Twelve years after debuting her eponymous fine jewelry collection, Los Angeles–based designer Grace Lee is opening her first-ever retail store.
The branded boutique will open later this month in Venice, Calif., in a newly renovated space on upscale retail row Rose Avenue. Its 1,000 square feet will be split evenly between office and retail space.
The brand, which specializes in gold-and-diamond designs that are sophisticated but always on trend, already has a covetable list of retail partners that includes ABC Carpet & Home, Goop, Twist, Steven Alan, Net-a-Porter, and Clare V.
But Lee says she’s looking forward to showcasing her collection, which is expansive for an indie brand, in its entirety in the new store: “I have 10-plus different collections…and we still create from all of these collections,” she says. “That’s a lot of SKUs for any wholesale retailer to carry. We constantly had emails asking where clients could find something from this or that past collection. Now clients can see everything in one place.”
The boutique also provides the designer with space to work with clients on custom engagement rings, which Lee says is a “huge” part of her business. She adds, “I wanted a space where clients could come in and see my work before deciding if a custom or collection piece would be a fit for them. A retail space of our own will allow us to connect with our clients on an intimate level. We want to have private shopping events, trunk shows, and also be a source to connect our brides to other wedding specialists.”
Lee personally designed the store’s layout, built-ins, and display areas, and says she considers the design of the retail space an extension of the brand and its aesthetics.
Grace Lee’s design studio was formerly in downtown L.A., and Lee says it attracted lots of out-of-towners, nearly all of whom had Venice on their travel itinerary. “I would ask where they are staying and what plans they had while in L.A. Many of them stayed in Venice or had at least one touch point in Venice, whether to shop, eat, or go to the beach.”
That fact played into her decision to open in the beachside community. “Also, I like the eclectic mix of retail and residential on Rose Avenue,” she says. “We are close to the major shopping streets of Abbott Kinney and Main Street, but Rose is less commercial, which is what I wanted.”
The store has been in the works for roughly two years, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lee said she and her team were deep into its renovations. “I thought, What am I doing?” she recalls. “I’m halfway into building out a retail store when the world seems to be caving in.”
She remembers the impact of seeing major retailers, including Barneys New York, shutter for good, and thinking, “How am I going to make it?”
But she and her team soldiered on with the store, hampered by delays that slowed its opening (Lee had planned to debut the shop this past summer). Ultimately, she says, “I learned to be patient.”
Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 mandates, paired with Lee’s personal focus on shopper and employee safety, means the store will initially be appointment only. Consumers are able to make an appointment on the brand’s website.
Lee notes, “We want to ensure there is ample time between clients to clean and prepare for the next client.” Coincidentally, the brand’s team had always planned to facilitate experiences for shoppers “where it feels like you have the store and staff all to yourself.” In the short term, that will be an experience every client gets: “We are intentionally creating a personalized retail experience, so, in a way, the pandemic does not affect that goal.”
When the store is allowed more shopper capacity, the brand will host events such as trunk shows for other retail brands, “like my friend Jeana Sohn, who has a clothing line, and my friend Heather Taylor, who has a home linens line,” and happenings for brides-to-be that feature wedding planners, caterers, florists, and dress designers.
Top: Fine jewelry designer Grace Lee (all photos courtesy of Grace Lee)
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