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Handbags Are Hung Like Art at Joy Gryson Boerum Hill

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Photos by Driely S. for Racked

As many in the fashion world find out the hard way, it's not enough to create innovative and cutting-edge products—you also have to have a head for business. Luckily for Joy Gryson, she's got the whole left-brain right-brain balance down. "I was always good at math and numbers, but there were definitely more creative juices flowing," explained the FIT graduate, whose resumé includes the Liz Claiborne accessories department.

So it was a calculated decision to open the second store for her handbag line in Boerum Hill, on a strip of Atlantic Avenue that's quickly become a retail destination for the borough. Read on to find out how Gryson compares her Brooklyn customers to those of her original Tribeca location and to learn about the changes coming to her brands later this year.

What made you decide to come to Brooklyn, and specifically to Boerum Hill?

To me, Brooklyn is a natural extension from Tribeca. I live in Tribeca, our store and our office are there, and I just think Brooklyn is very similar to the Tribeca world. It's very family-oriented—Boerum Hill specifically. I feel like this area is a destination, where you trip upon nice little finds.

A friend of mine, Sylvie, owns Atelier Cologne right down the block, and she tipped us off on a space [in this neighborhood]. We didn't necessarily want to be in a place where there's every single name-brand store that you can imagine. For us, it's more about finding something that someone wasn't familiar with.

Were you looking at other neighborhoods as well?

We were pretty much always looking in this area. Williamsburg was also very interesting to us, and we were looking at areas near Smith Street, but I feel like this was definitely a natural place for us to be.

That's definitely not to say that we might not open more stores in Brooklyn—we definitely love it here, even on a personal level. Our older daughter is graduating school in Tribeca, and we're looking at sending her to a school in Brooklyn. We have a connection going on.

Why did you decide to design your store like this, with an empty floor and all your product on the walls?

The idea behind this store and the Franklin Street store is that it's not about everything else. Here's a canvas, let's work on the walls, and let that speak for itself. So that's why it's very clean and very minimal. It's very true to what I feel this area is. We didn't want to change too much of the aesthetic.

It was really important that the product was what stood out, and not so much anything else from the store. We did get lighting fixtures from one of the antique stores here—we love the idea of shopping within the neighborhood.

How would you describe your customer—and is your Brooklyn customer different than that of Tribeca?

Our customer varies because we have a bunch of lines—Gryson, Olivia Harris, and Tribeca. I think the connecting sinew between all three of them is that she's confident, stylish, and doesn't need to have a brand name on her bag to feel like she's in-the-know.

I feel like that's exactly what the Brooklyn girl is—she's cool, she knows what she wants, she knows what she likes, she doesn't need to be told where to go, and she likes to discover things on her own. I think she's different from the Tribeca woman because she's a little more experimental, and a little more casual.

What do you think of when you're designing?

Honestly, I think of me—what kind of bag am I wanting that I don't see, and how am I going to use it? Then, aesthetically, I think about the "cool girls," like the Sienna Millers and the Kate Mosses. Obviously, they look great in anything, but what's going to work for someone who lives a normal life?

For me, function is really important. No matter how good a bag looks, if it's not functional, then you don't want to wear. it. I think it's really about finding that balance.

What are some of your best-selling, favorite bags?

The reversible Chevron tote [at right] is a bag I've been wearing all winter. It has this great plaid felt on one side, and then leather, an Italian lambskin. It has this removable pouch you can put things in—since it's reversible, you can't include a zipper pocket. This is something that we'll be continuing to do in different versions and materials.

Then we have the Odyssey tote bag, which is definitely more for "the working girl." It has this really cool hardware piece, and three compartments. They're great for your iPad or tablet

We have the Shredder satchel with ombré studded rivets—it's black on the bottom and then gets to a smoky dark gunmetal.

I also love the Juliana [above]—you can fit so much because there's three compartments and a really cool construction. I love the dimensions.

What are the price points of your collection, and why?

Something from the Tribeca line is anywhere between $95 and $250. Olivia Harris goes from $100 to $500, and then Gryson is $450 to $950. A lot of it is about the material I use, and the structure of the bag. It's about who the customer is in that particular brand and what she's willing to spend.

With Tribeca, it's a little bit easier, and you don't have to be so specific about certain things. But with Gryson, being on the higher end, that's really for the woman who wants an investment piece. A lot of times you see more functionality on these pieces, hence the price. There's a lot of hidden details and construction, and I think a woman who really appreciates that level understands why the cost is what it is.

How are you looking to expand your brand?

We are actively looking for more locations, and we're currently scouting in LA. We're also thinking of more locations in Manhattan—potentially West Village, Nolita, Upper West Side.

We also have international distributors in Korea and China and Japan, so we're going to be opening up some pop-up shops. We definitely think globally—Asia happens to really like the aesthetics of our bags. Europe is the area we need to start moving into once we have more stores.

Are there any changes coming specifically to your products?

Starting this fall, we're putting the Olivia Harris brand away for a while and we're going to expand the Gryson line, which will be renamed Joy Gryson. We're trying to make everything really streamlined, to complement the stores. Joy Gryson is going to take over the price points Olivia Harris was in, but the Tribeca will still exist. We're getting a great reaction so far at markets, so we're really psyched.

Are you going to be doing in-store events here?

In Tribeca, we have. Here, we have not. We opened up at a really funny time, and then the weather has been crazy, but we're planning to do an opening party in the next two months, with all of the spring products in. We want to bring in some bloggers and invite everyone in the neighborhood—it'll be fun to meet everyone.

Okay, time for the lightning round: 8am or 8pm?

Oh, 8pm! [Laughs]

Beer or wine?

Stella [Artois] beer, and then any Pinot Noir.

Whiskey or tequila?

Tequila.

Beach or mountains?

Beach.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs. We have both, but dogs.

Favorite vacation destination?

St. Barth's.

Favorite neighborhood lunchtime spot?

Oh, I don't know—pass?

Favorite happy hour spot?

I like Weather Up in Tribeca.

Rap or country?

Rap.

Scandal or Homeland?

Oh, definitely Homeland.
· Joy Gryson [Official website]
· All Better Know a Store Owner Posts [Racked NY]