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Cozbi Cabrera’s Carroll Gardens boutique is filled with her hand-stitched cloth dolls, exquisite women’s clothing and coo-worthy kids togs - and the story behind the store is quite a yarn.

The artist began her professional life at Sony Music, rising to the position of design director after 15 years, but she decided that her heart was in sewing cloth dolls, their clothing and elaborate hairstyles from scratch.

After laboring in this whimsical field for seven years, the adventurous designer felt she had made a name for herself in the art world and was ready to branch out, she told GO Brooklyn. Recently Cabrera unveiled her Cozbi line of women’s and children’s clothing, which she also designs and sews by hand. And in May 2004, the doll artist-turned-fashion designer opened the doors to her Court Street boutique, Cozbi, where the public can finally appreciate first-hand the whimsical dolls and clothes that had only been available previously via her Web site.

This first generation, Honduran-American has opened a store not unlike the others fancy boutiques on Smith Street, except that inside Cozbi, there is an inspired artist crafting dolls and clothes by hand. Her studio is in the back of the store, where customers can watch the 42-year-old manipulating needle and thread.

Anyone with a career and steady paycheck can only begin to imagine the risk it must have taken to start a new venture from the ground up.

But Cabrera, who stands 5-feet, 6-inches with a petite frame, says, "Everything in life is a gamble, but if you do not immerse yourself in it, then you will never know what you could have been capable of."

If Cabrera had not decided to take the plunge into the unknown, she would not have been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, in the "Remember Your Spirit" episode; or been featured in "Country Living" magazine; or on two episodes of the "Martha Stewart" show.

Cozbi says that although she grew up in Brownsville and now lives in Lefferts Gardens, she chose to open her store in Carroll Gardens because she was looking for a street with a "sense of neighborhood."

"[A neighborhood] filled with culture, history and rich diversity is hard to find," she explained.

Cabrera’s "muñecas" - the Spanish word for "dolls" - are displayed in the front of her boutique. These distinctive cloth dolls are about 14-inches in height and wear intricate lace dresses and bodices.

"The tradition of cloth dolls is quite old," explained Cabrera. "But mine are not specific to an era. I’m not trying to replicate a specific time period, but I do try to use vintage fabrics, some of which are coffee or tea-dyed which is an age-old technique."

Winfrey has collected six "muñecas," according to Cabrera.

In her boutique, a colorful quilt featuring the alphabet serves as a backdrop for an 18th-century, hand-painted Dutch canopy bed. The entire wooden bed frame serves as a clever display for quilted baby bibs appliqued with animals’ faces.

The racks hold women’s clothes (in small, medium and large, up to size 14, but additional sizes can be custom-ordered, assures Cabrera) while the mahogany chest in the back displays hanger after hanger of boys’ and girls’ clothing, with sizes ranging from infant to 6.

And each and every one of these pieces reflects the intricate details wrought by an artist’s hand: visible stitches, embroidery, unexpected trimming and color combinations.

Although all of her clothes are designed and sewn to be worn today, the influence of Hollywood glamour is evident in her navy-blue cashmere woman’s coat, priced at $525, that resembles something the famous French model of the ’50s, Bettina, would have worn, or the embroidered, burgundy-and-cream tunic befitting the epitome of the ’40s style, Lauren Bacall.

Cabrera started off sewing all of the clothes herself, she said, but now has an assistant who helps her around the boutique and studio. She continues to sew the first sample, which her assistant uses as a template, but as for her "muñecas," these she sews herself.

"I see a picture in my mind, and then I create it with my hands," Cabrera says.

Her "muñecas" range in price from $175 to $1200 and can take anywhere from two weeks to a year to complete. Each of her "muñecas" are collector’s items - one-of-a-kind, handmade toys. Among the fans of her dolls are Harry and Julie Belafonte.

Cabrera takes great pride in making sure the beads of the headdresses or coils of yarn hair are up to her standards and the vintage fabric "perfectly embodies the feeling I am going for," she says. She doesn’t even stop to look at them until she is done, Cabrera says, and if she is not happy with them, she either "continues until she is or just doesn’t put it out."

The integrity of Cabrera’s work, and the pieces’ rare, handcrafted, heirloom-quality, makes these clothes and dolls gifts that are certain to be cherished for generations.

 

Cozbi is located at 530 Court St. between Huntington and West Ninth Streets in Carroll Gardens. Price range of her dolls: $175-$1200 (and up based on detail). Cozbi is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 7 pm. The store is closed on Sundays and Mondays. For more information, call (718) 246-7960 or visit the Web site at www.cozbi.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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