Direct from Market: Chicago

Unseasonably warm snow-free days with just some rain were an unexpected treat for visitors to The Chicago Market: Living and Giving at The Merchandise Mart. New lines and colors and vibrant showroom displays attracted buyer traffic. Showrooms and exhibitors seemed upbeat, reporting good orders. The market's new brand platform, "Experience the Fun of the Find" was realized by buyers finding fresh, original, and unique new products in its permanent showrooms, at Beckman's Handcrafted Show and other temporary exhibits. A specially curated Pop up Shop display in the Northwest lobby showcased the breadth and depth of seasonal, home décor, kids, pets, gift, fashion accessories and eco-friendly products available at under $30 retail, with most products under $20.

Cedar MountainCedar Mountain
"Today's retail buyers expect more," noted Mark Furlet, vice president, general manager, Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.(MMPI), adding, "we are proud to deliver a broad array of on-trend products from some of the Midwest's most innovative sources while offering them educational tools to improve their business acumen."

In Chicago, 2012 is off to a great start with new permanent showroom openings, expansions, and long-term lease renewals. Among the new showrooms, MiSun Fashion House showcased accessories and apparel giving testament to the growing presence of fashion in the gift arena. One side of the showroom is for order-writing and the other, cash-and-carry. Charlie & Me is a newcomer to a permanent showroom, but not new to Chicago; it previously exhibited in the temps. Mart showrooms saw a steady flow of buyers. "Traffic has been steady," noted showroom principal Patti White, "and buyers are optimistic. They are trying new things."

Two industry stalwarts and long-time mart tenants are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year: Peterson Associates is celebrating its 50th and Sarm and Nastovski, its 20th. On Saturday night, Peterson Associates rocked the house with a party, including a DJ playing music that vibrated the glass in surrounding showrooms. The celebratory atmosphere added to the market buzz and fun.


Chicago Style CollectiveChicago Style Collective
The North Central Chapter of the AIFD added to the sense of fun at the market with a floral design competition that pitted members against each other to come up with the most creative design, all from the same ingredients. Others demos took place at other times during market adding the wonderful fragrances of fresh flowers on the floor.

New for Christmas 2012

The Jim Shore collection featuring Luminaria flameless candles was drawing a lot of interest in the GKI/Bethlehem Lights showroom. At Roman, the new Natural Effects collection is a fresh departure featuring decoratives, ornaments and accessories made with natural materials such as corrugated cardboard, yarn, tin and wood. Shiraleah, known for its handbags and home accessories, has launched its first holiday line - with a French flair. Transpac's Perfect Advent Calendar is family friendly activity to count down to the holiday.

Showroom Gems

Do your customers love Trollbeads and Pandora but want Made in America? Now there's Novo Beads and Fenton filling the need. Novo Beads offers a full line of silver, 14-kt. gold and glass beads in many designs, as well as bracelets and necklaces, all compatible with other brands. Fenton, known for its decorative art glass, has turned its glass-making skills to beads, offering artglass and hand-painted glass beads.

Sno of Sweden is a new jewelry line that was attracting a lot of interest in the Modern Age Reps Showroom.


Perfect for easy entertaining, newcomer Images Defined introduced elegant paper partyware in pre-packaged settings for eight, as well as individual packages and dessert/hors d'oeuvres sets. The sets take the worry out of a shop being out of the napkin or plate needed to complete a setting.

The blown glass bird baths, new from SPI are as functional as they are decorative. The glass bowls sit in a metal stand for birdies to bathe in, but can also be used as a decorative accessory indoors.

Temp Tations

For the more than 150 artist/entrepreneurs who displayed their original wares at Beckman's Handcrafted Show, the Mart's moniker, "artrepreneur" was fitting, judging from the wide range of products which were reviewed by a juried selection committee. This was an opportunity for specialty retailers to acquire distinctive products for a competitive edge, and for artists to build their brands and businesses. Customization, mix-and-match options, flexible (or no) minimums created new possibilities for brisk business.

Jewelry was one the most visible categories and ranged from the artistic to the whimsical.
In Small Packages showed charms in cast antiqued silver and necklaces of leather cord, ball and chain or black ribbon with beautifully intricate pendants fashioned from reclaimed scrabble and mah jong game pieces featuring decoupage art with a non-toxic water-based glaze. Originally inspired by old international postage stamps, the designs are also derived from custom maps, graphic and digital designs, flora, fauna, folk and antique art. The unique "peapod" design of beatrixbell handcrafted jewelry is just one of the former school teacher's designs in which silver and gold, woven wires, hammered metals, texture, color and form all combine to make a sophisticated collection. Evanston, Illinois-based Laura Tanner Jewelry finds inspiration in medieval manuscripts, unusual textiles, contemporary sculpture and ancient jewelry and hand-crafts sterling silver and gold-filled chains with semi-precious gemstone beads, findings, and freshwater pearls.

Beatrix Bell Handcrafted JewelryBeatrix Bell Handcrafted Jewelry
The Chicago Style Collective comprising seven Chicago designers included four distinctive jewelers: designers included four distinctive jewelers: is felt "is seen, heard, known, felt" and is, quite simply, a line of colorful, unusual and funky geometry-inspired necklaces and bracelets fashioned from tight-woven felt. Juliet Jewelry's sterling silver, 14-kt./18 kt. gold jewelry combines artist Julie Schmidt's love of shapes, details and architecture. Laila Korn of stylish girl hand-crochets her intricate vintage-inspired modern jewelry with fine silver, gold-filled or metal wire bead and stone embellishments. Finally, Veronica Riley Martens jewelry is handmade from Ecuadorian tagua nuts, sliced, dyed and polished into eye-catching shapes and forms.

The Collective's other three companies were RED-BELLY with functional art and eco-friendly accessories in the form of clean-designed hardwood belt buckles for men and women made from cabinet remnants, wallets from heavy-duty industrial felt, and "magnet-isms" — a cute line of handmade magnets with miniature toy figures mounted on poker and game pieces. SQUASHT by LES had interesting reversible handmade hats and apparel, and megan lee designs showed original designs screen-printed on Talltex or American Apparel.

Beyond Jewelry

Katie Ames RefashionsKatie Ames Refashions

Katie Ames Refashions was an extraordinary example of recycling and reusing. The company rescues old sweaters and after a specialized washing process repurposes them into delightful, unique, fleece-lined mittens, "pill box" and "cuppie" hats, cup holders, stockings and wine cosies with thoughtful details like pockets for keys and tissue. Monarch Design's deconstructed flowers and "blingers" with bead, feather, net, sequin and other embellishments were an interesting take on recycling. Colorful, reusable and made from recycled materials, Patty Reed Insta-Totes new lunch, wine and shopping totes are insulated and easily sanitized with a bleach solution. Little Man showed spot-cleanable light-weight cotton canvas messenger bags, totes and bibs (accessorized with burp cloths), along with smaller items like clutches, wristlets, key fobs, latch-key holders.

A first-timer at Beckman's, A Little Book's pink and brown coordinated booth displayed imaginative recipe books, notepads, meal labels, organizers and a handy pull-out recipe guide bookmark. Long Grove, IL-based Freshwave which started 22 years ago making products to eliminate industrial odors, displayed a new sport odor neutralizer and several products formulated for the kitchen and laundry in their signature natural fragrance blend. It plans to launch an auto product in June.

CR DesignsCR Designs

By Golly by Holly introduced dry-fired hand-glazed ceramic wall sconces. CR Designs debuted oval wax candle shades in vintage song designs in their Lasting Lite electric candles. "We are using petroleum, not burning it" says owner Cindy Reusser, adding, "we hand core, color and individually mold and stamp each wax shade with our unique thematic designs. Retailers can sell the bases then get repeat sales with the interchangeable shades." Handcrafted Pewter, known for its delicately intricate wood labyrinths, showed inspirational etched tea light holders on a glass base and lovely tumbled travertine plaques and paperweights.

Cedar Mountain studio, from the artist community of Saltspring Island, off British Columbia, showed products featuring wit and wisdom: coasters, magnets, subway signs, marble coaster sets and chalkboards and triple hooks made of recycled cedar with a whitewash for a vintage look. Its artblocks were handcrafted using traditional plastering techniques applied in multiple layers over wood.

Flipo Group Ltd.Flipo Group Ltd.
Ceramic artist, Laurie Pollpeter Eskenazi displayed her vibrant stoneware clay pieces for gifts, home and garden décor that are inspired by intricate 19th and early 20th century needlecrafts, lace, buttons and stamps, and noted for their glaze patterning and detail. Givinity Press' Fargo-based artist Ellen Jean Diederich's stunning range of neo-impressionistic watercolors and acrylics available as originals and one-at-a-time collectible giclée reproductions, a process in which precision nozzles are used to apply up to a million microscopic ink droplets per second on 100-percent rag watercolor paper.

Joster International debuted its patented Coasterica line of silicone coaster/charm sets (Sunrise in cheerful citrus colors, Sunset in darker hues) which hug the bases of wine glasses and with their unique capillary action design, trap spills inside the coaster base. Their silicone Cupcake Vase with built-in frogs, and Vaselet, a mountable/removable vase in four designs that holds fresh flowers against computer monitors, dashboards, refrigerators and other small spaces were also interesting. Flipo Group Ltd. displayed new rotating photo boxes and interesting photo- to-canvas frames.

Joster  InternationalJoster International
Home and garden products boasted creativity and clever craftsmanship. Steel Heart showed 20 new products in their New Life line, and a wrought iron outdoor globe chandelier for pillar candles and plans to introduce 60 new items for their delightful miniature Fairy Garden this spring, Green Piece Wire Art added six new items this year - gecko, sailfish, Christmas rocking horse, a plant stand, and two twig birds to its By George Collection, augmenting its popular Set in "Stone" and mossed Topiary Collection.

Caroline Kennedy contributed to this article.
GDA Staff | News & Commentary

Lenise Willis, editor in chief; Anne-Marie Earl, managing editor; Cammie Collier, art director; and Brianna Glenn, assistant editor, love reviewing new products for Gifts and Decorative Accessories . The team stays on top of the latest trends in bath and body, candles, gourmet items, stationery, home décor, fashion and more, and love chatting about their latest finds. Check in each week for more of their latest picks on GiftRap, and see more of the team on their new bi-weekly video series, Thoughts That Count.

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