Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Weekend Review, Part II: Purple Urchins and Devine gems


Look out, Ottawa: there’s a new shop in town, and this one is promising to clean up the place.

Purple Urchins: Rebecca and Sarah show off their bath cube.
Okay, sorry; I couldn’t resist. But punny or not, Purple Urchin really has the most lovely handmade soap and lotions around. And when we found out that owners Sarah and Rebecca were making the jump from craft show table to retail outlet, we were thrilled with the news! Now, instead of stalking Urchin around the holiday bazaars and rationing out the last sliver of soap between shows, all us body butter addicts can head down to their adorable shop on the corner of Somerset and Preston Street for the things that make us go mmmmmmm.

Purple Urchin has been a favourite soap and lotion producer for me since I discovered them a couple years back at the (no longer running) Ladyfest craftshow. Sarah had me sniff their signature Cocoa Butter Coffee Scrub—picture lathering yourself in a mocha latte—and to my utter joy, the products don`t trigger my usual sensitivities. Sarah and Rebecca inform me that this is because their products are 95-100% natural, depending on the fragrance, and that everything they offer is made from scratch; the girls don`t buy premixed bases, nor do they melt down prefab soaps just to add some ingredients. We got a backstage tour of their new shop this weekend, and we loved the crazy witch`s laboratory we wandered into: tintures, lotions, potions, and even beakers of bubbling brews were laid out neatly in the cozy but efficient workshop. For safety and klutz-proofing reasons, the general public won`t be able to wander into the back area, but fret not: you can watch the girls at work through the giant picture window that is set into the wall between the workspace and the boutique.
The window into the workshop!

And what a boutique it is! The front of the store is a fantastic shade of chartreuse with deep black accents, plus some fantastic thrift store finds like a retro bench with aqua seat cushions. Everywhere you turn, there`s another product to stick your finger or face into. I`ll let the pictures do the talking, but you can see what a playground of scented heaven you`ll be walking into.

Sarah and Rebecca started their business in 2005, and see the new shop as the natural evolution of their brand. The shop will begin with modest hours, perhaps three days a week—follow their blog, website, facebook, or twitter for details as they emerge. “Our main focus was to have a good space for production,” says Sarah; “The [equipment] was beginning to take over the house.” As the store gains in popularity, so may its hours. Limited hours may seem tricky but can actually increase the demand for a product, and with indie product fans, we’re pretty understanding…hey, it’s worked for Auntie Loo’s.

The soft launch of the shop is this upcoming Saturday, November 12th, at 10am. Come on by, there’s a limited number of goodies for the early birds out there! A grand opening will be announced shortly, and in the meantime, the girls are just super excited to have people come by and visit.


We made another stop this weekend, at Devine Jewellery. We’ve mentioned Devine’s before: they assisted Brian in custom designing a string of pearls for his wedding gift to me. We were back in this week to pick up the necklace, which we were actually having reworked. The story is this: last year in November, I saw a beautiful multi-coloured strand of pearls at Devine’s booth at the Originals craft show. I fell in love with it, but it was a bit pricey so I suggested Brian get it for me as his groom’s gift. For the next ten months, I dreamt of this necklace, and Brian assured me (in a roundabout way) that the necklace would be mine. Unfortunately, when Brian had attempted to purchase the lovely thing, it had been sold; so Brian spent the next eight months trying to redesign something, with the help of a wonderful Devine staff named Tracey, that would meet my style. The finished product was lovely, and I wore it mixed in with my Morganna The White piece at the wedding…but after the wedding, we both felt like it just wasn’t up to the unique awesomeness of the originally-coveted necklace. We talked at length about it, and decided we’d talk with Tracey and Devine Jewellery to see about remaking it.

I was nervous when we headed down there, because in essence I was about to tell an artist that I didn’t like her work. But we went down to their shop on the main floor of the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Laurier and chatted with Tracey. I had never met her before, but Tracey, turns out, is fantastic. I didn’t even have to finish my sentence before she caught on to what I was stammering out; she wasn’t the least bit upset or hurt. My feeling is that Tracey has a good eye for sizing people up, and when she finally got to see me in person, she knew right away that the delicate, pastel-toned necklace wasn’t something I was going to wear except with a certain big white dress. Tracey took me through the beautiful showroom and pulled out strand after strand of richly-hued pearls, asking me tons of questions about preferences in terms of length, size, and tone. She explained that one of the wonderful things about their line of pearls is that the colour is actually introduced into the pearl during the oyster’s process, so the colour is actually infused into the pearl. With Tracey at the helm, we headed out feeling quite confident that she would recreate the necklace into something closer to my original favourite—something I’d feel like myself in, and that I would want to wear every day.

We went in for one more viewing partway through the construction, then got a call last week that the piece was finished. We went downtown this weekend and I could barely contain my excitement…and a little bit of nerves. I wanted it to be perfect so badly! Tracey greeted us enthusiastically and brought out the necklace…and it was stunningly perfect. It was, in fact, ten times more beautiful than the one I’d originally wanted. I put it on and Tracey fussed over it a little, encouraging me to put on my other necklace with it: I have a small eucalyptus leaf pendant by designer Michael Michaud, and I love it so much that I have trouble taking it off. I loved that Tracey could see that attachment, and that she knew I would want to wear both pieces together.

We chatted with Tracey for a while about the shop. Devine Jewellery has been around for over thirty years; the business is locally owned and operated, by Ted and Carol Devine; Tracey is the store manager, and she and another staff actually do most of the pearl necklaces in the shop, while Ted and Carol work in fine metals and gems. The Chateau Laurier storefront has been open since 1982 (the year I was born!), and my family has a special attachment to this shop: as a teen, my mother bought her mom a ring from Devine Jewellery, and later on my father bought my mother’s wedding band from the Devines. While I don’t have a wedding band (we decided my wide engagement band was plenty of bling by itself), I do now have these lovely wedding pearls from the same shop. I love that three generations of my family have owned something beautiful from the same little place. Apparently, my family isn’t the only one: Tracey reflected that it was becoming a common occurrence to have second-generation customers come in for a new generations’ fine jewellery.
We left the shop in great spirits; I was thrilled with the finished product, with the incredible customer service, and actually pretty in love with Tracey and her wonderful talent. She has such a way with composition, and I love that I have this bold-coloured, asymmetrical string of pearls that is a nod to the traditional 1950s housewife standard strand, except sort of ‘messed up’. When I first talked with Tracey about the necklace, I’d said I wanted her to ‘mess it up more’, and she wasn’t in the least taken aback; rather she just said, ‘Jordan, that’s what I do best: mess things up.’ Now I own a handmade masterpiece, given to me by my sweetie, made by a woman who gets me, and produced in a shop that has delighted the women in my family for three generations. I feel blessed, spoiled, and really, really pretty.


Really, what more can I say? We tried on gravity-defying boots (see Weekend Review, Part I), had a VIP tour of a fabulous soap factory, and I got a necklace I’d been dreaming of for a year. We also made it to two craft shows, one of which gave us a great swag bag for being early bird arrivals…but we’ll be blogging more about the season’s craft shows at the end of the season, when we plan to do a major review of the local shows. Stay tuned, if you’re into handmade things; we’re attempting to hit every major craft show in the area before Christmas. My wallet hates me, but I’m drugging myself with homemade baked goods.

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