Origins: A Santa Fe Experience

Date May 14, 2008 at 10:00 PM


Categories Shopping


It takes a spirit of adventure to get to Santa Fe. There are only a handful of direct flights; locals mostly drive to Albuquerque to go anywhere. And go anywhere they do. For an out-of-the-way little town, just about everybody living around here has travel creds you would not believe. Your waitress probably just came back from doing an environmental good deed in Borneo. The sales clerk who helped you the other day is going backpacking in Nepal soon. Your river rafting guide spends three months in South America every winter. Nobody stays put for very long, and when they go, they go far and wide. It's in the nature of the place.

It's also in the nature of the place that one store captures so much of the Santa Fe style, character and personality that you would miss something essential if you don't go there. If you live here, you make a habit of dropping in, just to inhale the atmosphere and catch an eyeful of stuff that makes you smile. And if you live here and you've got a Big Deal Event coming up, say a wedding or somebody's special birthday celebration or a night at the opera, the store that seems to have the essence of Santa Fe wrapped in its genetic clothing code is where you head. You can count on getting something wonderful to wear, something that's more about you and not about a trend. In Santa Fe, that store is Origins.

Over on West San Francisco Street, Origins has been an indispensable part of the Santa Fe scene for 32 years now. They understand what their customers want, because what they have is out of the ordinary, and it's difficult to live here and be just plain ordinary. Under the influence of New Mexico's rich and colorful heritage there's just too much that's beautiful to buy, that you won't see anywhere else. And like Santa Fe's other wandering citizens, Origins owner Judy Margolis can swap travel stories with the best of "€˜em. She's been to India over twenty-four times, Afghanistan sixteen times, and everywhere else in between at least once.

A native of Tucson, Margolis began as a social worker, setting up co-operatives abroad. Eventually, she started bringing home ethnic clothing and goods to sell. "I'm passionate about the handwork,"€ Margolis said. "I love embroidery, beadwork, batik, cutwork, appliqué, and all kinds of embellishment,"€ she continued. "Fringe still drives me nutty."€ Her world view is one reason why Origins appeals so much to the hearts and minds of Santa Feans. Step into the store, and you're transported around the globe. It's a multi-cultural visual feast in there, some of it rare and disappearing fast. Clothing, collectibles, jewelry, accessories and artifacts from just about every tribal people you can think of are part of the mix. The adornment on everything, said Margolis, means more than mere aesthetics. "These were the sacred symbols,"€ she explained. "They passed on good luck and protection for health and well-being. They carry the archetypes, the cultural DNA of a tribal people."€

Miao silver from China stands next to a hand-embroidered chemise from Nuristan. Hard-to-find antique turquoise and coral jewelry from Tibet lines the wall cases, next to a silk velvet jacket trimmed with delicate Chinese embroidery. A multi-colored, beaded wool shawl from Kashmir pairs very nicely with a slinky black sheath. In the back stands a case of magnificent 22-karat gold Indian jewelry, made of rubies, diamonds and emeralds. There are both heirloom pieces and a sleek, modern line created exclusively for Origins.

But that's only part the story. Origins represents over fifty different designers who create one-of-a-kind art to wear. Each July the store hosts a jam-packed trunk show for Catherine Bacon, and another trunk show in August for Zonda Nellis, along with carrying both artists' lines year round. Kiss of the Wolf, Carter Smith-the foremost shibori master in America-Janet Kaneko, Gild the Lily, and Constance West are just some of the other prominent names in handmade wearable art that you can find at Origins. Along with the "urban aboriginal"€ contemporary silver and bronze jewelry of Kathleen O'Rourke, the store showcases Susan Green's internationally known jewelry. Green's multi-strand necklaces are so suave and adaptable it's impossible to own just one.

Presiding over the store is a shrine wreathed in large saffron and red flowers. Inside is a photograph of the Dalai Lama, and below that a gorgeous bronze gilt statue of the Tibetan Buddhist deity, Tara. Tara, the mother creator, represents the eternal life force, compassion, wisdom and peace. Versions of her exist in every culture; in Tibet she is a female Buddha. Like curvaceous Tara, the store's protectress, Origins is compassionate about women's bodies. In the mad, crazy perplexity of finding something you can wear no matter what your shape, Origins believes in clothes for all. They have every size from zero to 3X, in every price range. "We love carrying shirts for $49 and shirts for $400,"€ Margolis said. "And we can tell you why it's worth that, and not because you're paying for a brand label."€

Still loyal to the co-operative ideal she first helped build, Margolis is now working with groups in Kazakistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Mexico to introduce new lines incorporating traditional handwork that she will sell under the Origins name beginning around Christmas, 2008. For this summer she just introduced two great new lines of linen separates that are structurally innovative, fun to wear, and so affordable you can treat yourself to dinner after shopping. They come in seven neutral colors, handy for everyday running around and easy to combine with a great jacket for evening.

Origins encourages your imagination to play, your creativity to gallivant. Tell the long-time sales staff there what you dream of wearing, and they'll find it, in the exact shade you wanted. They're especially good at pulling together ensembles of pieces that will do double-duty later on with other clothes in your closet. Don't worry about weary husband or friends: Discreetly tucked away in the middle of the store are comfy armchairs to relax in, along with a cool drink in summer and hot cider or tea in the winter time. Alterations are available for a reasonable fee. The staff remembers what you like, and the styles and colors you've bought before. Next time you come by, they'll pull out something-a skirt, or a sweater-they know would appeal to you. And they'll ask after your dog. It's like that, at Origins.

And the stuff all travels great, too. Just in time for your next adventure.