Friday nights in Indy's Fountain Square Cultural District are an established certainty in the local arts and cultural scene, particularly the first Friday of each month when the tenants of the Murphy Arts Center throw open the doors of their respective studios, performance spaces and retail shops to host the coolest party in town.
While more traditional gallery spaces like Big Car Gallery and iMOCA host art openings in the building, the store-front boutique IndySwank is increasingly popular as a fashionable First Friday addition to the monthly arts agenda.
That a retail shop specializing in vintage era and inspired clothing could play such a vibrant part in the Fountain Square arts scene is a testament to its owner Jennifer Von Deylen and her combined love of both fashion and the neighborhood.
Stop by the shop on any First Friday evening and you're likely to see IndySwank crowded with art lovers and fashion admirers in search of something new, even when it's old.
You're also likely to find owner Von Deylen smartly dressed and happily greeting visitors with a platter of brightly colored tie-dye fudge, chatting easily with friends, neighbors and potential new customers about the artwork featured on the walls, vintage hats lining the shelves and handcrafted jewelry sparkling from the display cases.
"You come to IndySwank to find things that you are not going to find at the Gap," says Von Deylen as she takes a break from her mingling to perch on the shop's sleek, mid-century vinyl sofa.
"You come because you want something unique and different."
It's been a little more than a year since IndySwank opened its doors, and Von Deylen still seems surprised and grateful for how things are turning out thus far.
"I had a 60-day window to get this space ready with $5,000 I'd saved," she recalls. "I didn't get any type of loan. Instead, I got on Craigslist; I drove to Kokomo to buy clothing racks because they were only ten bucks. You do what you can do."
Luckily, she also had a lot of help from friends and supporters of the fashionable shop she wanted to bring to Fountain Square.
"I love people who are passionate about what they do and all I wanted was for Jen to succeed," says local designer Nikki Sutton who willingly lent a helping hand. "When she talked about her ideas for the store, she would catch fire."
Sutton says she admires not only Von Deylen's passion, but her indefatigable work ethic, as well.
"She was ready and determined to get this store off the ground," Sutton says. "That kind of enthusiasm is infectious."
As with any big project, particularly the task of opening a small business, the pre-opening road was a bumpy one.
"There is a point when exhaustion takes over and little decisions start to feel monumental," Sutton explains.
But when her friend called, Sutton dove right in to help, alongside other IndySwank friends and family in the final days before the shop opened to the public in September of 2009.
"Those are happy memories, although frantic," Von Deylen admits with a smile when asked how she recalls those early days.
Von Deylen also admits to a passion for fashion that dates back to her girlhood, particularly fashions from the 50s and 60s that she was born too late to celebrate during their first go-round.
While not kitschy or over the top, much of IndySwank's inventory requires a commitment to an overall mid-century fashion theme that is more MadMen than Austin Powers.
The racks are full but each item is carefully selected and fashion forward. In addition to ultra-detailed dresses, fur-trimmed coats and swingy skirts, the shop features hats, shoes and accessories from several eras. There is also an increasingly popular men's section with a growing reputation as having the best vintage skinny ties in town.
"I want Indy Swank to be on the cutting edge of fashion," Von Deylen says "I constantly look for opportunities."
In order to keep things fresh, Von Deylen says she constantly has to update her own fashion vision and taste.
"IndySwank is constantly evolving," she says. "I really watch fashion trends. Do I now have in the store what people are going to be looking for?"
And while the vibe is definitely one of vintage, IndySwank also features plenty of new items, including the popular, retro-inspired clothing line, Stop Staring!
"Stop Staring! dresses are sexy without being too revealing, and I like that," says Von Deylen, who also appreciates the flexibility of the retro look-a-like line. "It allows me to offer a vintage look in a wide variety of sizes."
Von Deylen has a sweet spot for local designers and artists, and IndySwank shelves and tables are crowed with handcrafted jewelry, handmade handbags and a host of unique items made by Indianapolis artists, including some with studios in the Murphy Building.
"I was one of the early artists that joined the IndySwank shelves," says Moon Stumpp, who sells her line Mixed Media Jewelry in Von Deylen's boutique. "It's just one of those shops that had the 'wow factor' happening from the get go. It was the feel of metro-retro mixed with the handmade work of various artists that did it for me.
"The Murphy and IndySwank are part of the ever-changing metro mix in Fountain Square," Stumpp continues. "As each of the components change, IndySwank shifts slightly without losing its essence."
"It's an evolutionary thing. Jen is gracious and accommodating; also very supportive of the Murphy artists and local businesses as a whole. All of which makes a huge difference."
The presence of inventory by local artists like Stumpp is testament to Von Deylen's discerning taste and commitment to the burgeoning "shop local" movement in Indianapolis revitalizing small neighborhoods and reinventing shopping districts.
"Fountain Square can continue to grow as an important cultural destination for the city," Von Deylen believes. "I hear it all the time when someone 'discovers' us. Whether they're tourists or people who have lived here their whole lives, I always hear an excitement for what we're trying to do in Fountain Square when people visit for the first time."
"Indianapolis needs urban stores like Indy Swank," says Von Deylen, familiar with comparisons between IndySwank and boutiques found in more metropolitan cities. "I hear so often, 'This looks like a store I've seen in New York and Chicago.' But I think Indy is a cool urban center," she stresses. "And I think we need shops that embrace that."
EVOLVING URBAN COOL
While the store met with success almost immediately, Von Deylen maintains she has learned a lot on the job and stresses that IndySwank is an evolution.
"When people first came in here, I heard 'You need more inventory, you need more inventory,'" she says. "I got the store open, and as business has grown, I've invested every dime back into the store and I look around and say 'this is what I wanted a year ago.' It just took time to do."
With no immediate plans to uproot her store from its home in the Murphy building, Von Deylen fantasizes about a larger space to fill.
"I am probably at my max right now," she says of her current space. "I don't think I can add anymore racks. I don't think I would ever move out of this space because of the vibe and the energy."
However, Von Deylen is not afraid to change things up from time to time when she thinks the timing is right. She's hoping to raise the fashion bar by providing a head-to-toe one-stop shop for vintage lovers and describes her biggest asset as the amount of people who support her vision.
Sutton attributes Von Deylen's success to a strong business sense.
"For as fun and easy going as she may appear to be, Jennifer is all business," Sutton explains.
"Fountain Square has had several entrepreneurs come and, unfortunately, go. I think IndySwank proves that a destination store can make it if they have a smart business plan and can bend and sway with the ever changing demands of consumers."
For Von Deylen's mantra, look no further than her slick website or Facebook page, both of which are plastered with the Ayn Rand quote: "It is not who is going to let me, but who is going to stop me."
So far, it doesn't look like anyone could stop her if they tried.
"I try not to overcommit and choose things that are high on my priority list. I also have a supportive husband, which helps," says Von Deylen.
"And I think we need to realize that Indy is its own cool urban center and we need to embrace it. I think that's a very important part of IndySwank."