2017 marks the 20th anniversary for Willows boutique in Vancouver, Wa. The independent women's apparel, accessory and gift store has changed through the years, evolving to serve its clients and customers. Embellishments studio has been there from the beginning bringing their brands style to life.
Willows and Embellishments studio celebrate
Hundreds of partygoers helped Willows celebrate its 20th anniversary, with florals by Stem Floral Design and treats by Rosycakes to coordinate with my summer display. What may not be known to many in attendance is the origins of the boutique they love.
It was 1997 when I first met the first time shop owners Sandy McCloud and her business partner and daughter Janna Moats. Bright eyed and ambitious to realize their concept for a bedding, furniture and gift store we hit it off. Our task was to transform a rather plain and unassuming space tucked into a refurbished car dealership into something alluring and vibrant.
It wasn't too long and their success lead to their expanding into an empty retail space next door. The new area allowed them to expand their offerings to include some apparel, baby bedding and more gift merchandise. It is with the addition of this space that glimpses of the Willows style appeared.
Committed to having the, mostly service oriented, marketplace provide a shopping experience to the downtown Vancouver scene, Sandy and Janna, in addition, opened Fresh Willow, a garden and gift store. I began my exploration of their interiors being modern with industrial and vintage accents. This would include creating elements and faux finishing them for both the interior and facade. Ingredients such as concrete, "rusted" metal and wood finishes will serve them well into their 20th year.
Despite their retailing success, the two Marketplace locations challenged the two owners with heavy schedules, separate merchandise buying trips and two vastly different goals within. The decision was made to merge the two and define "Willows" with a new location, street side in the newly revitalized Ester Short Park area. Here the merchandise assortment began the flip from home dec and gift, with some light apparel to apparel with some gift. Here's where the categories of garden, bedding and furniture were shed, a precursor to the boutique of today. The response from downtown Vancouver's apparel store starved women was amazing. Willows became the guiding light and a stellar example of a revitalized Vancouver success story. That forward momentum could not be sustained too long. With the onset of the economic recession bringing about a reversal of downtown Vancouver's revitalization and growth, Sandy and Janna made the tough, but exciting, decision to close their Ester Shore Park location and relocate to their current one in the Grand Central Marketplace. As a team, we decided to take the largest space yet further in expressing Willow's style and distill their offerings to be revolved around apparel, accessories and gifts.
It is their Grand Central location that would challenge me to create the Willows experience from scratch. This will be the first time I was given the freedom to develop a completly empty retail space. No more were there going to be stairs, low ceilings and a lack of storage. My first decision was to design them an actual working back room. This marks the first time in Willow's 15 years that they can process new merchandise off the sales floor. And I, as their merchandiser, display builder was eager to have a storage area for fixtures, tools and display goods.
To further build the brands reputation for eye catching eye candy and high end department store like treatment of visual display, I carved a niche out for a window display and purchased a ton of mannequins. The tradition of rearranging the store, adding new fixtures and displays with each season was born.
As if the planets aligned just for the ladies of Willows, the two spaces adjacent to the store became available. So without hesitation, the designing of the current, expanded Willows began. The additional space allowed us to accommodate more dressing rooms, increase the selling space, add a sale area and further indulge in the textures and elements that define Willows visually. And of course I got my wish of another window, an expanded back room and a central wrap desk that could hold four checkout stations!
I'm proud to play part in this 20 year love affair with the Willows brand. The owners, Sandy and Janna are like family. We've watched each others families grow. We've watched our separate businesses grow. And, we will continue watching Willows grow further with our collaborative ways and unrelenting love for the store. I'm including some additional photos from my Willows displays below. Enjoy!- Aaron
One of my greatest sources of inspiration and joy are my two children. Although they are technically no longer children but young adults, and very amazing ones at that. My son, whom defines himself as a creative, is always challenging me to see through his eyes. He has a great eye for what's important, interesting and meaningful to a generation that I'm purely an observer of due to the age difference.
This year marks an important milestone for him, as he graduates from COLLEGE. He's a student at University of Oregon, in Eugene, Oregon.
Four years ago we put together a fun high school graduation party for him that I intended to post about. Well, here we are four years later and it never quit appeared on the blog. So to reminisce and enjoy it all again here's the details of that special day.
The goal of the party was to acknowledge and celebrate his accomplishments in high school and build excitement for his college experience. One of the very basic things I started with was working out some common ground between the two school's color palettes. His high school colors were cardinal and gold and his college was green and yellow. So I tweaked both into my preferred color palette of vintage look colors. We were now working with burgundy reds, ochre yellows and olivey greens mixed with the neutrals of parchment, kraft and burlap.
I can't take credit for the concept but I can take credit for the execution of the little suitcase pictured. His school asked that we create a box keepsake and fill it with insightful and inspirational items, quotes and sentiment. I covered his in stickers I created that represent many of the stages in his academic journey. Many were logos I already had on hand from events and projects I had a design hand in through the years.
The box itself contained items that were adorned with small kraft tags. On each tag we came up with short explanation as to why we chose the item. Some of the items were toys he had as a boy.
The handsome heads you see are blow ups of my son's face. We used them as markers to reserve the family and friends seats at graduation. They we fun to wave in the air during the moments we could get noisy and revel.
At the house I used a lot of props, which as a prop hoarder it wasn't too difficult to do. Globes, encyclopedias , typewriters, flash cards, things with letters and ones that reflect the 12 in 2012. A hand painted burlap pennant streamer spans our front porch welcoming guests through the garden.
Small vignettes of photos and props were placed throughout the house. I used books to create fun shapes and opportunities to stage items. While its something we don't showcase year round the digital photo frame was a great addition to the displays. Having k-12 photographs scrolling through time was enjoyed by our guests.
Having a very large backyard gives us many opportunities for merry making. The problem often becomes scale. How to make a party look intimate and special on such a large scale is often the issue. To remedy some of that I strung very long strands of lights to bring the "ceiling" down a little and offer light as the evening waned past sunset. The combination of clear bulbs and paper lanterns were very handsome.
In the revised color palette, collections of school logo cutouts, paper goods and decorative details bring it all together. I found some amazing natural leaf made plates that had great texture. They were combined with the more graphic striped traditional party plates.
A multi layered dimensional height display of suitcases, manipulated books and other props made for a perfect dessert table. Letters and numbers were cut using my silhouette machine.
Now, we're in the planning stages of his college graduation. I might revisit some of these props and ideas to create a new but familiar and welcomed look. Hopefully, I will be good about posting those before another four years passes.
I hope you find a few things inspiring or just fun to look at. Shoot me over any questions or sentiments for the graduate. I look forward to your thoughts...
I've taken the liberty to host the photos above on Pinterest for your pinning! Be sure to follow me.
Welcome to my Embellishments Journal, it's a new feature. I will be posting about some of our projects, sharing pictures and interesting things. Chime in, ask questions and keep your arms and hands inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop. -Aaron