While many New York City boutiques stock their shelves with this season's "It" pieces, Chelsea's Raffaele E. Paula goes beyond just plain luxury and limited editions. Abigail Lopez, owner and manager of the year-old boutique, carries only one of each exclusive item.
"I treat the pieces like they are works of art," said Lopez, a 38-year-old former actress.
That means carrying the most novel women's accessories: a rainbow of umbrellas with intricately woven handles and matching hats, white suede belts with studs, exotic lizard skin and wooden cuffs and Lucite lifesaver bangles.
Lopez is buyer, merchandiser, creative director, visual and architectural display director and customer educator. Her current collection consists of pieces by 26 designers from around the world, including Paris, Milan, Crete, London and Venice. She said the store generated first-year sales of $150,000.
Raffaele E. Paula is reminiscent of an art gallery; each product is placed to evoke "fine arts, a sense of color, a sense of texture, a sense of how things work together, how they harmonize….It has to have movement," Lopez said.
Oversize baby blue, amber and red Lucite rings are scattered throughout the store, each one with a different set of stones and crystal decorating the center. Long beaded necklaces accompany the multistrand turquoise, black and silver chokers. Delicate gold earrings dangle next to a striking pearl and gold matching lariat necklace. The floors are porcelain, imported from Spain, and the dynamic window displays are created by architects.
Handbags are hung across the wall, outlined by a row of neon rectangular clutches. Above them are lustful, exotic leather bags and satchels. Lopez, explaining the qualities of one piece in her collection, said, "This bag doesn't have two handles to sit on the shoulder, it has one…and it is perfectly balanced. It is a complete and utter art of balance and leather working and craftsmanship. Ellena [the designer known by one name] puts a Tibetan good luck charm in each one."
Lopez is dedicated to the designers she carries in her store and travels to each artist's country to meet them. "To me, accessories have their own life," she said. "I don't think of them as products; I think of them as small stories that are adding to someone's life."Despite the exclusivity of Raffaele E. Paula accessories, the prices can range from $35 for a pair of silver earrings from Venice to $5,000 for a leather corset belt made by Paul Seville of Dublin. Jewelry is often displayed alongside art and cultural history books from the designer's homeland, helping a potential customer gain knowledge about how items were made and by whom.
"I would love [customers] to feel that they have something that helps express who they are and that I was part of their experience," said Lopez. "I am selling an experience."
Her ambitions include having a larger book selection, more designers from undiscovered corners of the world and creating a men's accessories department.
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