A Taste for Europe
My family and I had the pleasure of vacationing in Europe this summer, for a week in Siena with friends, and a few days in Paris and London with family. The sun was warm with clear skies, the landscape and villages were beautiful and clean, the people welcoming and generous. Football was played with a soccer ball, the players were cute and lean and no one was tackled, although some grimaced for effect. Public transportation was efficient and modern, and cars were small and fast. We lingered over delicious, long lunches with beer and wine. I could get used to this.
As a fellow store owner with 12 Small Things, I appreciated how so many of the shops were well curated with local products, produced for generations by the same companies. In Siena we found a candy store that had the most beautiful wooden shelving and fixtures, fully tucked with nougats and sugar cookies, some of which were even gluten free. In Paris, the first shops that caught my eye were the fruit markets with cascading ripe peaches, apricots and melons for endless admiration but no touching, s'il vous plait. In London, I admired the carefully selected typography and muted grey blue exterior of Neal's Yard Dairy, showcasing a wealth of stacked, ivory yellow cheeses.
One of my favorite stores was Battilani Sapori in Perugia, Umbra. I guess it was mostly a deli and wine shop, but I marveled at all the olive wood tabletop products so neatly organized and displayed from floor to ceiling. From bread boards, to cheese graters, to bottle stoppers, this place was a gifts destination. Needless to say, we all bought a bunch of our favorites for family and friends and then I realized I should buy some for my store. Our friend Les helped translate my request for wholesale and promises were made to correspond once we got home. Apparently something was lost in translation, as I still have yet to receive a wholesale catalog even though I've emailed and called a couple times. I really want to represent products from Europe at 12 Small Things. Europe has been nurturing hand made craft traditions for centuries, that are in danger of loosing ground to less expensive factory production.
We were all reluctant to leave Europe and the wonderful vacation we'd had, but work and school was calling us home. Once I returned, I flew to Las Vegas for the summer Home and Gift Market. I was glad to be asked again to help Aid to Artisans set up their booths in the Pavilion, even though they had a smaller group attending this time. Also there to help were Maude Obe and Carol MacNulty working with the ATA TEAM and my friend designer Mimi Robinson. I was happy to see Muhayo Aliyeva from Uzbekistan again who designs incredible hand-woven silk cotton ikat fiber fashion for her company Bibi Hanum. I encouraged her to send me some product for my trunk show at the DeYoung Museum's Contemporary Muslim Fashion exhibit in late September.
I was part of a Meet the Makers panel for the opening day at the Pavilions, along with designer Patti Carpenter, Colvin English from By Hand Consulting, and Diane Sulg of American CRAFT, moderated by Julie McCallum of Gift Shop Magazine. We all agreed that while consumer interest in handmade products was growing, retail shops were still facing challenges from online competition, along with lifestyle preferences for experiences over material goods. I was also asked to give a tour of the HandMade section of the Pavilions, and in doing a little preparation found some wonderful material goods, including fine tea towels from Mierco European Linens, that I added to my shopping list for 12 Small Things.
I spent the next two days at the market working with Keena Co in their Las Vegas showroom. Always busy and in need of more space, they recently expanded across the hall but only weeks before the summer show. Thinking creatively, they asked Katie Gaertner from Whistle to help curate a group of local makers to fill the space for a Keena Collective, which was a fun, new addition to a bustling showroom floor. I briefly returned to San Francisco before heading out again this time to the east coast for the NY Now gift show. I was happy to see Becky and her sister at Sidai Design's booth, looking ever so smart with their new collection showcased against a dark blue background, (shades of London). I also found one of my favorite artisan representatives, Nathalie Tancrede from Haiti, who was helping at the Aid To Artisans booth with their new collections from Tunisia. I bought some really furry pillows and beautiful wool rugs for 12 Small Things.
My daughter Johanna recently moved to New York and hung out with me at the show while I visited vendors and looked for more product for the store. She was very helpful spotting tends and confirming my opinions of what might be popular for the upcoming fall and holiday sales season. Even though I could tell that the NY show was slower and smaller than it had been in previous years, I was delighted with many of the new vendors I met and the products I bought. At Artisan's Resource I met Maria Perez from People of the Sun, working with artisans in Malawi. I bought some charming, small carved wood animal heads that I think people will love to decorate their rooms or give as gifts. The other new artist Jo and I kept returning to was Megha Agarwal from Studio Maeve in New York. Growing up in India admiring the ancient craft of hand weaving, Megha attended a top design school and studied with renowned couture and textile designers in India and New York before starting her own company. Jo and I picked out a combination of blouses, tunics and linen coats so beautiful you could cry, for 12 Small Things holiday shoppers.
I was happy to find a few more makers at a new wholesale venue in New York called Shoppe Object, created by the founders of Aesthetic Movement and Capsule. One I liked in particular is called Heaven in Earth from Australia, featuring a range of simple, well crafted products including gardening shears, wool dusters, nail brushes and salt pots. So much to see, so little time. Now back in San Francisco, I'm braving the cold summer fog until autumn officially begins and we get our warmer weather. Until then, I am savoring the memories of the lush green hills and charming villages in Tuscany, the busy museums and cafes in Paris and the fun with family in England. I can't wait to have a little token of those memories at 12 Small Things soon, to share with others.