‘I Wanted to Make a Place That Wasn’t Ridiculous’
Opening her own store was Lena Farouki’s dream. But first came the nightmares.
‘I would have nightmares before I opened of people walking in and being like, ‘This is not Georgetown, get out of here!’’ says Lena, who opened the funky Curio boutique in October.
In reality, the store was just what Georgetown needed. Atypical, sure—but that’s the draw. The same can be said for its owner.
Lena’s taste is as eclectic as her upbringing. She was born in the U.S. and moved to Abu Dhabi at the age of 4, but spent her summers in Georgetown.
After attending Marymount University, Lena moved to London. She designed skateboards and sold South Korean jewelry with her friend at a stall on Portobello Road.
‘When I was living in London, I really found myself style wise,’ Lena says. ‘It was a lot of fun. People would dress up in costumes and just go for a drink. They loved dressing up and I loved meeting so many people from all over. I began to explore a lot of different things, like the vintage aspect and being costume-y sometimes.
‘I also saw very well-trained designers coming out of the design schools there and making incredibly high-quality, gorgeous pieces. Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean you have to look like you’re in mourning. That’s where I started putting some pieces together of what I’d want a store of my own to look like.’
At the same time, Lena began a log in the Notes app of her phone—penning small reminders of cartoons she used to watch, typography she loved, the type of people who most influenced her.
‘I wanted to remind myself of the things I like; this type of nostalgia,’ Lena says. ‘I don’t know why I started doing that, I just knew there must have been a reason.’
Eventually, Lena added potential business names to her notes.
‘I started realizing I wanted to open a store. I appreciate even a grocery store if someone has designed it with their own personality behind the choices they made. I wanted something like that and knew it would be a reflection of me, my personality and my background.’
A background that was still taking shape. Lena spent several more years splitting her time between London, Dublin and Dubai before moving to Georgetown in 2012 when her husband began his medical residency at GW.
If she wanted to open a store, Lena felt it was now or never.
She spent the next year looking for a space to rent, but when a close family friend offered to sell his property on Thomas Jefferson Street, Lena recognized the potential. She purchased the house in 2013 and spent the next three years renovating—a process that thickened her skin.
‘I was deeply involved on a day-to-day basis. Being a younger girl on her own, it was very difficult. It really prepared me for the daily surprises—be it good or bad—in a business.’
Simultaneously, Lena worked on the store concept.
‘I wanted to make a place that wasn’t ridiculous,’ Lena says. ‘I want to have fun but I’m not trying to look like a clown. That’s the key to bringing in pieces that are ‘funkier’ that the average. I don’t want to look like a nun and I don’t want to look like a clown. I want a store aesthetic that people see as elegant but also eclectic.’
That combination is the result of extensive research that Lena conducts twice a year—considering price point and the customers she’s gotten to know. She researches the designers, makes appointments with them two months before Fashion Week and flies to Paris for a week of meetings.
‘I see the collection in person and place an order, and it gets delivered five or six months later,’ Lena says. ‘From the moment I wake up until the minute I sleep, I’m working. So I’m in Paris, but it could be Alaska.’
Lena gets most of her inventory from Paris, but the name of her store hails from the city that shaped her.
‘I would hear in London a lot, these stores that carried everything and anything, called curio and bric-a-brac. I thought Curio was cute, it was short. Curio is really a license to put whatever I want in the store.’
The formula is working. Lena says her customers range from neighbors to tourists from France and the Middle East, all of whom admire the unique spin she’s bringing to a city that Lena hopes will continue to push itself.
‘People say this is such a New York store. I want it to be such a DC store.’
And Lena, such a Georgetown owner. She’s earned that title.
‘My style is very, very bizarre. There’s a child still inside of me. I wore a fleece sequined jacket the other day. But I opened a store and I killed myself doing it, so if I wanna wear that, I’m going to freaking wear that.’