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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Class WorkSCAD boutique gives Atlantans new spot for unusual art objects

If the midcentury modern furnishings, antique display cases and vintage wallpaper interspersed between olive green painted walls don’t titillate a shopper’s senses, the edgy merchandise at Atlanta’s newest boutique almost certainly will.

ShopSCAD, which opened its doors Friday in Buckhead, soon will be known for its artsy, one-of-a-kind merchandise that previously could only be purchased in Savannah or on the Internet. Owned and operated by the Savannah College of Art and Design, ShopSCAD encompasses 4,200 square feet of showroom space on three levels. Although it is much larger than SCAD’s 1,200-square-foot flagship store that opened in Savannah in 2003, the concept is the same.

Everything in the store, from jewelry to fine art, from funky clothes to unusual pottery, baby gear, stationery and books, is created by SCAD students, faculty, alumni and staff. Interns at Working Class Studio, another division of SCAD, also contribute to the store’s inventory of about 2,000 products.

The boutique joins a growing number of locations in metro Atlanta that sell offbeat objets d’art created by students and undiscovered artists. For instance, Mudfire Clayworks and Gallery in Decatur sells pottery, sculptures and made-to-order gift baskets in its studio store. The Youth Art Connection downtown sells paintings done by local elementary, middle and high school students for nominal prices.

But unlike some of the galleries and art studios that operate as nonprofits, ShopSCAD is a for-profit business and carries a full line of products. The college has a third campus and store in Lacoste, France.

“We have many customers in the Atlanta area who visit our Savannah shop,” says Amy Zurcher, managing director of ShopSCAD here and in Savannah. “It just made sense to have a shop here to coordinate with our Atlanta campus.”

‘A showcase’

For SCAD’s past and present students and staff, the boutique is an opportunity to display their artistry and make some money.

“This is really a showcase for emerging artists,” says SCAD President Paula Wallace. “You never know when someone’s going to walk in the store.”

For consumers, ShopSCAD is a one-stop shop where they can purchase unique gifts and accessories. Nothing in the store is mass-produced and, in some cases, a customer will have the option of working with a designer to customize a product. But merchandise won’t be starving-artist cheap.

“Prices are definitely going to be higher than if you go to a department store because small businesses, or in this case, artists, are making these things,” Zurcher says.

For example, 100 percent silk bedding hand dyed and printed by SCAD alum Paige Hathaway-Thorn ranges from $116 for accent pillows to $1,300 for a queen-size duvet. Adult clothing runs from $34 for a T-shirt by Little by Jenny to $250 for a hand-dyed silk jacket by Jen Swearington. Fine art can cost as little as $5 for a postcard or as much as $4,000 for a mixed-media collage.

According to Zurcher, the Savannah store grossed more than $500,000 in sales in 2005, and art and jewelry were the most popular items.

“They kind of battle it out on a monthly basis to be our highest revenue maker,” she says.

Marketing tools

Jewelry prices range from $16 for a pair of earrings to about $2,000 for a garnet necklace. But the bulk of the jewelry sells in a range of $34 to $320.

The SCAD shops are one of several marketing tools the college is using to promote the work of its students and staff.

Shopscadonline.com, the school’s interactive Web site, gets about 50,000 hits a month, according to Zurcher.

Students’ work has also been featured in such trendy magazines as Elle Decor, Vogue, Lucky, Southern Living and Food &Wine.

Catalog sales might be another marketing tool the college taps in the near future, but in the meantime, SCAD plans to concentrate on the boutiques and online business.

“We won’t try to do too much more ourselves,” Wallace notes. “We have been approached by major retailers who want to carry SCAD-designed art. We just remain open to the possibilities.”

The school recently formed a partnership with West Elm to sell limited printed reproductions of original art done by a trio of SCAD graduates. The items hit stores in late July.

But for many of SCAD’s unknown artists, the next customer that stops in to browse the new shop might be their ticket to design fame.

Andre Leon Tally, an editor-at-large for Vogue magazine, recently purchased a ceramic bowl by SCAD graduate Tiffani Taylor at the Savannah store.

“He sent it to Oprah as a gift,” Wallace notes.