Joel Ferree graduated from Park Tudor in 1994 and went to New York City, where he eventually earned his master's in urban planning at Columbia and landed a job as personal assistant to Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell.
Joel Ferree: "I hand pick everything and I don't base it on sales."
"That was an amazing, amazing experience. I mean, just seeing behind the scenes at Sex and the City and what really went down ... and just the things I had to do as a personal assistant that were kind of humiliating but very entertaining as far as stories go. You kind of do some dirty work, but it was a really fun time," he said.
Ferree also penned style and fashion pieces, and a little bit on music, too, for numerous magazines in New York including Time Out, Spin and Lucky. "Then I started writing also for New York Magazine and some more avant-garde publications like Surface and a Japanese magazine called Composite," he said.
These experiences, along with a fashionable circle of friends and acquaintances inspired Ferree, born and raised in Meridian-Kessler, to move back home to open his new clothing and accessories boutique downtown called Rural. His late grandfather also kept fashionable company as controller at the old L.S. Ayres.
One of the clothing lines he carries for women is Built, designed by Wendy Mullins. "She worked at a record store called Rocks in Your Head," Ferree explained. "It's just this little record store in New York ... people started picking up on her designs and her guitar straps that she made and it sort of took off."
Of Built by Wendy he said, "I don't think you can get it anywhere around here. I sort of pride myself on the fact that everything in the store is like that. I hand pick everything and I don't base it on sales. I base it on what I think is good design, what looks good."
Rural also carries Wendy's designer jeans for Wrangler, Wrangler 47 for men and women, that feature a copper logo plate on the back pocket. "It's a more classic western style boot cut ... more like an old-school Levis 517," Ferree explained. They are $120.
"I'm the only store in Indiana that sells Comme des Garcons fragrances and accessories," including, he added, handsome leather wallets. "I'm bringing these things here myself, sometimes literally, because I bring them back on the plane with me."
The Comme des Garcons fragrances are luxurious scents for men and women. The perfumes are complex, pleasant and very sophisticated. Odeur 71, for instance, contains 71 ingredients and is ravishingly delightful. A 15 ml eau de toilette is $29. "I'm looking to eventually bring in their clothing as well if there is interest."
Locally designed silk-screened T-shirts by artists Adrian Stanley, Kelly Beerbower and William Bashore are among the stylishly refined and one-of-a-kind finds at Rural for $30-$35. "They hand silkscreen each one so no two are alike," Ferree explained.
Another superior accessory at Rural are the distinguishably mod leather purses and wallets by Ferree's friend Arza Gilad. This New York designer, originally from Tel Aviv, creates with function and fashion playing equal roles to make purses of exceptional quality and use-ability. The clutch wallet, complete with her signature wristlet cutout circle (like a bracelet), is $120.
"I am going to continuously be carrying her stuff," Ferree said of Arza. And of her large 17-inch-by-17-inch Diamond Shoulder bag for $245 he commented, "It's very reasonable for what you are getting. The quality is there. If you compare them to a Fendi baguette, these are a real bargain. There is something really beautiful about the simplicity to them. Her bags are amazing." Visit www.arzadesign.com to peruse a sampling of Arza bags in stock at Rural.
Brazilian designer Lorenzo Merlino's women's wear line is available exclusively at Rural. Ferree said, "I picked him because he's very affordable. His designs are very simple and elegant." A day to evening black Lurex dress is only $85. Gold and silver organic themed jewelry by friends Andrea Gentl and India D'artheney Adams (designed in Andrea's Soho loft) are also available and popular with Rural regulars.
"I was trying to create a feeling that was somewhat modern and minimal, but I didn't want it to be overly masculine," Ferree said of Rural's interior. High ceilings, white walls, broken in tables for display, large dressing rooms and natural, clean light make Rural feel comfortable and still contemporary. "I wanted people to feel comfortable here like it was their own home," he said.
Of boutiques like Rural, Ferree mused, "People should check out the little guy more. Boutiques like mine ... are smaller businesses with more style and substance." Check out the substance for men and women and join Rural's mailing list online at www.ruralindiana.com. Rural is located at 970 Fort Wayne Ave., 423-1042. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.