BY ALICE YORK
This month, I wanted to shift format slightly from the individual pieces that are on my radar to instead put a spotlight on a Chicago boutique – and the two men behind it – on the pulse of what’s NOW!
It was fourteen years ago that Jim Wetzel, a mainstay in Chicago retail for years, holding positions in sales and merchandising everywhere from the Gap to Gucci, decided to open his own store, Jake, with his partner Lance Lawson (hailing from the TV marketing world of Manhattan and companies like AMEX and Walt Disney). Jake, which was home to clothing for men and women by emerging designers, garnered buzz across the country and grew to three locations before they closed its doors in 2010.
Almost immediately after, the duo opened the extremely popular space519, located in the 600 N. Michigan building, focusing on curating items across a broad range of categories at a wide range of prices. From cult-favorite clothing lines, covetable jewelry, and brand new beauty labels (such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop) to often tongue-in-cheek home accessories, it is nearly impossible to leave without picking up a little – or big – something (I have purchased everything from key chains and ring holders to an Apiece Apart black leather maxi skirt within their doors).
So, for those who know Jim and Lance – or who have followed their careers – it should come as no surprise that it was this Chicago fashion power couple approached by the team behind the Chicago Athletic Association to conceive, design, and run the retail component of the revitalized CAA.
And so, Madison Hall was born.
Just last year, the historic CAA – a social club originally erected in 1893 – revealed the results of its stunning and lavish restoration project, turning the site into a stylish hotel that’s already been featured in discerning publications like Vanity Fair and Travel + Leisure. Madison Hall occupies two storefronts along this hotel’s Madison Street entrance. Wetzel and Lawson conceived the spaces’ jewel box interiors, all with a nod to the past.
The store’s East space is a convergence of the old and new: when you first walk in, you are transported to a 1930s drugstore, but the sundries and apothecary items are from modern labels like the much-obsessed over Australian line Aesop and the magazines are sought-after indie titles like the gentlewoman. An old-fashioned barber chairs hosts a rotation of in-demand stylists and men’s accessories and fashions are displayed among tweed furnishings and architectural busts.
Once a Ladies’ Lounge within the all-male club, the west space retains the elegance of the old club’s heyday, replete with fresh flowers (courtesy of the Christine Noelle Design shop-in-shop), cosmetics, accessories, and a fragrance counter. The Santa Maria Novella line – a Florentine apothecary line dating back four centuries – lends to the space’s storied, luxurious feel.
Classic Chicago: Something that drew us to Madison Hall was the history of its setting: the Chicago Athletic Association. Tell us how your partnership developed and what it’s been like being a part of the reviving of this space?
Jim and Lance: It has been a huge honor. Since we came on board early on, we have borne witness to the true transformation of the space, witnessing all the loving care that went into preserving many of its best features. Also, for us, it was a dream to work with Robin and Stephen from Roman + Williams. We have always been so inspired by their work – they truly have designed some of our favorite places on earth. It was a fun design departure doing something more traditional, since all of our previous store interiors have been so streamlined and modern. Knowing that our women’s shop was once the Ladies’ Area gave us full latitude to go over-the-top girly. And the converse was true with our other spot, which had been the Manager’s office. We loved building upon the heritage revival going on in Men’s right now and doing it oh-so-old-school.
CC: What do you think sets Chicago apart, or how would you define our style and retail scene, versus somewhere like New York or Los Angeles?
J&L: Chicago is for sure a bit more buttoned down than New York City. People here are not such slaves to fashion, always having to make a statement. They also are not as tied to logos and labels and it-bags. But we are more pulled together than the overly casual Los Angeles vibe. Chicagoans like tailoring and want to look pulled together. We also find that our clients love to find new things. And they are also very well-traveled and have seen many of the lines we carry while in New York or L.A. or while shopping in Europe.
CC: What sort of energy do you want shoppers to feel in the store – what sort of vibe are you hoping Madison Hall gives off to those that stop in?
J&L: Well, like all of our stores, we want it to feel approachable. And fun. And we pride ourselves on having really friendly sales people who love to tell all the stories that go hand in hand with the hard-to-find items we carry. It’s generally kind of like an avalanche: people pick up one thing and then suddenly we are ringing them up for a bag FULL of goodies.
CC: Madison Hall has such a well-curated, edited, eclectic – and just extremely cool – selection. How do you pick what makes it into the space?
J&L: Thanks a million for that. It is so kind. We work really hard to find each and every item. We travel every month of the year to markets all over the world. We also love to explore and shop to find new things – especially in London where the retail scene is so vibrant. And at the end of the day, every single item speaks to both of us in some way. It’s really interesting: we pretty much always agree and are drawn to the same things.
CC: Speaking of picks – what are your top spring picks or trends, now that it seems like the season is officially (fingers crossed) here?
J&L: Yes! Let’s hope. We are loving the return of pants. The Katherine Hepburn pant is back and also wider-leg, high-waisted jeans. Also, everything feels really “lady” right now, with A-line skirts below the knee and lots of soft fabrics and colors. For beauty, it is all about rose. The color, the scent, and the romantic Far From Heaven feel of light, feminine makeup. For men, heritage continues to be strong. We love that guys are wearing ties and using products, too, for their hair and smell nice. And everyday basics like a handsome raincoat or attractive umbrella are essentials right now.
CC: I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this without bringing it back to all things Chicago: what are some of your favorite things about Chicago – I know Jim, you’re a North Shore native and Lance you’ve been here almost twenty years – and now that the weather is welcoming us back outside, what are your favorite things to do in the city once spring arrives?
J&L: We love dining at the bar – anywhere and everywhere – but especially at Gemini Bistro in Lincoln Park. We are so excited to see Duran Duran at Ravinia this summer. And we love the pavilion versus the lawn – it lets you still be outside, but also a part of the concert. And here in Chicago, we are so well located for weekend getaways anywhere in the country. We just returned from a fun food weekend in New Orleans and are headed to Charleston for another one in June. We love walking our Golden Retriever Loretta on the lake and seeing all the people out and about. Chicago is such a joy in the summer. Everyone is so upbeat and the whole energy changes. We all know to enjoy it while it lasts!
Thank you, guys, for taking the time to talk with us and congratulations on the new place! (Jim and Lance are moving into a historic, prewar building on Lake Shore Drive this month, fulfilling Jim’s lifetime dream of living along Lake Michigan.)