Photography by Kevin A. Roberts, Hair and makeup by Emily Miller
At the Collective at MX (626 Washington, 314-241-5420, collectivemx.com), a downtown retail co-op, you can get sweet treats from Oh Lolli Lolli, kids’ backpacks from City Sprouts ($20 to $38), Lori Coulter swimsuits ($60 to $90), and Cheree Berry cards ($16 for a pack of six). The 3,400-square-foot store brings together about 40 vendors from St. Louis and around the world, and it practically dares customers to walk out empty-handed.
Overseeing it all is Nicole Benoist, SLM’s former fashion editor. Having worked for Chanel, Todd Oldham, Calvin Klein, and Michael Kors, Benoist has a gift for spotting quality vendors. “I’m curious by nature and borderline obsessive about finding great product,” she says. “Really, it’s what keeps me up till 2 in the morning.”
Benoist works closely with the owners of the popular boutiques represented to make sure the Collective doesn’t feel like a jumble. “I feel that when you have a co-op, it has to be edited and curated, so people are getting the best of the best,” says Benoist, who helps boutique owners select what to sell and how their wares are laid out on the floor.
In collaboration with consultant Sara Hentz (who was chosen for SLM’s Best Dressed List in 2008), Benoist designed the store. “We worked with a minimal budget,”she says. “We wanted to keep it industrial, but also have a warmth to the space.” Shoes are displayed in old high-school lockers; clothing is hung on racks made of conduit; and in lieu of chandeliers, vintage Dutch streetlights dangle upside down from the ceiling.
While searching for affordable fixtures, Hentz and Benoist came across a few old ottomans that they reupholstered with vintage mailbags and grain sacks. They also created their own private home-goods label, Benoist & Hentz, which is available at the Collective.
As part of the Mercantile Exchange development, the Collective’s just one addition to the Washington Avenue scene. The MX includes restaurants like Pi and Takaya New Asian and a movie theater set to open this winter, as well as the future home of the National Blues Museum.
“Every time I come down here, there are more people on the street during the day and more of a buzz,” says Benoist. “Day by day, it gets better.”