If there were a social hierarchy for independent boutiques in the proverbial school lunchroom that is L.A., the cool kids would likely sit on West 3rd Street — and not just for close proximity to the Chinese chicken salad at Joan's on Third.
Though stores from Abbot Kinney to Echo Park may be equally shoppable, the West 3rd shopping district between Fairfax and La Cienega boasts untouchables such as Satine and Milk that have long set the standard for respected West Coast style, emitting a vibe at once hipster, California-relaxed and refined (nothing macrame here unless it's Isabel Marant; nothing studded unless it's Alexander Wang). Now, these popular kids have a new kid in their midst: Beckley — a reincarnation of a popular Melrose store helmed by up-and-coming designer Melissa Akkaway — is the latest addition to 3rd Street's retail in-crowd.
This new Beckley location boasts plenty of real estate, personally spruced up by Akkaway with help from Rebecca Jezek of Creative Space, a company that handles logistics from location scouting to construction and interior design. Steam punk-style industrial steel chandeliers, looking like contour drawings of boxes, by Seattle design studio Iacoli & McAllister are juxtaposed against Midcentury Modern-inspired chairs in the waiting area that were created by local furniture design company Lawson Fenning.
There are racks of women's clothing by all manner of coveted designers, including Phillip Lim, Dark Shadows by Rick Owen and Ostwald Helgason. The boutique also carries items such as Voluspa and Jonathan Adler candles and a fluorescent rainbow assortment of lingerie. In the private VIP lounge, camel-colored horsehair chairs and a cream-colored wool blend couch (also by Lawson Fenning) sit atop a Paul Smith Carnival rug and under first-edition Massimo Vitali prints.
If anyone knows what works for a retail space, it's Akkaway, her fans say. "Melissa has been successful in difficult times for retail, opening initially right when the economy crashed," says John Eshaya, designer of T-shirt and denim line Jet, carried at Beckley, and also Fred Segal Melrose's women's buyer for almost two decades. "She's continued moving forward, and it's because her style is so great and because she really understands the look of her customer. Her customer follows her."
Akkaway comes by her retail chops naturally: In 1908, her great-grandfather pioneered a men's shop called Beckley's in Las Vegas, then a true desert wasteland sans flashy casinos and blinking slot machines. Perhaps as a result of that pedigree, the women in her family were also fashion plates, prioritizing style. "I have entrepreneurship and also a love of fashion in my blood," Akkaway says.
In 2008, Akkaway opened her first Beckley store on Melrose and soon after was surrounded by the likes of Alberta Ferretti, Balenciaga and high-end British erotic lingerie store Coco de Mer. It had a girlie, comfortable feel and quickly drew interest from both shoppers and the "right" people in Hollywood.
"In L.A., once you start developing a relationship with stylists, they'll come back to you on a weekly or monthly basis," she explains. "There were also regulars who would return again and again, even from out of town. That's when I felt like we were becoming a staple. Of course, celebrities bring all kinds of kudos too — when they come shop, it's like they give the store their stamp of approval." Two years later, bolstered by the success of her first store, Akkaway returned to her Sin City roots, opening a shop at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
In 2011, Akkaway began yet another venture: She designed the inaugural collection for her new line, Beckley by Melissa. Many pieces, such as a fur vest, were inspired by vintage items worn by her grandmother and mother. "The line started out as a way to fill in bits of what I couldn't find when I was out buying for the store, like a great pair of leather leggings at a more affordable price point, some tops, a great leather jacket," she says. "Then, it morphed into a real collection. We produce everything here in North Hollywood, which gives us great quality control." Prices range from about $60 for a scarf to $840 for a boxy rabbit fur jacket. For spring 2013, Beckley by Melissa will be sold at other stores too from New York City to Oklahoma and beyond.
The line may have started small, but it was an instant success with her A-list following. Actress Emmy Rossum, who counts Beckley as a "go to shopping spot in Los Angeles," is a fan of the brand too. "One of my favorite pieces is the bow neck blouse," says the "Shameless" star. "It's a classic staple that I can wear over and over in any season, and I have it in 2 colors: gray and purple."
With all this growth, Akkaway decided it was time to move. "Our lease was up on Melrose, and I felt I wanted an overall rebrand, refresh and redesign of the space," she explains. "I didn't just want to move everything but to really take a moment and look at the brand and ask what have we evolved into, who are we now compared to a few years ago." Thanks to Creative Space, she found the old Chateau Marmutt storefront on 3rd Street, which immediately felt like a fit thanks to illustrious culinary and fashion-forward neighbors and the quaint, community-oriented nature of the walking stretch. "Sometimes you just know," she says. "It was a gut feeling."
Eshaya agrees that this was a good move: "The 3rd Street boutiques are more independent, specialty and interesting and owned by really cool girls. It's where you go to grow up before you make that leap to corporate."
8138 W. 3rd St., http://www.beckleyboutique.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun