell you that the most important thing in her life are her two dogs. She doesn't trust people who don't like animals. And she's never at a loss for words or opinions. (Don't get her started on her disdain for opera.)

While Shaw prepared for a coming move to the same Cross Keys neighborhood where her store remains, she had a chance to reflect on her favorite things.

"These are things that I've had forever," she said. "These are things I found in traveling. I walked by a window and said 'I had to have that.' Everything has a story."


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