Meet mother and daughter Kiki Frayard and Katie Culbert, the trendsetting duo behind Lafayette, La.-based Kiki
The hottest jeweler in all of Acadiana—the French-speaking region of Louisiana centered on the city of Lafayette—came to jewelry rather serendipitously. It was 2003 and Kathryn “Kiki” Frayard, the creative director of a local ad agency, was merely helping a friend while indulging her passion for accessories.
The friend owned a fashion store in Lafayette called Molli and “hit a rough patch after 9/11,” says Frayard. “We thought, Why don’t I take a bit of space and do accessories?”
In her 500-square-foot corner, Frayard sold little luxuries that appealed to her sensibilities: accessories, housewares, soap. “Customers would say, ‘It’s like a mini Fred Segal!’?” she recalls.
Frayard enlisted her daughter, Katie (Culbert is her married name), then pursuing a finance career in San Diego, to buy handbags at the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles. “I told her, ‘Just pick out what you like,’?” Frayard recalls.
Mother and daughter were having so much fun shopping together that they conspired to open their own jewelry and accessories boutique in New Orleans with Culbert at the helm. “The month I decided to move back was when Katrina hit New Orleans,” Culbert says. “I’d already scheduled movers, so instead of moving to New Orleans, I moved back to Lafayette, which I never, ever thought I’d do. It turned into a blessing.”
Jewelry on Kiki: Piaget Polo watch, circa 1980; 18k gold bangles by Erica Courtney, Alexis Bittar Lucite bangles; Erica Courtney initial ring, Temple St. Clair diamond stack rings, Temple St. Clair mixed sapphire eternity band; Temple St. Clair amulet and chain; Stephanie Albertson white topaz drop earrings. Jewelry on Katie: Arabesque rose gold peach quartz drop earrings by Pomellato; Temple St. Clair evil eye necklace, diamond chain by Erica Courtney, Pomellato rose gold link chain and Arabesque pendant
When Kiki Frayard and Katie Culbert opened Kiki in Lafayette, La., in 2006, they “didn’t realize at the time that it was a different concept,” Frayard says.
When Culbert returned to her hometown, she discovered a once-sleepy community on the brink of a cultural and economic revitalization. In 2006, after a few months of working at her mom’s retail corner at Molli, she and Frayard decided to open their own retail store in the Village of River Ranch, a burgeoning retail and residential development located south of the Vermilion River, in an area that used to be farmland.
Frayard and Culbert inaugurated the new 1,900-square-foot space with the addition of their first fine jewelry line, Brevard, an 18k gold collection from Venice Beach, Calif. While the merchandise was disparate, the aesthetic was not. From candles by Diptyque to fragrances by Bond No. 9 to clutches by Anya Hindmarch, the pieces all served as totems of a chic, modern lifestyle.
The boutique was such a hit that the duo opened a second Kiki location in Baton Rouge in 2007. The next seismic shift came in November 2011, when the furniture shop next door closed. Mother and daughter snapped it up, tore down the wall, and added apparel to Kiki’s repertoire, expanding to a spacious 4,900-square-foot showroom.
“There were jewelry stores in town, but there wasn’t a push to showcase a designer and tell their story,” says Frayard. “We were doing that, not even consciously.”
The unwitting trendsetters grew their jewelry selection just as organically. “I find my merchandise by looking at magazines, going to New York a lot, looking and falling in love,” Frayard says.
Today, the store stocks about 14 fine jewelry designers, including Temple St. Clair, Me&Ro, and Erica Courtney, and about eight on the fashion side, Alexis Bittar chief among them.
“When we add a new designer, we ask, ‘How does it fit into the mix?’?” Frayard says. “Aesthetically, I want everything to work together.
“The top of my range is about $12,000 to $20,000,” she continues. “I sold a piece for $65,000—once. The average price is $3,000 to $5,000.”
The selection at Kiki, perfectly suited to a self-purchasing woman, informs the essence of the store’s own brand, epitomized by Kiki’s signature color: a sophisticated pink that’s both strong and feminine.
“Branding—I’m crazy about it,” Frayard says. “It’s really important to make the customer experience nice. I remember how great I felt buying that big handbag at Bergdorf Goodman and then going to the Plaza [Hotel] afterwards. How do you duplicate that here?”
For starters, Kiki, the store, has a singular personality, which is at once quirky and elegant. Take the retro toys cheekily placed on showcases and around the checkout area: a redheaded Barbie-esque figure dressed like a ’60s-era stewardess, for example.
In less capable hands, the items could cross the line into kitsch. At Kiki, they imbue the space with a spirit of playfulness that finds its best expression in a corner of the store that brims with children’s toys and books. “It was originally going to be a dressing room but we had to be careful about shoplifters, so it was a lost room,” Frayard says. “Then Katie said, ‘Why don’t you bring all my old toys in?’ I collect trolls, old crazy toys—I love toys. This summer we made it into Camp Kiki.”
Clients are besotted with the boutique’s upscale yet accessible vibe. Culbert says a large portion of their customers live in River Ranch—“They drive up in golf carts and run in in their workout clothes,” she says—but the store has a loyal following across Acadiana.
“We have nurses and schoolteachers who just want a really nice piece of jewelry, and we make them feel great about it,” Frayard says.
Thanks to a robust e-commerce website, shopkikionline.com, Frayard and Culbert are drawing clients from across the country. In mid-October, the store Instagrammed a photo of a $900 Sydney Evan bracelet. “A girl in Florida saw it and bought it,” Frayard says. “Anybody that’s not doing social media on a daily basis is missing the boat.”
As 2014 gets under way, the multicategory approach that seemed so cutting-edge when Kiki opened in 2006 still sets the business apart—and Culbert, like her mother, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Even if the jewelry is the most prominent thing, you can browse through scarves and try on a jacket and buy a candle,” she says. “It keeps people coming back.”
“I see us as a jewelry store first,” Culbert concludes. “But obviously not your typical jewelry store.”