Image courtesy Ariane Prewitt
Interview

Ariane Prewitt

03.23.15

Part of what I love about my job is the discovery of fashion people doing cool stuff. I came across Ariane Prewitt on Instagram; everything she posted I loved – whether it was a product, an inspiration image, or travel destination. After a lot of research, I ended up emailing her, and learned of her extensive fashion experience and current contribution to the industry with her perfectly special, seasonal shop in Lakeside, MI, AP Shop. While only open 5 months a year, she boasts a stocklist that carries thoughtful and interesting designers, many unknown as she picks up new things during her travels. I must say, AP Shop is one of my favorite new places to shop, and not just because I recently scored this Détacher beauty.

Interview

What’s your background? Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago, but raised in Los Angeles. I moved back to Chicago at 19, and at 24, I had my first shop in Wicker Park.

You lived in New York for a bit, how did your experience working at Barneys and working alongside Simon Doonan influence your point of view in visual merchandising?

I was hired as a consultant/ freelancer to work on holiday windows at Barneys in Chicago. The windows were about “decades” and they wanted period specific furniture. I pulled furniture and props together from amazing shops and friends, all for a window credit. It came at a time of transition with my shop. When I was offered a position at Barneys, I decided to close shop and stay on there. It was a great experience, and as much as I learned about display and merchandising, I really fell in love with the actual merchandise and the stories behind the collections. The quality of the merchandise was a revelation. Although the company was expanding, the main team was small. I really respected the buyers and of course it was great to get to work with Simon Doonan.

What is the toughest part of being a visual manager?

The main difficulty was the budget – in the end it really challenged you to be creative with very little. I liked the idea of “Taste, Luxury, Humor” which is the Barneys motto. The approach was innovative, creative and fun – so different than what other luxury companies were doing. I learned a lot, and it has definitely informed the way I buy and merchandise.

How did you get into teaching? What’s the fashion track like at Columbia College?

A friend and co-worker was teaching at Columbia, and she asked if I would be interested and recommended me. After Barneys, I had joined Henry Beguelin on a part time basis (mainly visual) and I had free time, so I applied. It’s a great program. I only teach two classes: Visual Merchandising and an advanced practicum which allows students to further their study and build a portfolio. We do windows in the city, both fashion and home. We did the windows for the DVF home launch at Bloomingdale’s.

As a professor, how do you synthesize your success with AP Shop into curriculum?

My situation is ideal for me. I love teaching and the connectivity with the students. Most are studying to be designers, stylists, and almost all want to open a shop. I think it is helpful for them as I have done all of the above. I teach six hours a week, which allows me time to do preliminary work and research for the shop. We have a winter break – usually December 15 through January 25. I use this time to travel, and buy for the shop. Typically I travel to another country and seek out antiquity and indigenous handicrafts. You can see the human hand in these pieces, and it seems so rare now – almost like couture. This year I visited Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. So much beauty there – weaving, natural dyes, basketry, ceramics and leather work.

My shop is seasonal, May through September – so after school is out, I move to Lakeside, Michigan for the summer and reopen.

What would we be surprised to learn about your students? In your mind, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this generation?

They are a constant surprise! I think that this generation understands and is more thoughtful of the activist collective conscious. They recycle, are concerned about the environment, and although they shop “fast fashion”, I think that if they could afford it, they would rather buy goods from makers, and ethically produced products in general. I think the constant need to monitor devices is a problem, but it is a problem that is multigenerational at this point.

When did you open AP Shop?

I opened AP five years ago. It will be my third season in the current location. It is basically a continuum of the shop I opened in my twenties, but with much more insight and funding. My first shop was focused on mid-century design, local designers, and a love of antiquity that remains in elements of the present shop – like textiles, ceramics, and the jewelry that my husband and I create from our collection of ancient beads.

Tell us about your process of discovering new designers to stock? Are they always receptive to your business model?

I do a lot of research. I love to see what is being produced. I think Los Angeles is really an exciting place for design right now. I have been very lucky, most designers are fine with my seasonal buy, but I think that is more of a reflection of the designers I am working with; they are independent and are not making mass-produced goods. The level of quality is so high. I am a proponent of “buy better – buy less”, and they are of a similar mind. The first season I had a small selection of Henry Beguelin, and then got Dosa on board. I was thrilled. Now I have designers emailing me, wanting to be picked up. I wish I could. The seasonal business is ideal in so many ways – less burnout, more time to research, etc., but I reinvest everything back into it with only five months of sales, and at some point the money runs out.

I really like what Julie Gilhart said, “Eventually customers will not just be seduced by the fashion but also by how the fashion is made.”

Do you have the same customers returning season after season?

Yes, I have customers that return to the area every season. Lakeside is a special place that calls them back every year, regardless of where they live in the world. I have international customers and many Chicagoans who have summer homes in the area. My typical customer is quite knowledgeable and well-traveled, so I have to make a supreme effort to impress them. There are times that I have had three generations come in and all find something special – that is ideal.

What designers have peaked your interest lately?

If only I could afford to carry every talented designer out there! Working on it. I really love all the designers that I carry. I definitely feel a kinship, and with many, I have a personal connection. As for designers on my radar:

Bailey Hunter of Cistanthe – such artistry! I have carried her work in small amounts at the shop and want to continue expanding with it.

Lisa Kingsley – I have had her beautiful bags since the beginning! She is now opening a shop in San Miguel. I can’t wait to see what is next and I want it in my shop.

Small Trade Company – I think I am the last to get on the boat, but I have admired Matt Dick for some time.

Eniola Dawodu of Aramidé Diallo.

I really like the direction that Maryam Nassir Zadeh is taking with her clothing and shoes.

Daniela Gregis is on my dream list, along with Arts&Science.

Love the ease and edit of Jesse Kamm’s collection.

And lately obsessed with shoes by:  Brother Vellies, Loewe, and the Palantines.

Is the shop reflective of your personal life/style? In what ways?

Definitely. It is an extension of all that I am interested in and desire.

For those who can’t travel to Lakeside, MI – how can we get a taste of AP Shop?

Perhaps a website soon. Meanwhile, Instagram has been a great tool for customers. If you see something you like its easy to contact me. Also, in the off-season, see my blog or Instagram for the latest.

1 Comment

  1. Oakparkian responded:

    I’ve been to Ariane’s shop. When you see what she has, you just want all of it. Everything goes together from textiles made by old pueblos in Mexico to contemporary pieces made by young designers. It all works. Looking at garments and accessories through Ariane’s aesthetic and eye make her world a very magical place.

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