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ACS 2005 9th Place: Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio

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Eve J. Alfillé Gallery & Studio, Evanston, IL

OWNERS: Eve J. Alfille; ADDRESS: 623 Grove St., Evanston, IL 60201; PHONE: (847) 869-7920; URL: evejewelry.com; YEAR FOUNDED: 1987; 2004 REVENUES: $2 million; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1987; LOCATION TYPE: Ground floor of apartment building on a suburban downtown side street; ARCHITECT/DESIGN FIRM: Celeste Sotola, a multimedia artist and space designer; LAST REMODELING: 2004; TOTAL STORE AREA: 3,800 square feet; SALES STORE AREA: 1,800 square feet; TARGET CUSTOMER: 35-65 year old well-established professionals, both women shopping for themselves, or men buying gifts for women; SHOWCASES: 35; EMPLOYEES: 14 full-time, 10 part-time; FLOOR: Original terrazzo combined with tomato-rust color carpeting, with a deep violet border; WALLS: Multiple styles; LAST REMODELING: Fall 2003; ADVERTISING SLOGAN: “Fall in Love…”; CEILINGS: Multiple styles; PRIMARY COLORS: Rust and violet; SHOWCASES: Five inches deep, constructed of galvanized gutters fitted with piano hinges and plexiglass doors with silk tassels as pulls; FAVORITE CUSTOMER STORY: A favorite customer from Denver who moved to Phoenix, temporarily leaving the girl of his dreams. Thrilled to find the Phoenix store, he commissioned a ring in secret, and avoided the Colorado store when he was with her. Because of this, she thought the engagement wasn’t going to happen. Of course, he knocked her off her feet when he produced a sparkling Hyde Park ring.; LAND COST: $450,000; BUILDING COST: N/A; SHOWCASES: Five inches deep, constructed of galvanized gutters fitted with piano hinges and plexiglass doors with silk tassels as pulls; COOLEST STORE FEATURE: Two old-fashioned copper toilet tank floats that top the tent poles which hold the Wedding Band Room canopy; INTERIOR BUILD-OUT COST: $35,000 (includes cost of design); DESIGN/ ARCHITECTURAL FIRMS COST: (see above); CURRENT ESTIMATED PROPERTY VALUE: N/A


EVE ALFILLО ALWAYS to be an artist. Her parents, however, were scientists, and it seemed natural when she chose to become an archaeologist, digging up everything from pottery shards to Phoenician pendants. But the creative spark stayed with her, along with a sense of history, and jewelry became the chosen medium that she felt could give people a sense of the past — while also serving as portable works of art. Today, the unique and memorable design of her store in Evanston, IL, offers a striking and evocative background for her lush diamond, gemstone and pearl have been in the store before, and if they are aware that all the pieces are made on site. Then, a beautiful item of jewelry is taken out and a story is shared. “Itʼs the inspiration of the piece that pulls them in, along with the fairy-tale environment,” explains AlfillО. “Iʼve had grown men look at me with their head tilted and say, ʻTell me more!ʼ”

pieces, as well as her exotic collections of minerals, fossils and small antiquities. It breaks the mold in a beautiful way, which AlfillО says she knows is a strong statement for a jewelry store: “Iʼm not surprised that weʼre thought of as ʻcool,ʼ since weʼve been profiled from an architectural point of view. But I was afraid it wouldnʼt appeal to the jewelry industry, that no one would ʻget itʼ.”

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Now, of course, retail entertainment is a potent trend — and AlfillОʼs desire to involve her customers in a total “experience” is right on target. “I didnʼt want it to just be a spare gallery with white walls,” she says. “I wanted a place of discovery for customers as well as a creative space for me.” A Russian movie, The Stone Flower (which featured backgrounds of crystal-filled, underground caves), was an inspiration for the storeʼs appearance, which was brought to life by Celeste Sotola, a multimedia artist and space designer. The result, completed in 1991, was so successful that the gallery was profiled in a regional architecture magazine.

Alfillо opened her store on October 20, 1987 — the infamous “Black Monday,” one of the stock marketʼs darkest days. However, that didnʼt stop her from debuting her dream of a studio full of beautiful treasures. “My mother asked me what I was going to do,” she remembers. “I said, ʻMom, Iʼm doing it.ʼ” From the beginning, she wanted to offer clients an experience quite different from the typical jewelry store — from the way customers are approached to the way salespeople talk about the pieces. “We want them to forget their regular life and suspend their regular thought processes,” she explains.

Customers from Chicagoʼs North Shore suburbs or downtown who enter AlfillОʼs studio are encouraged to explore all of the storeʼs nooks and crannies, which include a myriad of private places: the intimate “Gem Room”, a small area with tall, soaring ceilings; the triangular-shaped “Diamond Room”, conceived for couples to huddle over engagement rings in front of a translucent wall of glass and mirror shards; the wide, open “Wedding Band Room” which shows off a draped silk wedding canopy (and provides a sense of space for nervous couples); and the “Pearl Room”, with its beautiful arched entrance and exhibit of pearl oysters and clams from around the world. “Each room has its own feel, and all of the displays tell a story,” says AlfillО. “I donʼt believe in the idea that you have to have bare walls and bare showcases so the jewelry isnʼt overwhelmed.”

When customers enter the space, they are immediately drawn to the colorful cases, but salespeople donʼt start out by asking “May we help you?” Instead, they are asked if they have been in the store before, and if they are aware that all the pieces are made on site. Then, a beautiful item of jewelry is taken out and a story is shared. “Itʼs the inspiration of the piece that pulls them in, along with the fairy-tale environment,” explains AlfillО. “Iʼve had grown men look at me with their head tilted and say, ʻTell me more!ʼ”

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JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • One of my favorites from an eclectic approach. Wonderful textures, patterns and mixed use of materials. Great feeling of warmth, comfort and inviting. Entices customers to feel comfortable and stay, relax and purchase. Great color scheme. A different eclectic surprise behind every turn … inspiring thought and smiles.”— Greg Gorman , Gmg Design
  • Hooray! A jewelry store with personality. Look, it may not be everyone’s taste — not mine, either — but how refreshing it is to find someone who isn’t afraid to actually impose their style and personality on their store.
    ®Very shabby chic, very in. I would even say that it would appear to have a French provincial feel to it. And, it’s carried through the whole store, great attention to detail. Very arty, not knowing their clientele makes it difficult … but if they have a strong manufacturing background the décor really supports it.
  • It just goes to show what imagination rather than a huge budget can do for a store. This is a great example to the small retailer who doesn’t have a lot of money or is just starting out.— Joe Romano , Scull & Company
  • For sheer creativity, this store is amazingly cool! It feels like walking into one of her jewelry creations. It’s the type of store that would make an average person feel creative just by shopping there. That’s an invaluable gift to the customer. There is so much going on with the wall treatments, fixtures and displays along with a large variety of jewelry that it may be overwhelming to some people. I admire the work, creativity and love that went into the design of the store. It is truly unique. My only concern is that it may be detracting a bit from the merchandise. It does feel like the kind of store you want to immerse yourself in for the experience.— Linda Cahan , Cahan & Company
  • This store appears to have an extremely unique atmosphere, gallery-like, inviting and quite casual. It’s an eclectic pastiche of textures and colors. The store is flanked with installations and assemblages that reflect the owner’s lively imagination and expressive, decorative styling. The quality of discovery, similar to searching through an antique store or an attic could be quite fun for shoppers. My first impression was that it was too much, too over-the-top and overpowering. Yet today, an unexpected and entertaining shopping experience is what many wish for and subconsciously desire.— Pam Levine , Levine Design Group
  • Very different. First comment is that I would add the word “jewelry” to her outside sign. I would also show more jewelry in her windows. The inside … wow! … a wonderful experience. Like walking into a make-believe wonderland, full of goodies. The use of material, color, fixtures, and merchandise gives it a souk-like look. Customers must spend hours just going through the store. Very different, very appealing.— Richard Swetz , IJO
  • Creativity certainly abounds throughout this store. At first, admittedly I thought, “What the heck is going on here?” However, as I learned more, I have to admit there is some creative marketing going on here. You’re drawn to this store if for nothing more then to satisfy curiosity. I can see how it would definitely lure customers in and then throughout the store.— Ron Wattsson , ‘Cool Store’ Winner 2004

 

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