Booth Moore, Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic
April 13, 2013
Designer, retailer and Hollywood royalty Jennifer Nicholson, who once headlined Los Angeles Fashion Week and showed her collections in New York, has returned to fashion after a nearly five-year hiatus. Her new venture is Pearl Drop, a Venice boutique with a "boho goddess festival vibe," opened just in time to dress customers for this month's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of Nicholson's favorite springtime excursions.
Located on Lincoln Boulevard in the up-and-coming retail area known as the Linc that's become an alternative to crowded Abbot Kinney, Pearl Drop showcases mostly California-based labels, plus pieces that Nicholson has designed herself under the Pearl Drop label.
"The L.A. fashion scene has changed so much in the past 10 years," says Nicholson, 49. "There are so many more designers making things here. And fashion in L.A. is really respected. Designers like Rodarte's Kate and Laura Mulleavy have really upped the ante. When I was starting out, I did sales through Showroom Seven in New York. Now, they have an office in L.A. Downtown is revived. It's really happening, which is why it's possible now to open a store featuring designers who are primarily from here."
Pearl Drop is a play on Pearl, which was the name of Nicholson's Santa Monica store that closed in 2005. Her old store was very "girly debutante on acid," she says, as was her collection back then.
"I loved that, but I didn't really dress that way. This is the way I dress," she says of the haute hippie Pearl Drop, which is located near several of her favorite Venice haunts, including General Store and Moon Juice.
The interior is eclectic and light-filled, with baroque-looking antiques culled from Nicholson's Malibu beach house. She describes the look as one part "underwater beachy, mermaid grotto" (a glass side table with pink seahorses for a base; a sea foam green velvet, scallop shell-shaped couch with carved wood mermaids for legs; and a glass pirate ship chandelier) and one part "glorified yoga shop," with mystic crystals, feathers and framed butterfly displays.
Nicholson, who is the daughter of Jack Nicholson and his first wife, Sandra Knight, recently took up Kundalini yoga after a bad breakup and plans to offer libations from Moon Juice and workshops with her yoga teacher in the store's outdoor courtyard space. "So you never want to leave," she says. She even created a leather turban for her collection inspired by the traditional clothing she wears during her practice.
On the racks and shelves are Gregory Parkinson caftans made of over-dyed Indian fabric ($415 to $680); GoldDust one-of-a-kind floaty print dresses ($180 to $475); Goddis fringed cardigans and ponchos ($220 to $285); Alex & Lee artisanal crystal collage necklaces ($1,900 to $2,200); Heyoka fringed leather bags and neck pieces and Calleen Cordero sandals. Mixed in are vintage pieces, including a fringed suede wrap skirt, embroidered denim jacket and beaded moccasins.
Carried over from Nicholson's old store, a wood and glass display with a sign overhead that says "Beauty Bar" showcases an expansive selection of jewelry, including shell rings, clear bracelets with dried flowers encased inside, serpent rings by Jessica Seaton, and vintage silver and turquoise Native American pieces. There are also beauty products, including body oils, bath salts and lip balms, from Rodin, Sweet Sisters and Persephone.
Nicholson's own designs are also featured, including brightly colored leather biker jackets with zipper pulls molded into the shape of shark's teeth, and high-waist leather pants with lacing at the ankles.
"I love vintage leather pants from the 1970s, but when you put them on, you're so stiff, you can't walk. Now there are all these amazing stretch leathers to work with," she says.
Nicholson has made caftans and kimonos in prints created with L.A. artist Alia Penner. One print is a collage of jewels, along with the Pearl Drop logo. Another, which is used as a lining in the leather jackets, mixes naked 1970s pinups with images of seashells.
"I'm just doing pieces I want to do, not whole categories, so I can go at my own pace," says Nicholson, who made her first foray into fashion in 2002, launching her line after a short-lived acting career. Back then, she took inspiration from the 1950s, with short, ruffle-back skirts and waitress shirts with the names of her dogs embroidered on the fronts. Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel picked up a few pieces from the line, and there was an editorial in Italian Vogue. Her campy, fun fashion shows were a mainstay at Los Angeles Fashion Week for a few years, but when she started showing in New York, she wasn't able to break through to the next level. The grind of the fashion system was getting to her, too, she says, especially the constant travel for runway shows and sales. So she took a break to raise her kids — Sean is 17 and Duke is 13.
About two years ago, Nicholson started designing again, working on leather pieces and selling them at Roseark. She missed the creative process, but also "interacting with customers and making people happy," she says. "And I felt like there was a niche to fill in this area — higher-end beach vibe."
With Pearl Drop, she's off to an auspicious start. And her famous pals are rallying around her.
"Jennifer has the best taste of almost anyone I know," says singer Belinda Carlisle.
"When Pearl closed, it left a void," adds actress Jennifer Tilly. "Pearl was a mecca for fashionistas, an eclectic mélange of just the coolest, hippest, most desired pieces. She had things you couldn't find anywhere else — rare items from couture houses, funky clothes from up-and-coming designers, and great vintage. Nobody has Jen's sensibility or such a well-developed sense of whimsy."
Pearl Drop, 328 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 399-1304, pearldropvenice.com.
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