Road trips were de rigueur in 2020. Traveling by car, even for those who typically despise long rides, was viewed as a luxurious, leisurely escape and offered a sense of discovery not felt since before the COVID-19 virus hit hard last year. The pandemic streets and highways became a safe means of reconnecting with the outside world, and for some businesses, a way to come face-to-face with customers (masks on and six feet of distance between them, of course).
In November, just before the holidays, one such independent, New York City–based brand did exactly that. Of Rare Origin, a statement fine-jewelry label founded by sisters Thea and Octavia Giovannini-Torelli and their mother Leslie Tcheyan in 2016, created what they called their very personal, very fabulous traveling “truck show.” They fixed up a secondhand flatbed truck outside of their family home in Montauk and crafted a charming storefront on wheels, fashioned to look like a small, summery Italian kiosk complete with an Aperol Spritz bar and a sunny boudoir for their sculptural, whimsical gems. They set off on an adventure in the American South, taking their jewels to South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. The trio stopped at local boutiques that carry their pieces, including Out of Hand in Charleston, Cantley & Company in Birmingham, 20Twelve in Memphis, SO SUSU in New Orleans, Mashburn in Atlanta, and Capitol in Charlotte, and worked with private clients to host events such as Cindy Cantley in Birmingham.
Tcheyan and the Giovannini-Torelli sisters also took every possible safety precaution along the way, asking visitors to book private appointments through the store partners, having hand sanitizer readily available on the truck, and sanitizing every surface several times a day, all in addition to wearing masks and keeping six feet of distance between each person. They also took their own temperatures daily, sanitized the jewelry after customers tried on the pieces, and wrapped purchased items to take home.
The Of Rare Origin family is now planning their next journey, which will take them and their bright storefront truck to Florida, Texas, and California this spring. As it’s still going to be a while until life and travel return to normal, we’re in for another year of adventures via road trip. And that’s okay, because, as Of Rare Origin has proven, getting behind the wheel can bring some much-needed lightness and hope, even in the retail world. And with their jewelry as the main passengers, Of Rare Origin’s version of life on the road is a seriously stylish one too.
Below, the Giovannini-Torelli sisters and their mother give us an inside look at how their jewelry tour came together.
Tell me a bit about how you came up with the idea for a traveling trunk show. Why were you excited to showcase your pieces this way?
Ahem, ahem…it’s a truck show, not trunk show. We’ll explain!
The idea was quite simple. Like most, we spent the spring quarantining as a family and also a business. And, like everyone else, we missed traveling and exploring. We missed our close friends, random encounters, and even those distant acquaintances you try to ignore when you see them on the subway.
We spent the early part of quarantine writing postcards (we’re old-school like that) to clients and friends, but that didn’t feel like enough. So, one day sitting around our kitchen table, which now doubles as our office, we mused that we should just “put some flowers in the back of a truck and go visit our friends and clients.” And, simply put, that statement turned into this project.
We knew that we wanted our experience to evoke Italy, where our jewelry is handmade. But most importantly, we wanted to remove the anxiety of trying to sell during a pandemic and instead, offer a safe moment of connection and joy, as you might typically find in an Italian piazza where friends gather, share stories, relax over a coffee, and maybe treat themselves to a piece of clothing or jewelry.
After we bought a secondhand flatbed trailer from our neighbor’s yard, we gathered historical photos online and culled together many memories from our iPhones to visualize the look and feel of our future Italian oasis. We then worked with architect friends Alejandra Gomez and Marie Hart to help us develop the plans a bit further.
Once the proportions and dimensions were set, we collaborated with WMG Construction owner William Guanga to fine-tune the construction details. We started building on November 2 in our Montauk driveway and had a month before we had to hit the road. It was important to us to include personal details to enhance the intimacy of the experience, so we lined the walls of the truck with the curtain fabric that hung in Thea’s childhood bedroom; the vessel of corks was from the wines we drank during COVID-19; the napkins were from Octavia’s wedding; and much of the remaining decor was made up of meaningful objects from our home. We all have creative backgrounds (Octavia in architecture and Thea in art curating), so we focused on the details to ensure each texture, sound, visual, and flavor transported you to a whimsical Italian reverie and really felt authentic to Of Rare Origin.
What was the overall experience of the road trip like, and what was the response from those who visited the truck on your stops?
From building the truck to hitting the road to the joyful conversations we had with passersby, the experience far exceeded our expectations. Each of our retail partners warned us about the uncertainty of business, potential lockdowns, and strange weather and asked us not to be overly enthusiastic. But instead, everyone came out and they were awed by the novelty of the idea as well as the creativity of our execution. At each stop and even on the road, we were greeted by excitement, some shock, and a lot of questions. Also, the greatest compliment we received along the way was that every little kid thought our truck was their own personal dollhouse. We’ve all got to keep dreaming like them.
How did you map out where you wanted to go, and what did the final itinerary end up looking like?
Octavia must get the credit here, as she can do calendar cartology like no other and was the master scheduler throughout the trip. In general, our route was decided by two questions: “Where will the sun be shining enough to host COVID-safe outdoor events?” and “Who do we know that is wild and crazy enough to host us?” With these two questions in mind, we plotted the route to include a mix of retailers that carry our product, as well as private clients who eagerly offered to host us. In the end, we made six stops, driving a total of 3,500 miles from Montauk to Charleston, to Birmingham, to Memphis, to New Orleans, to Atlanta, to Charlotte, and back to NYC, ending in a giant snowstorm. We often drove during the night (thanks to our expert drivers William and Marcello). It was kind of like being on tour, and we felt like rock stars.
We also like to say we followed the sunshine, but we think the truck itself was the sunshine. At nearly every stop, we were blessed with sunny skies and big smiles.
What do you think the value is in this kind of mobile retail model? Did you learn anything new about your business or your customers?
We’re sure there are more eloquent ways to say it, but we like Usher’s phrase “If we don’t evolve, we evaporate.” COVID-19 challenged us as a brand, especially a jewelry brand. We thought, “How the heck do we sell jewelry in a pandemic during a historic presidential election with masks and while people are living in pajamas and every social event is canceled?! And why?”
COVID challenged us to think about our priorities and put them at the forefront. It became clear that creativity and connection are most important to us, and bringing delight and curiosity, whether it’s through championing handcrafted objects or simply sharing Italian biscotti, was the future of Of Rare Origin. We call our clients rare and original, and we like to think our business model is too.
What were some of your favorite places that you discovered along the way?
Before leaving, we did a secret sale (the only kind we do) by hinting on Instagram that anyone who sent recommendations for our trip would get a discount on our website. The responses flooded in but, as it was a huge responsibility to go state-to-state in the midst of a pandemic, we skipped most things to stay safe and efficient. However, that being said, we loved the following:
The beds at The Post House Inn in Charleston are what you need after 19 hours of driving, and their perfect soft-boiled eggs are the ideal post-beauty-sleep breakfast.
The fish at Leon’s Oyster Shop, also in Charleston, is as good, if not better, than their world-class fried chicken. And for dessert? The flight of ice cream at Off Track is off the chart. The maître d’ at Gautreau’s in New Orleans is as charming as everything about the place.
If you’re looking for an outfit to pair with our jewelry, check out See Line Vintage, helmed by M.K. Quinlan, who is based in Birmingham.
For the best baguette in the world, forget Paris! Go right to Copain in Charlotte and get it fresh from the adorable Sarah Wrenn.
And, lastly, order the whole menu at Bishop in Memphis. We mean it.
Actually, what the heck, if you support any of these places in 2021, let us know and we’ll give you 15% off! #secretsale. We mean it.