Chameleon Artwear could have been given its name because of the variety of colorful clothing it carries, but actually the store's name is a play on owner Camille Chart's first name - Chameleon (keh-mee-leyon) for Camille.
Chameleon - the name of the small lizard that is forever changing its colors - is appropriate, because the array of wearable art Chart offers lets a customer change her look with her mood, or make an outfit or an impression totally different with an impressive piece of jewelry, a belt or a scarf, designed by an artist.Entering the store at 875 East and 900 South is like having a peek into the studios of a hundred different artists. Bright titanium earrings shine from one display case, and beside them, replicas of French art nouveau pins. The next case holds oriental pieces with mysterious designs and symbols, and up on the wall above it, porcelain and glazed-clay raku earrings and pins.
In the past, Chart produced her own line of jewelry, which was available in department stores, but she says that now she doesn't have the time to produce on a large enough scale. Her formal training was in graphic design, and she also studied jewelry-making in Europe, North Africa and South America.
Just like the colors of the chameleon, Chart's wearable art comes in many forms. "We like to support local designers, like Krishna, who does silk scarves, and Chris Fisher, who also sells nationally," explains Chart. "We carry some of the same designers as Utah Designer Craftsmen, among them Neo-opto, Kerrie Buxton and Dean Pataja."
Chameleon Artwear features ethnic pieces from Africa, India and Bali; Ching Dynasty antiques; fresh-water pearls from Lake Biwa, Japan; Austrian crystal; and contemporary sterling silver Indian jewelry.
Chart points out the distinctive Balinese silver work called granulation or reticulation, in which each little ball of silver is soldered into place individually. The work is so fine and detailed that virtually "nobody does that in the modern world any more."
The Ching Dynasty pieces came out of China during the revolution. Very special are the "hundred family locks" most of which were created between 1644 and 1812. The were intended to protect a newborn child, whose father gathered money from a hundred families to pay for it. Most of them have good luck symbols on them and a blessing to protect the child from sickness and evil.
The Tang Dynasty antique Chinese porcelain, also about 200 years old, is made from porcelain shards. When China was invaded, the rich were made to break their vases, and the peasants picked up the pieces and bedded them in silver to create jewelry. These pieces have a curved surface, giving away their source.
The pins and pendants she calls her "new antiques" are produced in France and, more recently, in Thailand. These are set with small red-stone marcasites in sterling and are similar in style to pieces from the Edwardian, Victorian and art deco eras.
Prices in Chart's store vary, but stay mostly in the low range. A pair of earrings from Thailand might go for as little as $8, or a bracelet embedded with semiprecious stones for $90. Chart says that is pretty much the top of her price range.
Chart's store is small. She tries to maintain an atmosphere where customers will feel comfortable. The wearable art is displayed in glass cases, on the walls and on clothing racks, surrounding the customer with wearable art. The store is at 871 E. 900 South in Salt Lake.
Chart tries to maintain a good relationship with customers. "We're on a one-to-one level with our customers. I know many of them by name, and we're offering a personalized service that I don't think you can find in a department store.
"And of course we stand behind all of our own jewelry. If anything goes wrong, we'll be glad to fix it. We also repair and do some custom work."
Chameleon Artwear is a fantasyland of tiny images in all different mediums - each piece is a work of art in itself, each as unique as the country it comes from and the artist who created it.
It is refreshing in a world of modern mass production. "There are so many things in a department store that are cloned," Chart says. "Each store has the same collection, the same merchandise, whereas we're offering something that's really unique and rare."