The fuchsia-dyed hair, “Flashdance”-era leg warmers and Japanese anime T-shirts give Rhode Island School of Design students away in Providence. But across the river from the campus, at risd/works, all that art-school experimentation has grown up and is market ready.
Selling housewares, jewelry, fashion accessories, books and other gifts, the shop carries the work of RISD (pronounced RIZZ-dee) alumni and faculty. This is no standard university store, since the school, founded in 1877, has graduated the glass artist Dale Chihuly, the film director Gus Van Sant and the fashion designer Nicole Miller, among other notables, and had innovative faculty members like the Cuisinart inventor Marc Harrison.
Alumni who haven’t returned to Providence since risd/works opened in 2001 often don’t know about it, forcing Matthew Johnson, who manages the store, to sleuth for wares at trade shows by asking designers he likes the odd question, “Where did you go to school?” The shop buys wholesale, then donates the proceeds from its retail sales to the university’s scholarship fund.
In a former bank building downtown, risd/works mixes the upscale with the tongue-in-cheek. An elegant blown-glass, ridged vase ($140) from Richard Jones for Studio Paran shares space with a Vinylux bowl pressed from a former Cat Stevens record ($28) by Jeff Davis. A bone china plate and bowl set ($90) by Yuki Murata is juxtaposed with a plastic voodoo doll-shaped toothpick holder ($7) by John Cave. Denyse Schmidt’s crib quilt set ($200) isn’t far from Josh Owen’s plastic bowling-pin-shaped lamp ($25), which you turn off by knocking over.
From the school’s better-known alumni, the shop stocks relatively affordable items. You won’t find any original Chihuly glass sculptures, but you will find his art kit ($28). The book section includes the children’s classic “The Polar Express” ($18.95) by Chris Van Allsburg and “Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, Health-Inspected, Copyright-Protected Cartoons” ($45) by Roz Chast. Pop culture surprises include “Family Guy” cartoon T-shirts ($32) from the creator Seth MacFarlane and a video of “To Die For” ($15) by Mr. Van Sant.
“To see all that talent together is impressive,” said Ms. Schmidt, who makes quilts sold at 200 stores as well as risd/works. “It’s definitely wonderful company to keep.”
risd/works, 10 Westminster Street, Providence; (401) 277-4949; www.risdworks.com. Weekdays and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.