Things to Buy

Because OSO: A Style Lab Has Given Us the Boutique We Were Missing 

One of 75 reasons we love St. Louis in 2016

click to enlarge OSO fills an important space in the Delmar Loop. - COURTESY OF OSO: A STYLE LAB
  • COURTESY OF OSO: A STYLE LAB
  • OSO fills an important space in the Delmar Loop.

After Good Works Furniture store pulled out of the Loop in the fall of 2014, its landlord, which happened to be the city of University City, began working to fill the sizable footprint the shop had occupied for more than two decades. Its efforts paid off; Three Dog Bakery brought its second Missouri location to a portion of the space in April, tempting the area's best-heeled pooches with organic dog treats and self-serve washing stations.

But it's the shop that opened a few months later in the remaining 1,200 or so square feet that has brought something truly unique to Delmar. OSO: a style lab (6321 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-467-0436) isn't just a clothing boutique and isn't only a gift shop. It's a little of both, with everything from $200 cocktail dresses to whimsical knit underwear to bourbon-scented toothpicks, all on display in the same spare, stylish space.

The shop is the brainchild of Jen Rieger and Chris Rubin de la Borballa, U. City residents who also own the digital marketing agency 963 Collective. They previously took over the Webster Groves boutique Clover, but this is their first attempt at designing a retail shop from the ground up.

The result is a smart, ever-changing collection that's unapologetically their own, a mix of high and low that combines Asian minimalism with West Coast color and pop playfulness. The shop would be at home on LA's Abbot-Kinney Boulevard but utterly lost at Plaza Frontenac.

And so you can buy Mavis toothpaste here or rosewood cedar pencils. The jewelry is mostly locally made, as is the eyewear. There are pins by Michelle Volansky, T-shirts by Human. Apparel, dresses by Trang Nguyen, and cards from Sopearb Touch, whose work they spotted at the U. City Farmers Market and now can't keep in stock.

It's not just the witty, irreverent cards that are flying out of the store. Before OSO even opened, de la Borballa placed a set of G.I. Joes in yoga poses in the window. "People kept knocking, asking how much they were selling for," he says. "They really wanted to buy them."

"We thought, 'Maybe we should order some of these,'" Rieger recalls. Now they're a regular item — and they sell like hotcakes.

That willingness to listen to their customers has served OSO well. The pair's "agile and determined mindset" means buying small and seeing what sticks. "We let the customers determine what the store will be," de la Borballa explains.

The common denominator, though, is the co-owners' vision — and their own impeccable taste. The selection may be idiosyncratic, but everything is exceptionally well-designed and somehow makes sense on the sales floor. You simply can't go wrong with anything they're selling.

That's true even for what they're not selling.

"We've sold stuff hanging on the walls," de la Borballa says — things like display shelves and what had been intended as shop decorations.

"People try to buy our clock all the time," Rieger adds. "People just like our stuff."

While they don't push the local brands they're stocking in the earnest manner that suggests you should buy something because it's good for you, they make a point of sharing the stories behind each item to anyone interested in a conversation. It's partly their marketing background and partly that they just can't help themselves.

"Most things have a narrative behind them, and our customers care about those stories or they wouldn't be shopping here," de la Borballa says. "They'd rather buy a card we found in a farmers market than a mass-produced one. And for any piece in the store, we can tell you a story like that."

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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