Victorian England was into death. People spent their lives in poverty saving up to have a grandiose funeral, detailed jewelry was made to commemorate lost loved ones, and grave robbing was a lucrative profession. Enter Sarah and Charles Walker, the owners of Passage Boutique on Central Avenue, who are just as obsessed with ornate funerary baubles as the crooks who used to dig them up and sell 'em on the black market. The Walkers started their morbid yet beautiful collection with a ring, a delicate gold skull that currently adorns Sarah's ring finger. Already huge in Japan and New York (duh), funeral ephemera is starting to gain popularity across the country, but this trend is more highbrow sin than cheap thrill. A pair of porcelain, gold and diamond cufflinks currently on display at the boutique will set you back $4,200.
Charles: They were given as gifts at funerals, and the closer you were to the person that had passed away, the more ornate the gift was. If you have this skull pin, which is a hat pin done out of sterling silver, hand-cast with a movable jaw, maybe you weren't quite as close as the person who gets the cufflinks that are gold and diamond with a porcelain overlay.
Charles: We found it interesting from a fashion perspective. That was one of the most influential times in fashion. They had rituals when someone died with certain things you were required to wear. It was a pivotal time in fashion. People became more aware of the construction of what was happening. A lot of designers really took care of their design.
Sarah and Charles Walker
Phoenix Gets Morbid Finally
Charles: We're just learning about it as Phoenix is getting more educated. This has a huge influence in fashion, which is why we brought it into the store.
Sarah: We've always had tee shirts with those types of images on them, and we work with a [modern] jeweler. I can't keep the skull pendants in. I think people relate to it. I don't know why, but it's interesting to watch people go to it.
Beauty and Flaws brp> Charles: We're really big on fabrics and construction. A lot of fabrics we're doing now are handmade using old-style looms and a lot of very high-quality hand-tailoring techniques. It's not too perfect. We'll still find imperfections in the fabric.
Sarah: That's when you know there's a lot of soul put into a piece. It's not something that's been mass-produced.
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Why Phoenix Trumps NYC
Sarah: We're really excited to bring this stuff to the Valley. We look for a lot of things that haven't been introduced before. A lot of people are like, "You're from Phoenix?" We've heard that more than once. It's exciting to bring that in.
Charles: Some of them still think we're crazy, and they fly out here just to make sure we're for real. That's part of the reason Sarah and I came to downtown Phoenix, because Phoenix is kind of an open slate right now. If you come in with a good idea, you're going to do well. It's okay not to be completely educated on everything because you can grow, and we're glad to be a part of that. It wouldn't be as fun if we were taking this and setting it up in New York.