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A Store with a Plot Line

Beverly Hills boutique combines art, events and a lounge to showcase designer’s theatrical flair for jewelry.

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Stephen Webster opened his Beverly Hills store so that he could have control, at least in one location, of the customer experience.

Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique, BEVERLY HILLS, CA

OWNER: Stephen Webster;   LOCATION: Beverly Hills, CA;   URL: stephenwebster.com/us;   OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2010;   FOUNDED: 1989;   LAST RENOVATED: 2018;   AREA: 3,500 square feet;   EMPLOYEES: 2 in the store; 48 overall;   INTERIOR DESIGNER: Kevin Micallef;   ONLINE PRESENCE: E-commerce enabled; 4.6 stars on Facebook


 

IMAGINE WALKING into a jewelry store to find a guy lying on a couch with a Louboutin stiletto embedded lethally in his chest. Or so it seems.

For British jewelry designer Stephen Webster, staging a murder mystery in a Rodeo Drive boutique is a perfectly reasonable expression of experiential retail. Created to highlight a jewelry line he called “Murder She Wrote,” Webster took the show on a world tour, producing it 15 times in far-flung locations, including Russia.

That collection centered on mythological, real and fictitious women murderers. “I had that storyline and that could have been enough, but I wanted to really engage our clients. So I created the idea of this guy, a womanizer found dead, and surrounding him are all the women in his life — his chef, his trainer — they are all characters in this thing.” And no, Webster didn’t play the dead guy; he was the narrator.

Soon his clients were vying for parts in the production, and he sent them kits equipped with props to get into character. The collection itself included a smoking-gun pendant, a poison-apple ring, a barbed-wire necklace and dagger earrings.

The idea arose from the tradition of English murder mysteries like those written by Agatha Christie. “Everything I do comes from being English, or being me, or if I can bring in an element of something that makes people smile,” he says.

Above all, Webster knows the power of storytelling.

“Everybody talks about experiential retail these days,” he says. “I think we’ve always offered that. They know they are coming to something fun, a bit of a party, a bit of a surprise. I’m not necessarily saying, ‘Just come by and look at my jewelry collection!’”

His U.S. flagship store is an experience in itself, from its circular layout and leather display cases in the round, to its neon signs and the No Regrets lounge on the second floor.

 

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Welcome to Stephen Webster’s Club

Webster opened his boutique in Beverly Hills to control the retail experience in at least one location where his jewelry is sold.[/caption] “I was thinking that I wish I could express a bit more of our personality, because I’m so connected to this jewelry that it is an extension of my personality,” he says.

The Mediterranean-style building is round with a stone facade, a commanding location and killer views, at the pinnacle of Rodeo 2, a grand pedestrian open-air mall that resembles an Italian piazza, complete with cobblestone paving and a cafe patio along the street. Neighbors include Tiffany and Rolex.

The interior has theatrical flair, even on an ordinary day. New collections are displayed in a round leather showcase arrangement at the center of the first floor. An island of carpeting circling the showcase offers definition in a sea of poured concrete floors etched with jewelry motifs.

Upstairs, there’s an art gallery, lounge and event area with a bar and banquet tables, where Webster and friends can easily accommodate dozens of guests for catered dinners.

“We made a bar, we made a lounge, it felt a bit like coming to a club,” he says. “And you can come up here and see the things that I enjoy. I’ve done many, many shows with artists, photographers, musicians, fashion designers. The first floor is always Stephen Webster. The second floor is what Stephen Webster likes.”

When he moved in, he reached an agreement with his landlord to tear out the walls and low ceilings of the second floor — previously used as office space — to make it the wide-open loft he envisioned. Now, open to the rafters, it takes full advantage of the panoramic views of Wilshire Avenue and Rodeo Drive.

This year, the store got a facelift after Webster began to think the decor and finishes looked a bit tired and not as modern as they once did. Removed was a massive sculpture in the center of the showroom that had lost its allure. Carpet was replaced and the ceiling repainted. New showcases were designed to complement window alcoves. New furniture replaced the old.

Besides freshening up, they also created a cozy lounge space on the first floor, where shoppers can settle in with a drink to make the experience more comfortable.

“I think the store is absolutely 100 percent a reflection of what we are as a brand,” Webster says. “I feel like it crosses over and reflects the product we make.” For one thing, it’s a neutral design, neither feminine nor masculine, which is significant in itself when it comes to the Stephen Webster brand. “I learned my trade making jewelry mainly for women, but I always loved men’s jewelry. I launched our first men’s collection 20 years ago, and straight away, you saw that women were starting to buy the men’s. Our clients think that way, they’re not in a box particularly.”

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Webster Attracts the Like-Minded

The designer’s rock-star reputation and renowned sense of humor, the unusual events, the jewelry display and the stories behind each collection all converge to create an avid following.

“Once they get to drink the Kool-Aid, they tend to just get right into it,” Webster says of his collectors. “They want to know more, to look behind the scenes and become part of it. And especially in this place where you can engage with the brand way beyond what you can do in a space that’s not my own store. I’ve actually tried to replicate a bit what we were doing here in my store in London.”

At one point, Webster’s customers could have been described as distinctly different from one country to the next. As the world has become more connected, he says, that’s no longer true. “I know it seems weird to say that. And it might have been true when I was first a jeweler in America and I went back to England. I liked the Americans. They had enthusiasm. And I had to struggle to find that client in England, but now I find you attract someone who is interested in what you’re offering, anywhere. Russians want as much fun, as much drama, as Americans.”

Although Webster offers e-commerce, only 10 percent of transactions are completed online, and he’s confident his clients prefer an immersive brick and mortar experience, whether they find that in his own locations or through one of his retail partners. “I think it’s about creating an excitement or buzz that’s just about what you are,” he says. As much as he enjoys hosting events in his own environment, he’s also felt that level of excitement spread through his retail partners, right from the start. His first trunk show was in Idaho, where he found an avid audience. “It was great,” he recalls. “At the end of it, we all went out in the woods and had a bottle of tequila.”

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PHOTO GALLERY (25 IMAGES) 

Five Cool Things About Stephen Webster Beverly Hills Boutique

1. WIDE REACH: Stephen Webster has a workshop and design studio in Mayfair, a flagship store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and a salon on London’s chic Mount Street. In recent years, the brand has expanded globally with 150 points of sale worldwide including the United Kingdom, United States, Russia, Dubai, Japan and Hong Kong.

2. EYE-CATCHING ARTWORK: When Webster opened his Beverly Hills store in 2010, his friend, artist Tracey Emin, gave him one of her signature handwritten neon signs to hang in the boutique. It reads “I Promise to Love You” inside a heart — appropriate for a store where people buy wedding and engagement rings. Also on display are Webster’s personal sketches for his designs, other neon signs designed by Webster and Emin, and Shark Jaw installations, echoing Webster’s love of the ocean and sea creatures.

3. INDUSTRY ACCLAIM: In June, Webster won the “Best in Innovative Design” award at Couture for his earrings from the upcoming Vertigo Collection, to be released in 2019. Last year, he won the Cindy Edelstein Award for Human Spirit at the Couture Design awards, for his 40-year contribution to the jewelry industry, his support of new designers through the British Fashion Council’s Rock Vault platform, as well as his charitable work and dedication to ethical sourcing and sustainability. Among other awards are a three-time win of the British Luxury Jeweller of the Year Award, Diamond Jeweller of the Year, Jewellery Designer of the Year and UK Jewellery Brand of the Year.

4. THE LAST STRAW: Webster recently partnered with the Plastic Oceans Foundation to develop the ‘Last Straw,” a $175 sterling silver straw, as part of a commitment to environmental responsibility that reflects his love for the ocean and its creatures. He designed the straw to be reusable and eliminate the need for plastic straws. Each is hand-engraved with the owner’s name. Ten percent of sales benefit the Plastic Ocean Foundation.

5. FAIR TRADE GOLD: Webster has always been an advocate of ethically sourced materials, traveling to mines in Tanzania and Peru to meet the mining communities and trace the origins of the precious materials he uses. He is now an ambassador for Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold and in 2016 was awarded the Butterfly Mark powered by Positive Luxury, which recognized Webster’s tradition of producing fine jewelry with sustainability at its heart.

 

Try This: Tell a Good Story

Webster recognizes the importance of a good story. Each of his jewelry collections has a storyline attached to it. For one of his latest releases, “Fish Tales,” Webster wrote an actual book to accompany it. Each letter of the alphabet is rendered in gold, but wrapped with some kind of sea creature, such as electric eel for E. The book describes each of the featured 26 creatures.

America’s Coolest Stores: Judges’ Comments

  • Katherine Bodoh: Stephen has a great POV and it is reflected in the store design and his social media presence. I appreciate his work on the Last Straw project.
  • Jill Maurer: Gorgeous store with a distinct point of view. It manages to be exclusive and inviting at the same time. It’s a place where I could feel both excited and relaxed. Love love love!
  • Geoffrey Brown: I really felt drawn to the brand, right away. It’s something that you want, but also leaves you wondering what is next. It can fit any type of person in any type of situation.
  • Laura Davis: Stephen knows who he is and his aesthetic, values and story shine through. He also knows his audience, and it shows. There’s a little whimsy, a lot of cool and a siren call for the elite set that wants to shine uniquely. His pieces are stunning, as is the presentation and photography. Just wow. Sets the bar.
 

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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