Byline: ALICE WOO / ALEXANDRA BELLAK
NEW YORK — Denise Caruso wears two hats. She is the owner and operator of Couture Cafe, a five-month-old multiline accessories showroom at 431 Fifth Ave., and she is the designer of the hat line it carries.
Caruso got started in millinery almost by accident. After graduating from the University of Texas with a business degree, she moved to New York to study clothing design at Parsons. While there, she took a hat design class to fill a vacant spot in her schedule. Instead of just passing time, she fell in love with millenery, and she decided to study it at FIT.
Today, three years later, she’s designing hats for Todd Oldham’s and Anna Sui’s shows. “Runway shows allow me to do creative things that department stores would never go for,” she says.
Other lines at Couture Cafe include Regina B.’s costume jewelry, Lena Fiore’s sculptured-look jewelry and Kimberly Sole’s handpainted gloves, which are decorated with inventive designs inspired by the likes of Picasso. Jewelry prices average about $15, while Caruso’s hats average about $30.
DOING IT ALL
NEW YORK — Aurora Lopez has her hands full. The artist agent has just helped Sarah Schwartz launch a fragrance at Barneys New York, finished a successful trunk show with jewelry designer Beth Orduna and is redeveloping a line of clothing with Tom Smith of The Smiths clothing fame. After working in the accessories business for five years in Los Angeles, Aurora left her native California to brave the hustle-bustle of New York City. “I realized that 80 percent of my business was based on the East Coast, and I could be more fruitful in my business venture here,” she says. Now, after about a year here, Lopez represents about 15 artists out of her showroom, Talavera, at 50 West 29th St. She deals primarily with jewelry designers, as well as a glass blower, a perfume designer, a clothing designer and Vivienne Westwood accessories. Some of her up-and-coming artists include Carol Workinger, who is inspired by Etruscan art and works primarily in green gold and sterling silver; Jessica Rosen, a jewelry designer, formerly of the store Artwear, who produces earrings and necklaces of antique crystal, gold mesh and pearls; Debbie Fisher, who makes clean, ethnic-inspired jewelry pieces out of jade and coral, and Luisa Cevese, a textile designer who now makes scarves, totes and housewares out of recycled fabrics. Their work can be found at Barneys New York, Takashimaya and Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Retail prices range from $50 for a silver ring to $300 for a tote bag and $1,500 for a gold necklace.
A gifted jewelry designer in her own right, Lopez says, “I look for talented, unknown artists who are not in it for the commercial aspect, but for the craft and creativity, and I try to develop their lines for a high-end market.”
NEW YORK — Focus Paris, an accessories showroom at 17 East 37th St. here, opened about six months ago, bringing Parisian style to the Big Apple. Everything in the Focus line, which is mostly handbags but also includes belts, scarves and jewelry, is imported from Paris. Owner Alex Benharroche makes a monthly trip there just to stay on top of things. “I get new merchandise every two weeks,” says Benharroche, who likes the fast pace of the accessories business. “With clothes you have to wait until the next season for a new look.” For summer, Focus bags come in nylon and patent leather in pastels and lots of bright citrus colors. Benharroche says his line appeals to fashion-oriented working women. “The items here are fun and inexpensive,” he says. Wholesale prices range from $20 to $50.
Benharroche attended the Jeangaures School of Fashion and worked as a hairdresser and stylist for 10 years before moving into accessories. His experience — first as president of Paris Diffusion, a cosmetics and fashion accessories distribution company in San Francisco, and then as president of Access Paris, a fashion accessories company here — led him to open Focus Paris. Benharroche hopes to expand his business and open a few more showrooms, possibly in California, over the next year.
Focus accessories are currently sold in Barneys New York, Vertigo and Bebe.