By Suzanne Besser
Like the boutique she owns at 88 Charles Street, Lana Barakat is at once classic and edgy, sophisticated and artsy, bold and trendy. Her warm smile and passion for artistry envelopes those who step into the unique space she calls December Thieves.
She chose the name from a verse by the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, who wrote of all new things that spring brings after “December thieves” steal away. It is a fitting name for a shop that continually evolves with small batches of unique fashions, accessories and home goods designed by independent emerging artists here and around the globe. “It is all about growth and moving forward, always being new and fresh, and having every piece artistically fuel the creativity of the store,” said Barakat, who, just like her store, seems to be continually evolving.
An artist herself, Barakat credits her global prospective, love of travel and design aesthetics to her multi-cultural background. Her father was from Jerusalem and despite being ‘dirt poor’ made his way to the United States to become an engineer and eventually an American citizen. He later returned to the Middle East, this time as an American ex patriate.
Barakat was born in Lebanon and raised in Jordan. Already showing signs of creativity and entrepreneurism as a little girl with corkscrew curls, she made and sold small things like drawings crafts and greeting cards. Unlike many Middle Eastern families who drive their children towards professional careers, her parents gave her the freedom to follow her own path in life.
Like her father had done, she headed to the United States to further her education and earned a degree in advertising and public relations at the Boston University School of Communications. She began her career at a large advertising agency, working both in Mexico and London, but found it creatively stifling. It was during her stint in Mexico that she was inspired to design and create her own collection of silver jewelry.
In 2002, she stepped away from corporate work, returned to Boston and launched a new career as a jewelry designer and boutique owner. She opened a small boutique named Lazuli Jewelry on Newbury Street, and for six years showcased her own collection as well as those of other designers. She broadened her reach by selling wholesale and online. Critics praise her pieces in gold, copper, silver and resin, calling them bold, original, eye-catching and contemporary, and they were featured nationally in magazines like Lucky, Vogue and ‘O.’
But by 2009, she needed a break. She closed Lazuli and with her husband Christo, who was raised in Syria and Bulgaria, headed to the suburbs to begin a family. Their son is now six and their daughter is three.
“But then a few years ago, I began itching again for all the reasons I got out of the retail business,” Barakat said. “I missed my relationships with customers and the excitement of creating something out of nothing, taking an empty space and making it come alive. So I went back. One day this space was an empty storefront and the next day it was December Thieves.”
An artist herself, Barakat credits her global prospective, love of travel and design aesthetics to her multi-cultural background. With her artist’s eye she carefully curates the displays in December Thieves. The effect is artsy, sophisticated and edgy. Because every thing is produced in small batches rather than mass-produced, her product line is continually changing. The clothing line from Barcelona, set of bright red stacking bowls from France, laser cut leather jewelry from New Mexico, washed leather purses from Brooklyn and other eclectic pieces are all fashioned by artists and produced by their families. “They become my friends,” she said. “I love visiting them in their homes, eating out with them, supporting their trade. Every piece has a story behind it.”
The shop is a fun place, too. Baraket and the two artists who help run it like to shake things up now and then. They also have an excuse to invite customers in for a party and welcome passers-by during events like the Holiday Stroll and Third Thursdays. On Halloween they spooked many a shopper when an actress dressed as a witch flitted about inside their display window. During the Holiday Stroll the actress was flitting around in the window again, this time dressed like the life size art deco bird perched there.
For now, Baraket is taking a break from designing jewelry, although within the year she plans to create a personal accessory collection with local artists that will be sold exclusively in December Thieves. Meanwhile she is keeping her pulse on all the dynamic artists and working to promote them here and in her sister shop in the South End.
“Right now I am enjoying taking a back seat and watching and supporting what others are doing,” she said. “It will help me define where I want to go next.”