ICE, ICE, BABY
NOTHING — NOT EVEN THE RETURN OF THE SEVENTIES BEADED-BELT CRAZE — PHASES ACCESSORIES MAVEN DOTTIE CHANIN.
Byline: Kristin Young
Dottie Chanin has seen this particular trend before.
As the owner of Ice Accessories, an upscale gift and accessories chain based in Culver City, Calif., Chanin is talking about the beaded-belt craze.
“First of all, there are practical reasons for everything,” said the elegant brunette, who appears far too young to have grandchildren ranging in age from one to 17. “Everybody bought pants this year — really tight, fitted and long — so there you have the reason for belts.”
Ice Accessories’ version is a doozie: about three inches thick and $315 at retail, to boot. On this particular day, it’s the accessory of choice for a red-haired fortysomething at the Brentwood Gardens store. The customer chatters noisily about the item, doesn’t bat an eye when her bill comes up, and slaps down a credit card to finalize the deal.
Chanin is amused by the transaction and said she’s seen this particular trend come and go three times in her 35-year career, noting that the look was big in the Seventies. “There’s nothing new now in my life, which is in a way comforting because I know what to expect,” she said. “But in other ways, it’s boring.”
There’s nothing boring about Chanin’s career.
As the founder of Contempo Casuals in the Sixties, Chanin built one junior retail store into a 37-unit powerhouse and consequently became one of the first female chief executive officers in Southern California. In 1978, she sold Contempo to Carter Hawley Hale for a healthy sum, an amount she won’t identify except to say, “It allowed me the freedom to do whatever I wanted for the rest of my life.” Contempo Casuals is currently a unit of San Diego-based junior retailer Charlotte Russe.
After a five-year hiatus, Chanin found that retailing was hard to shake. She opened an in-store shop called Sparkle at the Fred Segal in Santa Monica, Calif., and subsequently, three Ice Accessories stores. In 1992, the first Ice Accessories store bowed in Brentwood Gardens, Brentwood, Calif. Three years ago, a 700-square-foot unit at the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas was unveiled. And last October, the company’s largest unit — about 1,500 square feet — opened at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Next year, another 1,500 square-foot store is slated to open at The Grove at Farmer’s Market, a much-awaited mall project at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles.
For the treasure-seeker, Ice Accessories is an adventure. The stores are crammed with high-end items, ranging from a $30,000 piece by jeweler Cathy Waterman to a $25 picture frame.
“As you go through the store, you can turn around and go through it again and see entirely different things,” said Chanin. “To me, it’s like a little mini -museum. [Customers] spend hours here.”
Judging by the financial figures, customers are not just there to look. Chanin is particularly proud of the tiny Las Vegas unit, which racks up $3 million in sales per year. In two months, the company’s South Coast Plaza unit has been keeping up a similarly heady pace.
“I’ll give you a description of the [average] customer,” said Chanin. “They’re anywhere from 12 years old to 85. We go from English Royalty to Japanese Rock Star. We get them all — especially in Las Vegas.” Chanin claims a sizable celebrity following as well, tossing out examples like Calista Flockhart, Kate Capshaw, Sally Field and Nicolas Cage.
With such a broad range of customers, Chanin’s buying philosophy is surprisingly simple. “If it looks good, we want it, and we travel all over the world to get it,” she said. Chanin’s daughter Tracey Friedman, the company’s vice president, accompanies her on all buying trips and is largely responsible for the look of the stores.
Beyond having an eye for a broad customer base, Chanin has the ability to switch gears quickly. She recalled the early Nineties, when no one was buying jewelry. “That’s why we got into giftware,” she said. “None of the magazines showed any accessories at all. We really suffered, [so] we really got involved in giftware. Hopefully, those days are not coming back, but if they do, we’ll just have to find other things to sell.”
Chanin stays away from mass-market accessories makers and prefers independent designers such as Tarina Tarantino, Michael Dawkins and Roberto Coin. Handbags come from Isabella Fiore, Terri Moore and Anya Hindmarch.
“Dottie understands that her clientele already owns Gucci and Prada bags,” said Jennifer Tash, president of the successful Isabella Fiore handbag company, who said she owes her start to Chanin. “She bought us when nobody else would. I have made some of my biggest decisions based on her advice.”
High-end jewelry designer Cathy Waterman is another fan. “It’s a really unusual store because she has things in there that you would never expect to find with fine jewelry,” said the designer, who usually sells to more exclusive retailers, such as Barneys New York. “She has handbags and all sorts of giftware, yet she’s able to sell fine jewelry as well as anybody in the country. She’s a brilliant retailer.”
Tarina Tarantino has been selling to Ice Accessories for four years. “I think it’s a quintessential L.A. accessories experience,” said the designer, who sells to Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and other high-end boutiques. “It’s a good mix of L.A. designers, as well as vendors from around the world.”
Chanin believes the slowdown in the U.S economy is already adversely affecting her customers’ buying power. “People who thought nothing a year ago of buying a $5,000 bauble are thinking about it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be long-lasting, but then nobody knows.”
Yet she believes wholeheartedly in a fundamental trait among women: “Women all like things,” she said. “They are gatherers.” Someone else might call it an accessories addiction.