A feast for the senses

October 13, 2022  |  Joyce Kauf
Atelier d'Emotion
New York boutique Atelier d’Emotion is an interactive hub of creativity that offers fragrances and art alongside its jewelry.

Jewelry, art and perfume often conjure up memories, a feeling of awe, or an expression of joy. That appeal to the senses is at the heart of Atelier d’Emotion, an eclectic boutique in New York’s SoHo district. Featuring fine and contemporary jewelry, art, fragrances, and home accessories, Atelier d’Emotion — which translates to “workshop of emotion” — is “not just a store,” says founder Alice Sundbom; it’s an interactive environment of “discovery and comfort.”

“It’s a community of designers who help each other to the extent of sourcing materials,” she explains. “It’s a place where customers can meet, talk and exchange ideas with the designers, who occasionally create pieces based on their feedback.” These experiences foster the emotional connection that makes the purchases so meaningful — especially when it comes to jewelry.

“You have to love jewelry,” she says, adding that it “has to be touched and felt” as part of the unspoken bond that draws a customer to a piece.

Settling in SoHo

Jewelry was always a passion for Sundbom, who was a licensed psychologist in her native Sweden. After moving to New York, she studied jewelry making. But she gained invaluable firsthand experience in building a brand from scratch when she was hired to do the marketing for a friend launching a jewelry line.

SoHo was her first choice for introducing her own venture. With a nod to the neighborhood’s past, she situated her 400-square-foot store in a landmark building from the early 1900s that boasts the original ceilings and floors.

Atelier d’Emotion began as a holiday pop-up that was scheduled to last for only a month. “In December 2018, we arranged for some designers to participate, and then added fragrances and candles,” Sundbom recalls. The positive reaction convinced her to open a store, gradually adding more designers to what has become a year-long waiting list.

“We feature small, independent brands who manufacture right here in New York. Even our private label, which is based on in-store requests, is made on 47th Street,” she says. “Nothing is mass-produced,” unlike at department stores that she says want uniformity at the expense of creativity. The latter is a key criterion in her selection of designers.

Caterpillars and crocheted metal

With her strategically curated collections of one-of-a-kind pieces, Sundbom successfully addresses the needs of two distinct demographics: millennials and a “more mature” customer base. While millennials want an experience, she says, they “don’t want their grandmother’s ring.” Meeting with the designer resonates with them, and “they become attached to items that have a story behind them.” She points particularly to the Caterpillar Diamond collection from creator Eun Young’s Baubou brand.

The more mature customers, meanwhile, are highly appreciative of art, including art they can wear, she continues. This customer segment favors sculptural designs, such as rings by Elena Kriegner that can also serve as pendants.

Top sellers “vary by month,” according to Sundbom. Bridal pieces from Hi June Parker with salt-and-pepper diamonds are among the shop’s popular offerings. So are alternative wedding bands by C. Fine Jewelry — which come in colorful ceramics and gemstones for the LGBTQ community — and unisex designs from Pina Studio Jewelry. Colored stones such as pink sapphires or slices of watermelon tourmaline are strong sellers.

From works like artist Jaclyn Davidson’s textured steel cuff with diamonds, to crocheted metal jewelry by La Vie Boheme, the store offers merchandise that Sundbom just couldn’t “say no to.” Alongside pieces in 22-karat gold from designer Jack Bigio, she occasionally overcomes her resistance to carrying gold-plated items, choosing ones that “deserve to be in the store.”

While Sundbom identifies her sweet spot as $1,500, she definitely sees a market for fine jewelry in the $7,000 to $8,000 range. She has also observed a post-pandemic trend for “big and bold” earrings that would be difficult to wear with a mask.

Making scents

Atelier d’Emotion’s offerings aren’t just visual and tactile; they extend into the olfactory realm as well.

“Fragrance sets the mood for the day; it transports you to another place,” says Sundbom. She makes an effort to carry niche fragrances that are exclusive to the boutique, the east coast, or New York. It’s an effective formula, as the crossover of sales between her fragrance and jewelry clients has shown.

“People come into the store to buy jewelry and then find a very special fragrance, and the opposite is true as well,” Sundbom relates. “These customers share a common trait: They are looking for something different.”

Prior to the pandemic, she catered to lovers of both categories by hosting a three-course “dinner” — but with a sampling of fragrances and jewelry instead of food. Attendees would match each fragrance and piece of jewelry with a cocktail to answer questions like “What does a diamond smell like?” or “What does a ruby taste like?”

Inside and out

The walls of the boutique are always adorned with art, which Sundbom regularly rotates. But during the pandemic, when she had to switch from an “inside to outside audience,” she opted to display artwork in the large windows facing the street. That included performance art; she would host sculptors, dancers and others to entertain passers-by. The popularity of these displays reminded her of pre-pandemic times, “when people always spilled out onto the street” during her in-store events.

Promotion of the store’s offerings tends to be organic. “We never have to push a sale,” says Sundbom, who points to word-of-mouth and repeat customers’ increasingly large purchases as driving business. She also has more than 1,000 loyal followers from around the world who subscribe to her newsletter.

With a strategy that is part psychology and part marketing, she attributes her success to creating an environment where people feel comfortable and welcomed. “When customers enter the boutique, they feel they have stepped into a very special world. We’re not a traditional retailer. We’re selling an experience, an idea, and the possibility of learning more. Customers keep coming back because we create something magical.”

Image: Atelier d’Emotion

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