A pop-up boutique and content studio dedicated to bright colors, local art, and the femme spirit.
THE HOURGLASS POP-UP
My friend and collaborator, Erin Robertson, is a fashion designer of note, the winner of Season 15 of the reality TV show Project Runway. She and I had already collaborated in the past, when I produced her fashion show at the Autodesk BUILD Space. It was a pretty iconic event: models in gender non-conforming fashion, stomping through a robot space bathed in brightly colored lights...
I digress. Forgive me, it was an amazing night.
Erin and I had been scheming for a while on the idea of creating more space for art in Boston. We both had gone through major transformations in our careers and periods of questioning and depression, and had come out with a renewed sense of purpose around making space for our community, for feelings, for self-love, for art, for fashion.
I put together a concept deck for a space called Hourglass: an experimental concept store, part boutique, part studio, part content studio (or Instagram play-space).
The pitch deck referenced innovative concepts like Museum of Ice Cream and The Color Factory, and talked about the very real marketing power of designing a space for Instagram. It’s a phenomenon that is affecting restaurant and hotel and retail design all over the world. Social media, and Instagram specifically, has changed everything. People literally make decisions about where to travel based on how photogenic a place is, how likely they are to get a great photo for their Instagram feed.
But most of these spaces only go so far. They are really just designed for the photo, short, ticketed experiences where you move through and move out—get your content and go.
The marketing power of designing for Instagram was a real draw, but Hourglass had another purpose. We wanted to something deeper. We wanted to change the narrative about art and aesthetics in Boston.
Boston can be a bit timid in its aesthetics, but despite its conservative reputation, there are young artists here making colorful, exciting, groundbreaking, heartstopping work. And we wanted to show that off, put it all right on the street where people could see it, where they could get curious and come in and meet the artists, and see art and fashion and photography being made right there.
We pitched the idea, and it worked.
About a week later, the paperwork was done, and we were getting a crash course in how to set up a store from scratch.
I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the idea of agency, about the feeling that I could make things and do things myself.
Hourglass is an essay in agency. We had no big investors, no employees, no money, basically. We were two self-funded womxn with a lot of friends and volunteers.
We rented ZipVans, and pulled all the furniture out of our apartments to make the store look right. We called in every favor we had with our friends, and covered the space in local art. We designed six different photo backdrop areas, all with different aesthetics.
We made products furiously to stock the tables and shelves. We convinced our friend Ally Schmaling to sign on as our resident photographer, and my former District Hall colleague Becky Donner to sign on to manage programming and operations. We made partnerships and blasted the word out on social media.
And a week later, we opened the first store.
The impact was immediate.
People cried when they came in, overwhelmed by the celebration of art and joy and colors.
They asked us if we were from New York or LA, and we said no proudly--this was a showcase of Boston art.
We sold products. We sold paintings. We held fashion photo shoots to audiences of Red Sox fans. Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin booked the space to shoot portraits. World-renowned author Elizabeth Gilbert stopped by and hugged us and told us to keep going.
On social media, the effect was wild.
The Instagram following grew by the thousands. People from all over the world were watching, interacting. We got messages saying that people from Australia and London wanted to visit Boston just to see Hourglass.
Why would a weird little store resonate so much? Because it’s more than a store. It’s an affirmation.
In one sense, Hourglass is a fashion and lifestyle boutique—we sold clothes and earrings and accessories. That draws people in. But in another sense, Hourglass is an experiment in self-love.
We created a space that is intensely colorful and bold; we wrote “YOU ARE ENOUGH” on the front door, and we created photo sets and encouraged people to hang out, take selfies, celebrate their physical beings through fashion and photography.
Hourglass is a weird space that makes people ask questions when they walk in. It’s vulnerable and immersive where typical boutiques are intimidating and exclusive. It’s bright and colorful when most of Boston is neutral and restrained.
It’s an invitation to non-artists to acknowledge their creative side, and a signal to artists that they belong.
You’re not alone. We’re weird too.
Let’s be weird together.
Over the course of the two 5-week pop-ups this year, we estimate that we had over 5000 visitors. People came from Delaware, Vermont, New York, and more just to see the store. One person made time to see it while they were in Boston for a few hours on their way to London.
People came in and asked about the store, and got into conversations with us about body politics, about slut-shaming, about anxiety and depression and medication, about overcoming alcoholism and cancer and sexual assault.
Something about the colors, the art, the positioning, our own vulnerability, the vulnerability of the artists doing photoshoots...all of it combined to make this weird space into a place of true emotional communion between strangers.
I think the conversations and the vulnerability were was also a reflection of the intense softness of it all. The space just glowed with feelings.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next with Hourglass. We designed and ran a second pop-up in 2019, we’ve put together a bunch of collaborations, and launched an online store. We’ve held workshops and programs, and we want to do more: we want to host workshops for womxn entrepreneurs, and events about how to love your body through posing and portraiture. We have ideas, and an engaged community, and we’re ready to respond and evolve with them.
But one thing is for sure: everything I’ve ever hoped about how space can transform lives and build relationships and create opportunities came true. And I’m addicted.
I’m going to chase this energy for the rest of my career—really, for the rest of my life.