Last year for the holidays, I bought gifts for my friends at the All Arts Market at Neighborhood Theatre. I wanted each person to have something handcrafted and individual. Why? Because each person I bother to spend money on — and let's face it, would I really spend hard-earned money on someone who didn't matter to me? — is special. I would not buy my mom a blouse from Walmart that a thousand other women have. She's my mom, my only mom, and I want her to have something personal.
And I want you, dear reader, to want that, too. To help you find those one-of-a-kind presents for the people who matter to you, I've put together a short — but chic! — selection of locally grown or locally inspired products, perfect to offer up as tokens of your holiday spirit. Happy shopping!
House of Abbeydale — menswear
Nothing attracts my eye more than a well-dressed man. If a decent-looking guy in a collared shirt, crisp jeans and a pair of Oxfords asked me out, I'd consider handing him my heart.
That said, ladies, it's up to us to dress our men — husbands, brothers, best friends, dads, whomever — appropriately. House of Abbeydale, a custom men's shirt and accessory line, is ready to help.
David Watkins, the creator of the line, grew up on Abbeydale Drive in East Charlotte. (That's where he got the name.) He began his career selling tailored clothing for another company before venturing out on his own.
"One thing I noticed when I was out selling custom clothing is [that] guys had a lot of options for custom dress shirts, but they were making really horrible decisions when it came to casual wear," says Watkins, who admits his own style is classic and understated.
From there, Abbeydale was born, offering a number of classically styled shirts that never go out of season, tailored to a man's personal measurements and detailing refinements. "It might be a little more of an investment on the front end, but these pieces are going to last forever."
Watkins' shirts even come with their own stories. Take The Thomas ($155), a dress shirt available in a variety of fabrics and patterns, including black stripe castello or white cotton herringbone: "Who the heck is Thomas?" the description asks. "Our founder considers Thomas to be the foundation for classic elegance. But he doesn't call him Thomas, he calls him Dad."
Another shirt is The Seaboard ($155), inspired by Watkins' grandfather. "He was one of the coolest guys I've ever known, who was always pressed and dressed to the nines," the designer says. "Even in his old age when he wasn't doing so well, he'd still get up and press his slacks and put a nice shirt on and just sit around the house."
Abbeydale also features cufflinks and ties, for the man who's concerned about the details.
"I think anybody who pays attention to the way they dress is a really good customer for me," Watkins says. 0x000A"The people who generally purchase my stuff like a story, and they like to buy quality."
The Queen Cleopatra Collection — accessories
Over the summer, feather earrings were blazing in style. If you owned a quality pair purchased in one of Charlotte's local boutiques, then you probably were wearing a set crafted by Tamara Lytch, better known by her stage name Cleo Jones. A rapper, clothing designer and accessory maker, she is the creator of the Queen Cleopatra Collection.
Her hot sellers right now — available on her website and at places like Vivian B in NoDa — are her leather fringe earrings, starting at $25. They come in a variety of colors, like metallic, turquoise and black, and in two lengths, shoulder-length and mid-chest-length.
"I purchase raw leather hides, and I'll sit there and actually cut the shapes out," Jones says. "Then I have a machine that fringes the leather for me."
Jones says she is inspired by culture, and you can see it in her widely popular African-inspired print clutch. Some pieces from her fall clothing line also showcase a hint of the African aesthetic, with contemporary prints edging on an exotic motif.
The jewelry and bags typically draw a 20- to 25-year-old crowd, but the clothing attracts women in their late 20s to 30s, who want to look classy and sexy but not like their mom or grandma.
"Every time somebody purchases one of my pieces," Jones says, "I always get a call or an e-mail about how many people complimented them."
Hola Baby — Children's clothing
Even though my best friend's baby girl can't truly appreciate the incredibly cute outfits I've been buying her lately, I can't stop myself.
I think Julie Aguirre Whitted would probably agree with that love of dressing up little ones. A few years ago, she started the baby and children's clothing line Hola Baby. Each T-shirt, designed by Whitted and a family member, sports an endearing Spanish term. For example, one girl's shirt ($18), available in sizes 2T, 3T, 4T, features a pink strawberry sundae with the word "Fresona" below it in green letters. "Fresona" means "girly girl."