Jewels and tattoos are her dual addictions
New York City, Amagansett, N.Y., Santa Monica, Calif.
Lori Leven’s career as a thoroughly unconventional retailer began in 1996, when she debuted New York Adorned, a hybrid fine jewelry store/tattoo shop, in Manhattan’s East Village. Her passion for under-the-radar jewels inspired Love Adorned, a now-beloved 5-year-old boutique anchored by a selection of eclectic, upscale jewelry in Manhattan’s NoLita neighborhood. The shop stocks striking (and generally underexposed) brands including Communion by Joy, Chad Ypon, Ruth Tomlinson, and James Colarusso. There are also rare treasures Leven finds on her extensive travels—from luxurious hand-woven throws and vintage switchblades to Japanese hair ties and colored kilt pins. (The store’s Instagram tagline is apropos: “Channeling my collecting addictions to my clients’ benefit.”) A Love Adorned boutique in Amagansett, N.Y., soon followed, and this past summer, Leven ventured west—debuting a store on Main Street in Santa Monica, Calif. “Really, what I care about most is being surrounded by beautiful people, beautiful things, and things that make me happy,” Leven says. “And I think because I put what I love in the stores, people feel that authenticity.”
Love Adorned is such a cool concept—what inspired it?
When I just had New York Adorned, we had the jewelry store in around 400 square feet of space and it was always crowded. I’m a big traveler and I’ve spent so much time in Southeast Asia. I’m also an old-gold collector. So I would go to all these different dealers and be moving through India and Thailand, and I’d be like, “If I only had the space, I’d carry this or that.” By the time I had the space on Elizabeth Street [the first Love Adorned store], I knew exactly how I wanted to diversify.
Why do you think your unique retail concepts work?
One of the problems today in retail is that it’s easy to open a store, but they all look alike. People spend hours looking at Pinterest and Instagram so they can copy a look that’s also used in the store down the street. Then, as a shopper, you go in and out of stores and wonder why they all look the same.
What’s different about your Santa Monica store?
I feel like a lot of people are creating stores around a kind of vintage look. The main inspiration for the Santa Monica store was “invisible.” We created cases that are clear Plexiglas—even the bottoms—and we poured a white epoxy floor. So you put the jewelry in, and it looks like it’s floating.
Do you think a Love Adorned–type store could be successful outside of an urban area?
I think a Love Adorned could be successful in any town or city that I was in love with. Each store that I have, I buy a little bit differently for. When I’m buying for the Hamptons, I’m thinking about the sea and people needing hostess gifts. In New York I’m buying for the winter. Really, I dream about living in Santa Fe. My best friend grew up in Santa Fe, and I talk with her all the time about what it’s going to be like when I open my store in Santa Fe.
What attracts you to certain jewelry lines?
At New York Adorned, my main objective was to support up-and-coming artists. And I feel like a lot of the designers we carried were pretty unknown people and have grown to be famous, like Elizabeth Street and Polly Wales. When we start to carry a creative designer like Polly Wales, it’s so exciting. I feel like so many of the designers that are starting out now really should stay narrow in their vision. Don’t make a triangle-shaped ring—there are enough in the world. Live your dream, not someone else’s. I’m looking for original voices. And if you don’t have the resources to get your stuff out there, I will help you.
Photograph by Peter Chin