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March 05, 2024

Hidden Gems: MUSE

ew York City’s West Village is arguably one of the most charming neighborhoods in the world. With its tree lined streets and brownstone buildings, it feels cozy but electric, with amazing restaurants and quaint, mom & pop shops. Adding its own authentic voice and more than its fair share of vibrancy to the thriving beat of the neighborhood is the MUSE retail shop.

The Shop’s unique selection is illustrative of Jennifer’s discerning eye and her spidey-like sense in identifying talent, attributes for which she has long been known.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

Owned and operated by Jennifer Shanker, whose 20 plus years of experience in the designer fine jewelry industry are marked by multiple accolades, the Muse shop is a natural extension of an already bourgeoning business. The Shop’s unique selection is illustrative of Jennifer’s discerning eye and her spidey-like sense in identifying talent, attributes for which she has long been known.

Offering jewelry from both within and outside of the roster of designers she represents at wholesale, as well as an intentional curation of art, fashion, books and home décor, every item in the store is a thoughtfully selected reflection of Jennifer’s exacting vision. A destination hot spot since opening its doors in 2020, the space frequently moonlights as an event venue for soirees, performances and collaborations and is already considered a West Village fixture. Intent on bringing a sense of joy, beauty and discovery to her community, Jennifer shared with us her singular perspective and, not surprisingly, her characteristic passion, commitment and creativity.

Image courtesy of MUSE

COUTURE: Tell us about the MUSE retail shop, what is your unique point of view?

Jennifer Shanker: I think our mix is what makes us unique; it’s our take on what we love about the jewelry world and how we like to show it. We don’t necessarily gravitate towards the same designers that a lot of retail stores do, we have a little bit of an off-beat offering, we offer high/low, day/night and while it’s dramatic, nothing is mainstream. We’re not looking to over saturate the market from a jewelry perspective, and from a retail perspective, we don’t want to show what everyone else is showing.

Jennifer Shanker, image courtesy of MUSE

COUTURE: Can you tell me a little more about the store? What’s the layout like, what’s the vibe?

JS: I wanted to make sure that the store looked approachable, and that people could browse without feeling pressured to buy. I’m not necessarily my own jewelry client, so I didn’t want an intimidating atmosphere and I wanted enough home items that are appealing for a neighborhood shop where you can happen upon jewelry you didn’t even know you were looking for. I approach the offering of the home pieces in a similar way to my approach to jewelry, I like what I like and not necessarily what everyone else likes. And while I was much more interested in filling the shelves with jewelry and home as opposed to fashion, the cashmere just fell on me; we had a similar way of working so it was the right fit.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

I’m very visual, so I look at the merchandising from the perspective of how you see it from outside and what would attract you to come in. Is there something that’s $50 that’s not available everywhere? Is it a good prop for the jewelry for styling and creating lifestyle images for Instagram? It’s all come together; we have a fabulous selection of jewelry and accessories that book end it.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

COUTURE: What’s your approach to the brands that you carry in the store?

JS: One of the interesting things about the retail store is that we realized pretty early on that we needed jewelry for the retail store that we don’t sell at the wholesale or industry level, we needed to fill in some blanks. We try to bring very fine but different independent fine jewelry designers from different parts of the world using different materials in an elevated way, designers who are doing what nobody else is doing. What people want to buy on a daily basis is understandable, approachable, lots of yellow gold and white diamonds, and our take on that has been trying to find an offering that is a little bit more, dare I say, “interesting” than your average, every day yellow gold and diamond jewelry.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

In terms of gathering the home merchandise to fill the shelves or the jewelry to fill in the blanks, I gravitate towards people with whom I already have a relationship that, until now, it didn’t make sense for us to work together because we didn’t have the model to support their businesses.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

The store has opened up a lot of opportunities for collaboration. There’s this mid-century modern glass store that I’ve been bartering with forever, as an example, so it made perfect sense to bring him in. To help fill the shelves, since we’ve never had a real budget for marketing or events, I’ve gotten to be a pro at cross marketing and creating opportunities where everyone benefits. I know how hard it is to give and get merchandise, so I can show my appreciation with good content and creative ways to help the brands we carry. It’s good visibility too, we have our store, and we have our retail appointments in the showroom, so a retailer might see something in the store that we don’t represent at the wholesale level and we’re always happy to make those connections. It’s very refreshing, after 20 years in only one category, to still be in jewelry but to have other props!

Image courtesy of MUSE

COUTURE: Where’s the best spot in town to grab a quick lunch?

JS: We have a MUSE map that shows some landmarks in the area. People are always saying, “I’d love to come but I don’t get to the West Village,” well, we like to show them, visually, why they should come.

Image courtesy of @CafeCluny

My favorite lunch from a time management perspective is Café Cluny, and my absolute favorite West Village neighborhood restaurant is Barbuto, we sell their cook book, we sell it very well, it’s a nice hostess gift to give, and nobody else sells the signed Barbuto books. When we opened, one of our first events was a book signing with Stellene [Volandes], which was great cross-marketing, plus it was a showcase of friends helping  one another. I would use her book for a background for Instagram and people started asking about the book and if they could get a copy, so we also started carrying other books, only signed copies, by people we knew. We have Melanie Grant’s book, we have Marion Fasel’s book (when we can keep it in stock!), Beth Bernstein’s book, and we have the Blaboosta cook book, which is the restaurant on the corner right next to us.

Image Courtesy of @BarbutoNYC

COUTURE: Where’s the best restaurant for entertaining clients or out of town guests?

JS: Barbutto or Balaboosta are my two go-tos. Before living in our current location, I lived on Barrow Street for 12 years, and then our family moved from Barrow Street to Jane Street, which is three blocks from the office/showroom and around the corner from Barbutto, you didn’t even have to cross the street. Two nights after we moved in, I said to my husband, “I need a Barbutto hook up!” I kid you not, the next day I got a text from Paul Schneider [owner of TWIST] telling me that Sasha [his daughter] is the new hostess at Barbutto, it was a gift! I went there forever, I was always in the system as “Sasha’s friend,” and we’d go there for holiday lunches with family and clients. When they sold the building and Barbutto closed, the neighborhood was not happy, it was a huge upset. Three years later it re-opened around the corner, two blocks away from its original location. It’s in a fabulous space, the acoustics are better, and they change the menu more often. We went to the new location the first week it was open, it was a Saturday night right before COVID, and on Sunday, everything was closed. I’m so happy they came back; I have such an affinity for them. I’m no longer in their system as “Sasha’s friend” since she no longer works there, but now I’m in their system as the friend of somebody else.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

COUTURE: What’s your favorite bar?

JS: I’m not a bar person but my new favorite spot is Hotel Chelsea, everything there that I’ve had so far is fabulous, I love it. And of course, during our last event, we had a bar cart that was legit, we served Hot Toddies!

How our events started, incidentally, was because of covid; there wasn’t a place to socialize or gather, there were no bars that were open, so we became a meeting point and different people from the neighborhood would gather and it was super special. Every week we’d see the same number of faces but not necessarily the same faces, it was always a nice mix.

Image courtesy of Adobe

COUTURE: What’s your favorite local cultural spot?

JS: The Whitney. I love the way it’s designed; I love the layout, the space is very easy to wander in, and I love the location and the views of the surrounding areas, it has great views of the Hudson River and the West Village.

Image courtesy of @musexmuse

COUTURE: What’s special about neighborhood?

JS: It’s a low key area in the city, the buildings are lower, it still has kind of an old school, OG vibe, there are people who have lived her for 50-60 years and there are pockets of the neighborhood that are unchanged. It’s a beautiful little nook, it’s right next to the water, two blocks from the river, so it’s a different kind of air. My kids went to public school here and it still feels like a neighborhood, you see people who are familiar, but you can also feel private if that’s the mood you’re in. It’s like a little town, I run into people I know all the time, and it still has mom and pop shops, we don’t have the same things that you can find everywhere else in the city. Basically, it’s where I know and it’s the only neighborhood I’d want to live in!

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