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Lady Luxe is a purple-walled boutique clothing store in Cambridge

Posted by Your Town  May 26, 2011 09:20 AM

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Carolina Shea and Danielle McLoud grew up poking through yard sales on the Saturday mornings and helping out at their mother’s eclectic shop after school. So last May the sisters, who have seen their fair share of the shabby and the chic, opened their own vintage shop in Cambridge’s Strawberry Hill.

Inspired by their mother’s passion for everything vintage, but also interested in adding modern flair, Shea and McCloud created Lady Luxe—a purple-walled boutique shop housing everything from 18th century hairbrushes to sequin jackets straight from the ‘80s.

Sitting on a corner of Cushing and Belmont streets, Lady Luxe showcases large, intricate window displays of the sisters’ latest finds and seasonal favorites. In one recent week, an old leather-buckled suitcase sat propped next to a lanky mannequin in a flouncy coral dress, pearls draping down its neck.

Each item on display and in storage has been handpicked by either McLoud or Shea. The two travel to estate sales, yard sales, other vintage shops, auctions, and even their mother’s store in Clinton, to collect what they consider the best of vintage.

After years of helping out and bring their friends to their mother’s shop, Shea and McLoud will tell you, they’ve have learned how to sift through the junk and find the gems.

“I would come home from an auction late one night and wake up to find them snooping through my haul in the morning,” their mother, Viviana McLoud, said. “They’ve got it in their blood and they don’t even realize it.”

Viviana McLoud, has been in the vintage and antique business herself for more than 30 years. Inspired to shop smart by her mother, who shopped at thrift stores for her large family, Viviana McLoud said she is happy to pass her mother’s passion on to her daughters and watch them take it in a new direction using their individual strengths.

Shea, 32, is the creative one, working night and day to create intricate displays, new decorations, and an organized floor plan. When she can’t sleep, she draws floor plans and layouts and sketches outfits in a notebook.

McLoud, 24, is the business woman and simply likes to sell things. Less than a month after their opening, McLoud purchased a 1940s waterfall armoire. This was her first sale.

Still, Shea acknowledged, as Lady Luxe reached its first anniversary this May, it has yet to break even. With the help of their parents, the two had set aside enough money to sustain the store awhile longer but hope to turn a profit within the next six to eight months.

“Our parents have been very helpful, but we don’t want it to be a crutch,” Shea said, adding that she and McLoud plan to look over their first year’s numbers, including daily sales, monthly reports, and trend information, in detail with Shea’s husband, Chris.

She remains optimistic.

“Everyone is always looking for a great sale, a great bargain, and we have them,” Shea said.

Prices in the store vary from $1 handkerchiefs and $3 pendants to $500 crystal chandeliers and an $800 cowgirl writing desk from the turn of the century. On average, garments cost about $20 to $40 but a $10 “Sweet Treat” rack carries blazers and dresses for those interested in modern vintage for less.

Sarah Wheeler, 44, of Watertown is one of Lady Luxe’s regulars. Visiting the shop once or twice every two weeks, she said she manages to find something every time she comes in. One day, she bought a short sleeved white and green flowered dress McLoud was wearing and a pair of black pearl drop earrings Shea was donning.

“Now that’s good customer service, when they will sell you the outfits off their backs,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said she appreciates the shop’s eclectic offering, its prices, and the sisters’ service. She said McLoud knows her style, figure and taste so well that, “If Danielle pulls it off the rack, I buy it.”

Certainly service the sisters’ trademark. On a recent Monday, the two lifted every sequin dress from each of the racks in the store for a woman in search of the perfect over-the-top shift dress for her 60th birthday party. McLoud even helped her into a couple of the more ornate ones.

“Customer service is key,” Shea said. “It’s how we’re going to build a customer base, keep our regulars coming back, get more regulars, and also keep the word going around.”

The store’s distinctiveness could help, too. Wheeler said she appreciates the sisters’ effort to bring a funky and interesting business to a suburban area profuse with the likes of Ann Taylor and The Gap.

Shea said neighbors are still discovering the store, a good sign for any new business.

“A lot of people are still saying, ‘Oh I didn’t know you guys were here,’ and we always like to hear that because it means that the word is still getting out,” she said.

So far the sisters are running Lady Luxe on their own, rotating shifts each week to give one another time off when needed, and purchasing all of their goods instead of offering consignment services.

Despite their age and temperamental differences, they say being sisters works for them rather than against them.

“This business has been a huge bonding experience,” Shea said. But they’ve always been close.

Growing up, Shea took McLoud wherever she went—-to the movies, out shopping, to the beach—-with her friends, who would always ask, “Is Danielle coming?”

Their mother remembers overhearing the two as children saying, “One day we are going to own our own boutique.” While on vacations the sisters would scope out vintage shops instead of laying on the beach, to take note of the decorations and items on display.

She recalls them whispering things such as, “Aw, isn’t this one cute? Ours will be just like this,” and “Look at this, we are definitely having one of these.”

Still, they acknowledge that they sometimes butted heads last spring as they approached opening day.

Shea was focused on getting the shop open and running, while McLoud, who described herself as the more meticulous of the two, focused on perfecting every aspect of the store.

“From the aesthetics down to the game plan, I was a perfectionist,” McLoud said. “I had a specific image in my mind and I’m very bull-headed. When we were trying to pick the color scheme, I think we were in the store for over an hour. And she [Shea] was ready to just throw her hands up and say, ‘Okay, you decide then,’ but that still doesn’t satisfy me because I want her to be in agreement with me.”

Shea pointed out that as they were making their business plans, the two had just finished planning her wedding. She said the wedding experience helped them when trying to compromise on everything from wall color, furniture, and display designs.

“We go to each other for ideas all the time now and bounce them off each other,” she said. “We need a lot of talking and a lot of communicating. It’s when we don’t talk that we get into trouble. “

McLoud said that it is their sisterhood that is driving them to succeed.

“We’re stuck with each other through thick and thin and we support each other no matter what,” she said. “We have to work through everything so we make sure we do it well.”

Shea added, “Because we’re so close, we can yell at each other if we have to, to get the point across. At the end of the day, we love each other and we own a business and we make both of those things work.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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