Over the last few years, Alexis Cozzini has developed a reputation as one of Chicago’s fashion pioneers. Up until the beginning of this year, that reputation was tied to her popular Gold Coast boutique, SARCA, which carried a unique-to-Chicago selection from lines like Zimmermann, Mara Hoffman, Sass & Bide and Jean Michel Cazabat.
When SARCA flooded suddenly in February, destroying both the store and virtually all of its inventory, Alexis’s life and livelihood were turned upside down, and SARCA was forced to close. But, like the successful businesswoman that she is, Alexis wasted no time getting her business back on track. She spent the year rebuilding and redefining her brand and her vision, and a month ago, opened a new store-slash-showroom, Citizen Stone, in Lincoln Park.
We caught up with Alexis to talk about the flood, the evolution of her business and why she traded SARCA for Stone.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO HAVE TO SHUT DOWN SARCA SO SUDDENLY?
It was heartbreaking. When something like that happens, you literally don’t see it coming, so there is no time to prepare in every sense. I remember walking into the store at 5am, not being able to catch my breath, and bursting into tears. Your livelihood feels ruined all in an instant- everything you worked towards for years is gone, and you no longer have a job. And then to feel the weight of being financially responsible for everything you built, and all of your employees is just overwhelming.
I felt a moral obligation to keep plugging forward not only for myself, but for them as well. We picked ourselves up, setup shop in a temp location, and nobody had to lose their job. There wasn’t much thought behind it because I was so scared to be out of work, and to lose our customers that I didn’t want more than a few weeks to pass before we started operating again. I definitely don’t want to go through something like that every again!
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR NEW STORE, CITIZEN STONE, AS OPPOSED TO RE-OPENING SARCA?
It wasn’t that we wanted to close down SARCA and say “bye! you’re over with!” We experienced something that forced us to move out of that space and kind of recreate ourselves. I also decided to move forward with a broader product mix, beyond just clothing, so I thought it would be most appropriate to re-brand and come up with a new name. It was not an easy process, but I love where we are at right now- strategically and physically. SARCA will always be the original; our customers feel that too. Now, we have simply evolved.
WHAT’S THE CONCEPT BEHIND CITIZEN STONE?
Part of my inspiration behind the concept is the independent boutiques that you see throughout Europe. These stores are no longer stocking strictly clothing and accessories; they offer a little bit of everything. I wanted to be able to offer that to our market as well. I have always been interested in design and “homemaking” if you will. Typically if you are into fashion, these elements are just part of the natural progression of interest in style in general. Citizen Stone represents a lifestyle concept. You can come to us and find a great outfit, tableware for your next dinner party, a gift for your friend’s baby, a custom dog bed to match your decor, or a cook book to fulfill your latest food craving. We like to think we specialize in a little bit of everything.
Our shopping model is different than most. We are housed in a loft space in Lincoln Park. I refer to it as a showroom because we are not a ground level retail store. Our end goal is to launch a successful website and blog that are shop-able and that speak to the uniqueness of our product. But we also have very loyal clientele, for which I am so humbled. We wanted to have a place for them to come in, and experience the product first hand. I feel certain that when we launch our site in January, we will still have a lot of customers who prefer to shop in person. I want to make them feel comfortable and maintain that one-on-one relationship with them. So it has been important for us to keep that store-like atmosphere, while operating a little differently.
WHAT SORTS OF BRANDS WILL YOU CARRY?
We carry a wide range of local and international designers. Right now, a few of my favorites are Valentine Gauthier and Piamita for clothing. Ivy Kirzhner and Sigerson Morrison for shoes. History & Industry and Lele Sadoughi for jewelry. Seletti and Fornasetti for tabletop. And then some really great giftable items like Olfactive Studio perfumes, Jax & Bones custom dog beds, the Selby series books, and Collegien slipper socks for kids. I am constantly discovering new brands and evolving our mix, so you can rest assured that you will always find something new at C.S. each season.
WHAT PIECES ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THAT ARE IN THE STORE NOW?
I am really excited about the tabletop collections from Seletti. We have two collections- Palace and Hybrid. Palace is a literal stackable village of dinnerware pieces. And Hybrid is a fusion of old-world English china and Oriental china. Both collections really elevate the concept of buying into dinnerware that is functional for everyday use, yet sophisticated enough to host a seated meal with.
I am also loving these clutches by Mighty Purse. They are leather clutches that have a built in charger for your phone and tablet. You never have to worry about running out of power when your traveling or out on the town again! They are just super-handy for everyday use.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE NEW NAME?
The concept behind the name is a fictional woman known as “Stone.” She is a mysterious, well-read, well- traveled and cultured style icon. She is the woman that every woman desires to be, yet she is also your cool older sister, and your loyal best friend. Stone has a passion for all things beautiful and creative. Whether it is fashion, travel, fine dining, beauty, interior design, the latest book, or the coolest tech accessory, Stone is your go-to aficionado on all things exceptional. She is the prime example of the embodiment of “style”.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE NEW LINCOLN PARK LOCATION, AS OPPOSED TO RETURNING TO THE GOLD COAST?
The neighborhood is very conducive to our concept. Lincoln Park is the hub for a huge number of independent businesses. It’s very locally supported, it’s highly residential, and it’s accessible. We are literally in the center-point of the city- head 10 minutes north, south, east, or west and you’re in River North, the Gold Coast, Lakeview, Bucktown/Wicker Park. We’re literally a straight-shot from any direction, and it just kind of worked out that way. There is a lot of history to Lincoln Park, yet it’s also rapidly developing. You can gain inspiration to succeed from both standpoints.
HOW HAS THE CHICAGO FASHION AND DESIGN SCENE EVOLVED SINCE YOU OPENED YOUR FIRST STORE?
I’m not sure it’s much different than it was four years ago. But I have worked the retail scene in Chicago since I was 15 years old, and the one constant is that women want more. Chicago get’s pigeonholed into the “Midwest” category because of our location, and there is such a stigma that goes along with that. Chicago is a huge, metropolitan, cosmopolitan, international and cultured city! People who have never experience Chicago don’t realize that.
The women here that love fashion and love to shop want to be able to style themselves the way they see fashion being styles in magazines and blogs. They will go out of their way to make purchases outside of the state if they need to in order to get what they want. That’s why I try to carry things that you can’t find in Chicago- something a little different, and something that feeds their appetite. The biggest complaint I hear is about department stores buying too conservatively. Most people only have access to what is immediately available to them, so it’s our job as buyers and retailers to broaden the marketplace. Hence the launch of citizenstone.com, and hence traveling abroad to bring in great merchandise.