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Craftsmanship, Family, Travel

Nothing Beats the Retail Thing

Published on 6 minutes read
Lifestyle
Craftsmanship, Family, Travel
Words by Alessandra Codinha
"Could such an adventure, ogling jewels in a storybook Californian setting, rekindle my long simmering love of shopping in person?"

Transcendent shopping experiences like the kind that have for years shaped my sensibility — as a dresser and a fashion editor but also as a person in the world, a sybarite, a sensualist, a lover of things and an appreciator of someone else welcoming me into their vision of how best to see and experience those things — have become truly few and far between, if not utterly unsustainable. As a person of several decades of shopping experience, it gives me no pleasure at all to report that excitement around retail is at an all time low. It’s no one’s fault, really, or no one entity in particular. Thanks to the internet, things became wildly widely available, and soon everyone began to stock and sell the same things, and then no one went anywhere to get anything at all, and when they did, they felt dumb, because they could have gotten all of it online, from home, without putting their shoes on. So when La Catena asked me to venture a few hours north of my home in Los Angeles to visit and celebrate Carolina Bucci’s new shop inside a Fourtané jewelry store in Carmel, I was intrigued. Could such an adventure, ogling jewels in a storybook Californian setting, rekindle my long simmering love of shopping in person?

The location certainly didn’t hurt. Carmel-by-the-Sea, a famously picturesque California beach town, has long attracted visitors keen on its silky white sands, ocean breezes, small town nostalgia, world-famous golf course, annual (also world-famous) vintage car show, and the celebrity denizens drawn to all of the above. These have run the gamut, from Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, and Ansel Adams, to Doris Day, Joan Baez, and Clint Eastwood, who arrived in 1972 and liked it so much he became the mayor in 1986. More recently, Brad Pitt bought a palatial cliffside perch, right off Route 1, on the way out of town towards Big Sur. Upon arrival, I threw open the door to my hotel room’s balcony, and took in the view. Below, a pair of septuagenarian passerby ambled pleasantly on foot with their happily romping goldendoodle, bound for the stunning slope of empty beach, hand in hand. It was quiet; none of L.A.’s leaf blowers or New York’s cityscape sounds. “Should we just move to Carmel?” I texted a friend back home in L.A. “Yes. We'd have such great skin” she wrote back. She meant because of the clean air and ocean frontage, but I think a deep sense of satisfaction would have something to do with it, too.

In person, Carmel is almost impossibly charming, with well-preserved important examples of architecture by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Hugh Comstock dotting the quaint coastline, effervescently friendly locals, and a main drag little-changed by time. Local shops — a candy store styled like an English country cottage; an independent bookstore with a hidden zen garden and section on psychedelics equal to its fiction one; a linen store that will do custom embroideries while you wait — take precedence over big box out-of-towners, and chic new boutique hotels, like the expertly appointed 16 room Villa Mara, make it seamless to visit in style. It was a town that reminded me of Nantucket, of Aspen, of many small idyllic places hotly defended by the people who live there and obsessed over by people who don’t. Carmel is the kind of place that people show up and decide to stay forever. Seriously, that happens all the time.

One such story: in 1987, John and Sandy Bonifas, a Michigan-born couple with a background in jewelry, intrigued by Mayor Eastwood’s ascension, came to visit Carmel, fell in love with it, and pooled their savings to buy the then 37 years old Fourtané Jewelers on Ocean Avenue. In the nearly four decades since, they’ve been joined in the business by their two adult sons, Josh and Kris (experts in fine watches and jewelry, respectively), and expanded the business to multiple locations. They are great believers in the power of retail. John’s journey had relatively inauspicious beginnings: he likes to tell visitors that at age 15, his first retail job was sweeping floors and emptying ashtrays at a jewelry store in Toledo, Ohio. Now between their stores in Carmel and San Diego they have high-profile relationships (and in shop boutiques) with Rolex and Patek Philippe, but throughout, Fourtané remains a distinctly family business. “And staff that grew to feel like family,” John tells me when we meet: many of the Fourtané employees have been with the company nearly as long as its owners. The arrival of the new sun-drenched two-story Fourtané jewelry flagship, replete with bespoke atelier and a Carolina Bucci shop in shop, was a real cause for celebration amongst employees and Carmel locals alike. The latter thrilled by new beautiful things to look at and buy, as well as a reason to get dressed up and go out on the town. An opening celebration cocktail drew partygoers who crowded through the new space with champagne flutes in hand, admiring the sparkling contents of the cases. “It’s two great family businesses coming together,” Josh Bonifas said. It’s also a feat that’s been years in the making.

The night before the boutique opened to the public, Bucci took visitors on a quick tour before a celebratory dinner at Stationaery, a beloved local haunt. She understands well that in these days of retail challenges, stores only really work when there is real and genuine passion behind them — a unique vision and a desire to open their world a crack so as to let people in. In their best iteration, a store is a dream that can be shared. “Passion is important”, Bucci, herself a fourth-generation jeweler, said. It’s what drew her to working with the Bonifas family, her first collaboration of the kind. "When you don’t have passion it’s just stuff. So when you meet someone with passion — it’s everything."

And about that passion: its evidence is everywhere in the new shop. On opening night the boutique’s warm wooden shelves heave with glimpses into the brand’s personality and that of its founder. Volumes of this very publication, La Catena; Murano glass vessels developed by Bucci with Laguna B; a room scent she developed inspired by her home growing up, called Villa Colombo; customizable Carrara marble spheres; the jewelry boxes and stationery she designed with Pineider, the heralded brand founded in Florence in 1774, with whom her personal relationship goes all the way back to her own birth announcement, all of these share pride of place. Amongst the jewelry cases sparkling with Bucci’s famed Florentine finish and fringy gold weaves, I spy a custom diamond Color Field bracelet emblazoned “CARMEL”. Look, I’m not typically a “souvenir bracelet” type. But I’m here, aren’t I — I might as well try it. Seconds later, I’m admiring the way the stones feel cool against my wrist, and the way that its construction allows it to seamlessly flex with my movement, capturing the light; a slightly tongue-in-cheek, not-so-dreadfully-serious, deeply fun approach to a major piece of jewelry. I’m (very) nearly seduced, precluded from purchasing only by the fact that I have to keep my very fancy dog in very fancy food. I snap a picture and send it to my partner, along with a note that my initials also look great in precious stones, in case he somehow forgot.

Left: Our FORTE Beads jars on display at the new Fourtané store.

Right: Alessandra wears the exclusive "CARMEL" Color Field bracelet.

Across the space, behind a counter set up with stools for shoppers eager for one-of-a-kind souvenirs, where soon a large photograph of Florence will hang, to remind everyone where they really are, there are pharmacy-style glass jars filled with FORTE Beads in stones like amethyst, blue agate, chalcedony, coral, crazy jasper, malachite, tigers eye, and yellow jade, ready to be assembled into future heirlooms. In the spirit of the soon-approaching holiday season, rather than shop for myself I elect to do unto others, and to make a bracelet as a gift for a friend who’s just left California, using a combination of beads exclusive to the Carmel store. It uses shades of warm golds and pinks and deep and cool blues and greens, and selecting and stringing them has a sort of meditative quality (or more, depending on how you feel about the healing properties of certain stones); I’m not all surprised to learn that these particular beads were inspired by the natural beauty of the setting. Earlier that day on a drive up the stunning turns of Route 1, I saw the exact same tones between the earth, surf, and sky.

The next day, as I packed up for the airport, and texted all my loved ones to tell them we had to come back to Carmel to visit again, and make it soon, please, I realized part of the source of my swelling feelings of contentment. It’s exactly the kind of thing that I missed so much about shopping in person: the sense of discovery, a widening of scope, a welcome into a new way of experiencing the world. At a time where everyone has the same things, some things you really can truly only get from being there.

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Carmel-by-the-Sea FORTE Beads Bracelet Carmel-by-the-Sea FORTE Beads Bracelet

Carmel-by-the-Sea FORTE Beads Bracelet

Regular price £490
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Pineider x Carolina Bucci Safe Book Pineider x Carolina Bucci Safe Book

Pineider x Carolina Bucci Safe Book

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FORTE Beads Bracelet Maker FORTE Beads Bracelet Maker

FORTE Beads Bracelet Maker

£490
FORTE Beads Necklace Maker Sun

FORTE Beads Necklace Maker

Starts at £1,000
Set of 3 LagunaB Murano Glasses Set of 3 LagunaB Murano Glasses

Set of 3 LagunaB Murano Glasses

Regular price £480
Regular price Sale price £480
Villa Colombo La Candela Villa Colombo La Candela

Villa Colombo La Candela

Regular price £85
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Black Pink

Small Villa Colombo Home Fragrance

Regular price £680
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Carolina Bucci x Pineider Lucky Stationery Set Carolina Bucci x Pineider Lucky Stationery Set

Carolina Bucci x Pineider Lucky Stationery Set

Regular price £85
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Pineider x Carolina Bucci Jewellery Box Pineider x Carolina Bucci Jewellery Box

Pineider x Carolina Bucci Jewellery Box

Regular price £2,530
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1885 Short Links Necklace with Cuore Pendant 1885 Short Links Necklace with Cuore Pendant

1885 Short Links Necklace with Cuore Pendant

Regular price £14,350
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Color Field Bracelet Color Field Bracelet

Color Field Bracelet

Price Upon Request
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