Detroit’s proudest boutique: The Peacock Room

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 - 5:35pm

Our story begins in London circa 1871, when contemporary fashions of lung-restricting corsets deemed breathing for the weak, and bustles plumped up even the most conservative behinds. Artist James McNeill Whistler, hired by a wealthy Englishman who was tickled by everything porcelain, transformed the Englishman’s ceramic-filled living room into an aesthetic masterpiece. Gold peacocks danced on Parisian blue walls in what came to be known as “Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room.”

In 1904, American art connoisseur Charles Lang Freer bought the room and installed the paintings in his Detroit home. After his death, the gold and blue murals were taken to the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C., but many still consider the room a Detroit historical landmark. Today, a new Peacock Room, a women’s boutique, can be found in what used to be the living room of a 1920s luxury hotel, embodying the glamour of the original space and Whistler’s art, all with a spunky twist that Detroiters exemplify oh so well.

“When you think of a peacock, you think of showing off,” founder and storeowner Rachel Lutz said. “You think of pride, and that’s what I want women to feel in my store.”

Carrying sizes 00 through 26, the boutique features styles to dress everybody, carrying a diverse range of silhouettes, forms and proportions so that no woman is left behind.

“Just because you see something in a fashion magazine doesn’t mean it would necessarily translate to your body,” Lutz said. “We don’t go after a specific demographic. We just go after women who want to feel great about themselves and want to express their style. We’ve had three generations of women come in at the same time and each walk out with a dress.”

The Peacock Room stands out by abandoning traditional brand labels and focusing on design and good fit instead. It’s the place to spice up any wardrobe, perhaps with something a bit riskier that flatters both the body and spirit.

“The only real criteria I have when finding my finds is asking, ‘What would get you a compliment from a stranger?’ ” Lutz said. “We really try to de-emphasize labels and boxes on people. Instead, we try to emphasize unique finds.”

The store’s treasures include their vintage pieces, which make up about 10 percent of the merchandise. They’ve carried everything from micro-beaded handbags well over 100 years old to jewelry lines made from antique French molds.

“I love the thrill of the hunt,” Lutz said. “We take pride in the fact that you never quite know what to expect when you walk in, so maybe your best finds are here, and you just don’t know it yet.”

For many, shopping victories in large department stores come few and far between. Instead, trips are fruitless pursuits that leave fashion-hopefuls discouraged and underwhelmed. Even Lutz, who owns a successful and flourishing boutique, dislikes shopping and the fashion industry.

“Shopping has gotten all the pleasure out of it,” she said. “Instead of going into a nice boutique, we push grocery carts down fluorescent-lit aisles and there’s no one to serve you.”

This frustration is left out of The Peacock Room equation, where the emphasis is placed on providing a personable shopping experience that doesn’t adhere to the parameters established by designers or merchandisers.

“Style is the expression of yourself, and fashion is merely the renewal of that process,” Lutz said. “It doesn’t have to come from a runway or a magazine, so take control of your own style.”

A scarf doesn’t have to be a scarf; it can be a head wrap, a table runner, a beach towel. The possibilities, Lutz says, are endless, as long as you see the garment how you want to wear it and not how someone else wants you to wear it. 

“Detroiters, by nature, are risk-takers,” she said. “I think that translates into our style. You see women that are more willing to experiment with color and texture, who aren’t wearing what someone told them to wear but making it their own.”

Ultimately, The Peacock Room seeks to instill confidence in the shoppers who visit their store. Women have bought dresses for first dates with men who became their husbands, and for opera performances that colored a defining moment in their career. Each time, The Peacock Room played a part in creating that special experience.

“A woman came in the day of her mother’s funeral and I was really touched that on such a powerful and hard day in her life, she found my store as her sanctuary,” Lutz said. “It was a really humbling compliment.”

A trip to The Peacock Room is more than an average session of retail therapy. It’s emotional cleansing, confidence building and a reminder that there is no mold for beauty.

“It’s not just a store, it’s a confessional,” Lutz said.