Longtime customer Thelma Monk says she can’t wait to get back to the Elena Design Studio, which recently reopened in a new location in Silver Spring.
“I’m an earrings person ... and I’ve struggled with earrings since she left!” says Monk about jewelry designer Elena Crusoe Aiken and her unique creations made from colorful semi-previous gemstones, shells and pearls.
“She has a keen eye for what looks good on people,” Monk says.
The store at 1107A Spring St. will be hosting an official opening for the public on Saturday.
Having celebrated her 65th birthday last week, Monk says she’s decided to go to the event and buy herself a present.
“They look and make you feel like you’re 10 years younger,” she laughs.
Aiken, a South Carolina native who lives in Silver Spring, suffered a debilitating stroke five years ago as she turned 60, forcing her to close her business.
Aiken was based in the Fenwick shop for about 15 years, selling to boutiques and to Nordstrom stores up and down the East Coast, as well as to individual customers.
But the stroke immobilized her right side, and she was forced to close after starting the business as an offshoot of a clothing enterprise that she ran with her sister.
“We were doing fashion shows, and we needed to find accessories,” says Aiken, who began designing and assembling them herself to complement the clothes.
“I’m the sort of person who, if I can’t find it, I’ll see if I can make it,” she says.
Immediately after the stroke, Aiken says she gave up any thoughts of designing or opening a shop and concentrated on regaining her strength.
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking about creating again, because I wanted to be whole for whatever was going to happen,” she says.
But then, by chance, about three years ago a bride-to-be asked her if she would design some jewelry for her wedding.
She incorporated the challenge in her physical therapy routine as part of her recovery, learning to work using mostly her left hand instead of her right.
“It took a while, but I was able to do it,” she says about the request that jump-started her interest into once again making jewelry for a few boutiques.
She says she had no thoughts of opening another shop until recently, when certain signs began pointing in that direction.
For one thing, she became attached in her mind to a certain red brick house on Spring Street that she often drove by on her way home.
The house, which had space for a small business, also had the same house number as a house she used to live in.
“I kind of had an affinity for the place,” says Aiken, who liked its shape and location.
She also began noticing the number 1107 on license plates, in reading materials and elsewhere in the environment around her.
“I thought maybe I need to go play the lottery, but nothing every happened, so I forgot about it,” she says.
Then in January, Aiken dreamed that she was painting a wall inside a room. Three days later, she drove by the house again and happened to spot a “For Rent” sign out front.
“I knew, without a doubt, that’s where I was supposed to be,” says Aiken, who received zoning approval and moved in by mid-June.
She’s now in the process of building up her inventory and says she also plans to carry accessories, including hand bags and scarves.
“There’s some kind of force going on that kind of propels me,“ she says.
“I’m beginning to roll like a tumbleweed,” Aiken says. “I have no choice but to roll right along.”
Monk, who lives in Gaithersburg, says what she likes about Aiken’s pieces is their uniqueness.
Monk tells the story of having lost an earring a bronze piece shaped like an upside down triangle that she often wore to the office.
The next day a co-worker returned it in to her. She had found it on the floor at the Union Station Metro station, having remembered seeing them on Monk.
“They’re one of a kind,” she says. “You’ll never go somewhere and see anyone else with one.”
Monk says she also appreciates the various colors of the gemstones, some vibrant, some muted, and the versatility of the designs of the earrings and necklaces.
“You can dress something up with them, and they can also be extremely casual. They still fit and flow,” Monk says.