Quite a gem

June 2021 View more

By Kelly Aiglon

When shoppers step into Sophia Forero Designs, a giant bell attached to the door greets them with a triumphant “ding.” A moment later, Forero calls out with a sweet trill, “Welcome to the feel-beautiful gallery!”

This sets the stage for a shopping experience you don’t find just anywhere. That’s because Forero’s namesake jewelry boutique (sophiaforero.com) isn’t simply a place you can gaze at baubles in display cases—although if you’re looking for distinctive pieces created with amethyst, diamonds, topaz, and pearls, you’ll certainly find them here. Moreover, the shop is a living museum full of memories, treasures, and relics from the designer’s world travels, with handwritten notes and inspirational quotes sprinkled along the way. These personal touches spark delight, not just the desire to buy.

“This is a very personal space for me,” says Forero. “You’ll find things here that have inspired me since I began doing this 20 years ago. I want [clients] to feel that they’re wearing something that’s part of a story.”

Sparkling new home
After operating her studio out of her home in Naperville for several years, Forero landed in her new storefront in the Burr Ridge Village Center almost on a lark. Last fall a client told her about a contest the shopping center was hosting; the winner would receive their own free pop-up space for the holiday season. Forero won the contest and quickly realized that having continuous interaction with others was where her heart truly lies. She decided to become a permanent resident of the shopping center, huddled with the likes of Sephora and the Kohler Waters Spa.

For Forero, having a boutique isn’t about transactions, but connections. “I love meeting the people that will end up wearing the jewelry,” she says.

Shoppers are inspired to authentically connect with the jewelry via vignettes that tell the stories of her various collections. Her Pearls collection is reflective of an ocean scene and the pieces show a graceful gradient of color, from white to turquoise to blue. “It’s inspired by the ocean near my mom’s house in Greece,” says Forero. “You get the sense of the rocks, foam, bubbles, and sea.”

On the other wall, French-influenced necklaces and earrings are showcased alongside a map of Versailles and a menu from a historic Paris restaurant—a place visited by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Unique vintage value
As Forero says, “adorning yourself with meaning” is more important than price or prestige. To that end, she visits antique dealers, gem brokers, and flea markets near and far to find materials with an element of surprise and history. Her Wanderlust collection, for example, includes a necklace featuring a pendant composed of silverite, white gold, and pieces of a diamond- and sapphire-adorned ring sourced from a Paris flea market.

Her original design inspiration, dating back to when she made her breakthrough at Marshall Field’s in downtown Chicago 20 years ago, was Greek Orthodox mosaic art. Puzzling together colors, textures, and shapes to form a greater whole was challenging at first to Forero—until she found the magic, yet time-intensive, solution. Forero sews each individual gem onto fabric, and then sets the fabric in its base. “Everything is made pensively and deliberately,” she says.

And it’s likely shoppers in Burr Ridge aren’t bored, either. The shop is a trove of the comforting and the unexpected, along with the old and the new. Says Forero, “It’s my passion to be distinct and do something expressive that takes you on a journey.”

Photo courtesy Sophia Forero Designs