Alison Garwood Jones

Why the jewellery store crossed the road

Originally published in June 2008 in The Globe and Mail

Made You Look ‘s second location highlights the fun and funky side of gems

Jaywalking has gone up in Parkdale ever since Sarah Hamel, owner of Made You Look Jewellery Studio & Gallery on Queen Street west of Dufferin, opened a sister accessories store across the street.

But a recap for those not yet in-the-know. Made You Look opened seven years ago and quickly established itself as a bijoux box on a strip once better known for drugs and crime than pearl drops and loose gems. The bars on the windows – fashioned in the geometric pattern of a faceted stone – speak to that past with stylish defiance.

Inside the gallery is a bustling workshop and retail space where young designers – and there are 12 onsite who rent benches and use the equipment in the studio at the back – interact with customers interested in their designs on display out front. Hamel chose an “open kitchen” concept so the buying public could see and hear the designers at work, hammering and setting stones.

“The gallery is all about special-occasion jewellery,” Hamel says. In other words, pieces that require a significant stone to tell a story, whether it’s a birthstone or engagement ring, a sweet-16 pendant or a push present (the gift new fathers give to their partners).

But it wasn’t always that way. “When we first opened,” Hamel says, “we were doing everything from a boring pearl stud to highly experimental runway pieces made out of feathers and bottle caps and selling them all under one roof. My approach was: ‘Hey, if you’ve got fingers and earlobes, you’re my target market.’ ”

But Hamel says it got to a point where customers weren’t able to see diamonds as diamonds. “They’d ask, ‘Oh, are those glued in?’ Or, ‘Is that real?’ So I decided to move out the fun and funky into the empty retail space across the street.”

Made You Look Accessories (on the south side) occupies 1,000 square feet on the ground floor of a late Victorian retail space on the corner of Queen and Brock streets. For continuity, Hamel borrowed some of the décor from the north-side store – like the antique desk she had converted into a showcase, the classical mouldings and the Made You Look signature colours of black, dove grey and teal. She also built another four benches for onsite designers. But that’s where the similarities end.

As in an art gallery, the work on the walls and in the display cases sets the tone. And if the north side is about the cultured pearls and battered gold of, say, Johannes Vermeer and Tony Scherman (one of his prints hangs on the wall), the south side is a chaotic whirl of pop art hues, graffiti splashes and a Dadaist’s sense of the absurd.

Zooming in on one of the accessories cases you’ll find the polished-silver bird pins of Alistair Crombie. Birds have been a staple on scarves, handbags, hats, even wedding veils (think: Carrie B) for at least two seasons. That’s an eternity in fashion, which is why Crombie, hoping to move things along, paired this bird with a turd. The two are linked with a delicate chain. Bird With Poo pins retail for $90.

One shelf over, the neon-paint-splattered tin-can bracelets ($85) and metallic leather cuffs ($175) of Suzy Love scream Graffiti Alley and glam rock. They’re the perfect tribal adornments for Queen West scenesters.

Across the room, the eye is drawn next to a row of necklaces that flutter in the breeze every time the front door opens. “These delicate necklaces by Spun [$65 each] are made of a paper fabric from recycled ribbon ends,” Hamel explains, and are meant to be a comment on all the long-linked beaded necklaces you can find in every mall accessories store.

Still, not every item is crafted with a nudge and a wink. Art for art’s sake is on full display in this store. From every corner, charm bracelets jam-packed with trinkets ($85), floating crystal chokers ($95) and rings topped with gobstopper-sized semi-precious stones ($38) beckon the visitor to lift a wrist, expose a neck and extend a finger.

The place is filled with mirrors so you can do just that and it even has a change room in case you’re on a mission to find the perfect piece for a special outfit you’ve brought along.

“We’re here for your jewellery emergencies,” Hamel says, “and a lot of people who come in seem to feel like they’re having one.”

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