By RITA KUEBER
When Barbara Strom opened La Bella Vita in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood 18 years ago (during The Feast, no less!), she had a vision to bring beautiful, crafted tabletop, serve ware, linens and more, from Italy, Portugal, India and other countries. While that vision continues and the Murray Hill shop is thriving, she opened a second location in Eton and spread her wings, creatively speaking, to include fine gifts, décor, jewelry, bridal registry and yes, tabletop from unique artisans capturing headlines throughout the world.
Last year she hosted a trunk show with internationally renowned artist, Michael Aram, with his fine jewelry and organically-inspired serve ware pieces. This month, Barbara will be hosting two high profile business owners, also known internationally for their decorative items and jewelry: Jon Morris, founder of Olivia Riegel and Susie Hoimes, owner of MDVII in the Russian Hill section of San Francisco.
The invitation-only special event will be September 26, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with two shopping sessions to spread out the guests. Barbara plans to roll out the red carpet and offer customers music, catered hors d’oeuvres and beverages. She suggests those interested should call the store or email* to check for availability and to obtain an invitation.
Barbara mentions how the successful Michael Aram jewelry trunk show last year inspired her to hollow out a portion of La Bella Vita to allow space for jewelry. “We emptied the middle of the store for Michael’s collections so people could see the depth of his work. We were so excited that he wanted to launch his jewelry line with the trunk show as well,” she says. “That led to us having a jewelry boutique inside the store and that went so well with pieces from Italy, the U.S. and other countries, I just kept going, and it’s done extremely well. It is an affordable mix of finer fashion jewelry that is not found in one place and I continue to change it up.”
That enthusiasm broadcast itself to Jon Morris when Barbara walked into his showroom in Atlanta. “I want to bring different styles for different looks and unique artists to Cleveland at different price levels,” Barbara says. Talking about the 100 square feet of space dedicated to this vision led to a conversation about the Chanel lariat necklace Jon had on display, and that led to a conversation about Jon’s good friend Susie Hoimes.
Jon’s company, Olivia Riegel is named for his beloved grandmother, a businesswoman and collector of costume jewelry. Inspired at an antique show by a bejeweled frame, in his Dallas studio he designs modern pieces with an old school twist, and plenty of jewels and crystals. These objects are crafted by artisans who hand-place stones into frames, walking sticks, bottle stoppers, Judaica, holiday items, decorative boxes, jewelry and more. The business will celebrate 20 years next year.
On the phone from his house in Sonoma County, California, Jon confesses his love for designing and creating but is more reserved about ‘blowing his own trumpet.’ Nonetheless, his passion for sharing his products is evident when he talks about his upcoming trip to Cleveland. “We’ll be bringing some special pieces in our mind, some limited editions and we’ll sign them for customers,” he says. “I’m so excited people are collecting our line. We typically don’t do a lot of these [personal appearances]” he adds, “but I love Barb and Pete [Barb’s husband] and I love how they operate. They have a very special business. She works very hard for her customers – her store is an experience – an elevated experience.”
Like her good friend Jon, Susie Hoimes has never been to Cleveland, but is very much looking forward to the trip. “I have a friend who lives on the Gold Coast, is that right? He’s going to take me around. I’ve heard so many great things about Cleveland, and I’ll get to meet Barb.”
British by birth and married to an American at one point, Susie lived in New York for 10 years before opening her store MDVII in San Francisco. Her business thrives on word of mouth and private events. She has been named one of the top 10 jewelry retailers by “Vogue” and recently “Icon,” a major magazine in Germany that did a feature piece on her incredible, unique collection and her expertise on costume jewelry. In a phone interview from the UK she talks about her visit to La Bella Vita. “Costume jewelry is beginning to be noticed by auction houses and investors because it’s now considered an art form of its own and not just ‘poor man’s jewelry.’ These pieces hold their value because they’re well made, and there’s a finite amount of it.”
“The best costume jewelry comes from France because of Coco Chanel’s influence and America because the US had a large middle class, especially between the world wars,” she continues. She describes her collection after 20 years in business, traveling all over the world, as a mix of costume and high-end vintage jewelry, mission glass and other decorative items. “I’ll be bringing a cross section from Chanel from the 1920s as well as more recent Chanel pieces, also some Dior, and all at different price points, from about $200 to $800. Although,” she adds, “a really important piece can fetch five figures now.”
Barbara continues to travel to Italy every year to find artists for both La Bella Vita locations. But for the Eton store, her goal is to always show the breadth of an artist’s work with trunk shows and private events like the one approaching. She marvels at her good fortune. “I can’t believe they’re coming,” she says of Jon and Susie. “I love being the idea merchant, and I rely on my fantastic staff to work with our great customers – people love my staff,” she says. “Most of our customers can shop anywhere in the world, but I like to bring the world to our customers in their own backyard.”
*La Bella Vita
28699 Chagrin Blvd, Eton Chagrin Boulevard,