It’s a bright Sunday morning in March, and GG (a.k.a. Gabrielle Gamarello) has popped upstairs to Skype with me while her partner Beau mans their shop downstairs. Exuding a calm and gracious energy, she speaks with me about leaving city life in San Francisco and a dream job in fashion to take a leap of faith: to birth a concept shop in downtown Marfa, called MANO. Here, she shares with Constellation the inspirations she’s uncovered and challenges she encountered, and considers how the shop has taken on a life of its own since opening day.
Meaghan Elyse Lueck: Ok, tell me how it all started.
Gabrielle Gamarello: My last post was as a concept designer for Levi’s. We would travel to different places, talk to artisans, and come up with stories. From there, we would take a deep dive into colors, prints, and patterns rooted in those places, and bring them back to San Francisco [where we would] set up a world to inspire the next season for the brand. One story that stuck with me was “Far East meets Far West”—a trip to Marfa, and then on to Japan. This first visit to Marfa was like visiting another planet: the light is very different, that beautiful desert light. There was an old building downtown that hadn’t been touched in a long time. Beau and I fell in love with it and thought, we can have a store—we could live upstairs and have a studio in the back...
MEL: And that’s what you did!
GG: It had been a dream of ours for a long time. We had done so much city living. All of our experiences brought us to this point, and we made the space work for us. We both wanted to focus on our creative endeavors and work with our hands.
MEL: Is that the reason for the name, MANO—meaning hand in Spanish?
GG: Mano was actually Beau’s great grandmother’s name; she was a strong woman from Texas we had heard stories about over the years. When we talk about MANO, she is definitely feminine: we feel her energy, we feel her alive. But yes, we also loved the Spanish translation of the hand—that focus and point of connection where things are made is important to us.
MEL: I’m curious about the day to day. What are some of the challenges in the shop? What keeps you both movingforward?
GG: It’s always an evolution. When we first opened, neither of us had worked in retail. I was good at creating environments and spaces, but I had never sold things. Those first couple of weeks were tricky—people actually bought things, and then the display had to change. When something sold, I was like, ‘Oh I needed that piece!’ But then, of course, you need to keep things going. That said, it’s fun having your own space, because there are no rules. There’s no one saying that you have to do this or make that. We’re just making what we love; if other people dig it, that’s great; if not, no big deal.
MEL: I’d love to hear more about the objects in the shop. Are they personal artworks?
GG: All of our objects have a story, some natural element. We have clothing from designer friends of ours. Sometimes we do vintage buying trips and will work into pieces to give it our touch. Beau has many of his pieces on the floor, including cast metal feathers and sewn, life-size Jack Rabbits.
MEL: They’re gorgeous. And your own pieces—how do you even find the time to make?
GG: That’s been more of a challenge. Running the shop and making sure everything’s working together has been my focus these days.
MEL: You trained as a painter at RISD, yet it seems you’ve found something very creative in the act of crafting this environment.
GG: For me, working on the store environment is no different than working on a painting. There is still touch, color, forms, height… The whole shop becomes a composition. Anything that’s not in balance is going to throw everything else off.
MEL: And to return to your initial Japanese influence, how does that play out within the shop?
GG: There is a story of a man raking all the leaves in the courtyard, essentially making it perfect. Once he has all the leaves and debris cleaned up, he goes back to shake a tree and a few leaves fall. This ‘wabi-sabi,’ the notion of natural imperfection, has served us. There is a life force, and no matter how much we want to wield control over things we’re working on, there is a release in the unknown. While it is frightening not knowing what you’re getting into, I think that’s what keeps us coming back and feeling engaged in the process. What keeps our attention is wondering how many leaves are going to fall, and what it’s going to look like afterwards…what is that space?
People often leave the store with a smile on their face, one they didn’t walk in with. Even without talking about it, you know the space has affected them, shifted their energy.
MEL: I find it fascinating, this idea of a shop being a somewhat spiritual experience.
GG: When people sense an object has been crafted or presented with authenticity and decide to purchase it, I feel that is their way of showing love back for the piece. It’s not so much about the monetary exchange: while money is a part of it, it’s just a different form of showing love. If someone feels a true connection to something, they want it in their world. That’s something we can sign up for and feel good about.
We’ve created this thing, and now it has its own force behind it. There are days when you get tired, but there is this thing that exists now, that you’re responsible for. You made it, so you kind of have to show up and do what needs to be done. ★
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.