Here’s How You Throw an Opening Party

In late July, Marie Helene Morrow, the owner of Puerto Rico’s phenomenally successful Reinhold Jewelers, sent me an intriguing message on Facebook:

“We are opening a new store in the fall and the only watch is Shinola. Fell in love in Basel! Would love it if you could come to the opening November 1. You are the first one I have told so don’t say anything yet!”

Part two of her message was even more tantalizing:

“Another secret: It’s a man’s jewelry and gift and accessory store—everything from candlesticks to letter openers to cufflinks to journals and a card table where they can relax, play chess and have a drink! 🙂 Your watch will be the only woman’s piece if available!”

To be a quasi-guest of honor at a party for a new men’s boutique from one of the most successful retailers I know? Marie Helene didn’t have to ask me twice. I bought a ticket to San Juan and counted the days ’til the first of November. I’d been to the city once before, over Thanksgiving 1995, at the tail end of a three-month backpacking trip through Central and South America, and had high hopes that my return visit would be the luxury corollary to my long-ago budget experience.

I was not disappointed. Marie Helene’s assistant, Maria, arranged for me to stay at La Concha, a Renaissance resort in the affluent beachside neighborhood of Condado, just east of Old San Juan. I arrived from New York on the afternoon of Halloween and worked from the balcony of my sweet corner room. If I peered out from the balcony’s edge, I could see the inviting blue-green waves of the Caribbean.

A room with a view, indeed! 

That night, I ate dinner at El Convento, a historic hotel in the heart of Old San Juan, where I discovered the bartender knew the owners of Lares, my favorite Mexican restaurant in L.A. (how I love those moments when I am reminded of the world’s smallness). I then returned to La Concha, where a happening Halloween party was just getting started. As I sat at the bar, costume-less, a friendly face appeared before me: Jeff Prine, a longtime jewelry and watch writer from New York City, was helping Marie Helene to merchandise her new men’s store, called Kiyume (Swahili for “male” or “manly”). He and I spent the next couple hours serving up peanut gallery critiques of the night’s good, bad, and ugly revelers. (The bartender dressed as Ponch, the sexy highway patrolman from the ’70s drama CHiPs, was—hands down—my favorite.)

For Friday night’s festivities, I made sure to arrive at Plaza Las Américas, the largest mall in the Caribbean, in time to see Marie Helene and her husband, David, cut the ribbon on the new 650-square-foot Kiyume store before a well-heeled crowd of clients and local scenesters. Marie Helene later told me she and David had waited five years for the retail space to come available: The one-time pen shop is situated immediately next door to Reinhold’s flagship location and, conveniently, across the way from Brooks Brothers and Florsheim. The architects William Herbst and Maria del Carmen Bobonis did an incredible job with the format.

 

David and Marie Helene Morrow at the Kiyume opening party. Photo courtesy of Kiyume.

The party began at 6:30 p.m.; until that point, a curtain obscured the space. After killing time in the mall (it took me all of five minutes to buy a pair of shoes), I wandered back to find the boutique exposed as the crowd swelled in anticipation of the ribbon-cutting. A temporary patio, complete with wooden tables and chairs and a candlelit ambience, had been set up—all of it inviting and gorgeous. A Shinola bike, painted a beguiling shade of green, was parked in the window. (I just learned that it was sold almost instantly: “The client insisted on taking it immediately and pedaled away to the Condado,” says Marie Helene.)

Kiyume, in the calm before the storm.

A bar, complete with all the requisite instruments—martini shakers, glassware, bottles of liquor—took up a portion of the boutique’s back wall. Shelves stocked with books, photo frames, and candles filled out the other side. In one corner, a shoeshine chair, custom made by a craftsman in Georgia (David’s idea) sat empty, reflecting the calm before the storm (it soon would be continually filled by back-to-back “customers,” as the ebullient shoeshine guy gave complimentary polishes).

 

I snapped this photo of the shoeshine guy from outside the windows. The store was this packed all night long.

Speaking to the men who’d gathered around the entrance to watch David cut the ritual ribbon, Marie Helene made a declaration: “You’ve been underserved,” she said. “You have shoes, shirts, belts—but you don’t have a clubhouse!”

Marie Helene Morrow and the staff of Kiyume, a friendly, well-dressed, and efficient crew (they make most of their sales on iPads!). Photo courtesy of Kiyume.

Kiyume is well on its way to being just that. With an über-tasteful, well-edited selection of men’s fineries—from a $10 deck of Waku playing cards in a stylish black-on-black presentation to a unique pair of gem-set sunglasses hand-carved in white ebony wood by Brooklyn sculptor Adam Mugavero, for about $3,000—the merchandise at the store is united by the Kiyume tagline: “Inspired by men. For inspired men.”

“The emphasis is on lifestyle,” Jeff told me as we admired the unique pieces in the showcases: Jonathan Adler salt and pepper shakers, objets d’art made of graphite, leather goods, duffel bags, coffee table books, grilling accessories, and a bevy of Shinola products, from watches to shoe creams. (Indeed, the Shinola case boasted one version of The Gomelsky, which quickly sold to a local socialite to whom I was introduced; the watch looked great on her!)

Despite the store’s high-profile connection to Shinola, Kiyume is “not about brand names,” Jeff explained. “It’s more like a gentleman’s den. It has his favorite books, his favorite photos, his watch winder. He may think he doesn’t like jewelry, but there’s no way he wouldn’t like it here.”

Aaaaaamen. The goods weren’t aimed at buyers of my persuasion, but that didn’t stop me from coveting them. The jewelry—one-of-a-kind cufflinks, leather cord bracelets, chunky silver rings and chains—was just the start of it. There was a Puerto Rican designer’s cool line of bags made from recycled tires as well as wine openers and grilling skewers with wooden handles beautifully hand-carved by an Idaho artist.

But the runaway success of the party had more going for it than just the stylish goods. As soon as the ribbon was cut, a stream of people filled the boutique and kept it buzzing for nearly three hours. At one point, a queue of people waited to get in. The guests included a number of local socialites in form-fitting black dresses, ViewPoint founder Jim DeMattei, Orit (she only goes by her first name) and Jason Cohen from The O Group (the NYC-based branding agency that consulted on Kiyume), and Marie Helene’s daughter Regan, who’d flown in from Atlanta for the evening.

David Morrow, Mickey Ateyeh, Marie Helene Morrow, Orit, and Jason Cohen. Photo courtesy of Kiyume.

Waiters circulated trays of pinkish-red Ketel One cocktails and platters of giant shrimp cocktails, while a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall played an endless stream of—what else?— sports coverage. Groovy Latin-inspired beats provided by two musicians set up outside the Reinhold store contributed to the convivial ambience.

In deference to the notion that if the party wasn’t tweeted about or Facebooked, it may as well have never happened, the Kiyume opening featured an innovative social media component: A Southern California-based company called Social Foto Bar coordinated a cool campaign in which every time a guest tweeted or Instagrammed a photo using the hashtag #kiyumepuertorico, the image was sent to a printing station set up in the corner of the Reinhold store and hung on a board. Guests were invited to take their photos home as mementos.

From my perspective, the evening went off without a hitch—a good sign that a one-stop shop for men with enough sense to trust the Morrows’ good taste is poised for a successful run. Marie Helene and David are so confident in the concept that they are planning to open more stores in 2014—in Miami, Dallas, Beverly Hills.

“I feel I’m the forerunner of a trend,” she says. “I hope I am. The more the merrier.”