Phyllis Curington Brown, owner of The Prairie Dove, a perennially popular Idyllwild ladies’ boutique, creates what is beautiful and has done so in many forms and iterations.
She has a nuanced and sophisticated perspective, having flown internationally as a flight attendant for TWA for many years and having graduated first in her class from Le Cordon Bleu, Institut d’Arts Culinaires (cooking school), in Paris, France.
Brown is a longtime Idyllwild resident with a business history spanning both fine-apparel boutiques and culinary arts and management.
“My parents owned Soboba Hot Springs in San Jacinto in the ’70s but came to Idyllwild after they sold it,” she said. “They came because they thought it was so beautiful here. I visited and decided I wanted to raise my daughter Jenny [Kirchner] in this small and beautiful community.” Brown was born in Long Beach, grew up in Northridge and lived in New York City for many years.
In 1989, she and her mother opened O’Sullivan’s Restaurant (presently Jo’An’s Restaurant and Bar). Brown managed it for more than seven years until the family sold it in 1996.
Then, attracted by the idea and the romance, Brown did what many with an artistic bent and disposition do. She went to Paris to attend Cordon Bleu. “I thought, I have to do something, and I loved it,” she said. Brown said she lived the Parisian lifestyle — had an apartment, walked to cooking school, and enjoyed the art and cafes that are quintessentially French. “I also studied wine as well as cooking,” she recalled. “I liked putting together a creative menu and fashioning a beautiful tablescape — making the dining experience graceful and beautiful, with taste and presentation from a bygone era.”
It is the dream of many to experience the style and sophistication that is uniquely Parisian. Brown said it definitely influenced her taste in fashion.
“After Cordon Bleu, when I returned to Idyllwild, my intention had been to open a French restaurant here,” she said. “But I could not find a space.”
Instead, using her eye for style and color and her appreciation for beauty, Brown opened her first boutique in The Fort, starting small in a small space. When her current location on North Circle became available, she jumped. “It used to be Kathy’s Pastries,” said Brown. “My mother, Jenny and I would always dine on this
patio in front of the shop. This was the place I really had wanted to have as a restaurant but an intervening owner had removed all the kitchen equipment and had made it into a retail shop.
“The look here at Prairie Dove has evolved over 20 years. I call it whimsical, artistic, playful, comfortable and fashion forward. Sometimes I’m ahead of trends. I bring in things that wind up being trendy two years later.”
Brown said she attends Market Week in Los Angeles every three months, staying two or three days to attend shows of fashion lines and to shop for Prairie Dove.
“Something will catch my eye and I’ll go into a show I’ve never attended before,” she related. “I’m always looking for something to excite the ladies.”
Her shop is colorful with touches of whimsy in how things are displayed. “My display philosophy is almost like painting a picture,” she said. “It’s like entertaining, creating an attractive and appealing experience. I use Jenny’s Steiff collection (Teddy bears and stuffed animals) and antique dolls in building displays,” she said. “It’s romantic, fun and playful — it’s me!”
Brown also is a mainstay of the Idyllwild Master Chorale, having first joined the chorale after auditioning for the summer musical “Nunsense.” Actually, she didn’t intend to audition for the musical. She just accompanied Jenny who was there to take pictures for the Town Crier. “They asked me to sing, I did and I got the part,” said Brown.
Of all she does, grounded in the love of beauty, what is a keystone of her life is her spiritual practice. “I found the Church of Religious Science, took classes and went all the way through ministerial training to become a practitioner. It’s what I did in my spare time,” she said as she smiled.
“This Idyllwild is our beautiful island. There needs to be more sharing of the beauty we have here.”