Somehow, half the leaves on Broadway seem to have blown onto the white marble entryway of Alexia Crawford.
Denyse Miller, the store’s manager, sighs, regrets the nylon versions she bought to decorate the $63 bracelet display and the $119 wool scarf display, and gives the edges of her black angora cardigan a firm tug.
She looks as if she were thinking, “I will sell this necklace today, I will sell this necklace today.” She sweeps the floor a dozen times an afternoon, she said, and wonders how all those leaves are getting in.
Whatever it is — a passerby Wednesday night suggested the wind — it’s probably not the customers; there just aren’t that many of them most days.
And most of the ones who come, roughly 50 a day, are browsing, Miller said, asking the one question she answers more frequently than the one about the leaves: Who is Alexia Crawford?
Elevated to the echelon of myth in some circles, reduced to the realm of barbed-wire necklaces that might as well be on QVC in others, the namesake behind the jewelry empire has lingered in shadow since her store opened largely unnoticed this summer.
Miller greets those who do come with a Rembrandt-worthy mouth of pearly whites; they match Crawford’s classic pearl collection in the back, next to a bunch of fake leaves and a gift bag in Halloween colors.
Freshman R.T. Byrd said he always assumed Alexia Crawford was like J. Crew, “one of those type of things where the person doesn’t really exist.” Miller is not surprised.
The question is always the same, and Christina Liu ’02 was asking it Wednesday while trying on necklaces in the $5 basket aimed at students.
Is Broadway falling victim to the J. Peterman phenomenon?
“She is an actual person” Miller assures. “She hired me herself.”
And Crawford agrees.
“I am a real person,” she said in a telephone interview Thursday. “And I’m around. I’ve been to New Haven more times than I can count.”
She drives a Chevy Blazer from her home in Tenafly, N.J., to Yale roughly once a week, she said. She hasn’t really met any Yalies, though.
The Australian emigre has remained elusive, mostly running in to help with inventories and then rushing back to her headquarters in New York, Miller, a Connecticut native, said while fingering the paradeaux and smokey topaz rings that snake around the right wall of the store.
It was designed by the same architect who does Bulgari stores, Crawford said, and she worries the interior is off-putting for Yalies.
“There’s a chance it gives the impression that the store’s a lot more up-market than it is,” Crawford said, emphasizing like Miller, that there are jewelry options for any customer, no matter how deep the pockets of the pants they bought at Urban Outfitters.
Crawford became a self-made accessories maven when she moved to “the States” eight years ago as a newlywed.
“I met my husband in London, you know, blah blah blah, we fell in love, all the rest of it, and when I got here, I started doing my own thing,” she said.
Her first big client was the upscale department store Barneys, “which was a blessing and a problem because they went Chapter 11 shortly afterwards. But it was good for publicity and self esteem and that sort of thing,” she added, just as Crocodile Dundee would have said it, holding on to her A’s a little too long.
Crawford opened her first store in SoHo, in New York, and it’s been catalogue and private retail around the world ever since.
For her part, Miller has been anchored in southern Connecticut. In fact, she’s made a career of Broadway renewal, leaving a job in banking to open Origins several years ago.
Asked to compare the success of the stores, Miller declines. She also declines to say where Alexia Crawford merchandise is made, though tags in the bags and scarves indicate that they’re produced in India and the Philippines.
Crawford said most of the merchandise is made in New York but for the stuff made abroad, “We make a point of visiting all the different factories, and we have strict guidelines as far as who’s making them. We do our best to make sure they’re being made in the best conditions possible.”
Whatever the reason — the intimidating design, where the products are made, or the leaves in the entrance — something is keeping the bulk of students from even looking in Alexia Crawford.
Jessica Tran ’03 said, “I’ve never been in there because the stuff doesn’t look that interesting to me. It’s just overpriced crap.” She said she never really considered going in, though she did think briefly about who Alexia Crawford actually is.
But Liu, who settled on a gemstone necklace for her mother’s birthday, said she’s found the store isn’t prohibitively expensive. Rushing to a “Mass Media Mass Culture” section at the Hall of Graduate Studies, she said, “It’s good for between classes.”
Crawford said she hopes to convince more people of what Liu thinks but imagines it will just take time.
“The retail climate is more challenging, especially with what’s going on in the world,” she said. Regardless of whether the end of war will bring a spike in topaz choker sales, though, she said she thinks the Yale community will eventually warm to Alexia Crawford.
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