Occulter may just be the smallest store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. An appointment-only insider secret, it is hidden four storeys up, in a bohemian block full of studios and creative individuals. It’s also an influential, as well as an offbeat, art, design and homeware mecca, where every item is informed by what founder Derrick Cruz calls “a personal sense of wonder”, and a spotlight shines on experimental and challenging handcraft.
“I keep the curation very focused,” says Cruz, “because the term is overused and needs to carry a certain legitimacy.” Cruz handcrafts most of the jewellery for his own Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons label – the bedrock of Occulter’s gently gothic, science‑centred aesthetic – on site. Bronze and silver brooch pins bear the symbols for the sun and six of its orbiting planets ($115 each in bronze; $250 in silver), while jagged asymmetric wooden earrings by Splinter ($265) are crafted from the ruins of the nearby Rivington Street synagogue and finished in oxidised sterling silver. “The Splinter pieces are among our most in-demand items,” says Cruz. “They are relatively humble but interesting because they are purposely created relics.”
He describes the store as “a clubhouse for an organic community”. Since the 2005 launch of Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons, a growing number of New York designers and artists have sought Cruz out, and many now sell under the Occulter umbrella. Here, items such as Bevel’s silver spinal-cord chopsticks ($1,350) and photographer Jeremy Dyer’s black and white landscapes (from $4,500, framed) – which recall Hiroshi Sugimoto’s stylised work and pinhole photography – find stylishly common ground.
While there’s always a stock of classic pieces – including O’ha horsehair bracelets ($525) – much is made to order. Some of the most painstakingly crafted pieces are the pendants carved from scrimshaw-engraved, fossilised Alaskan-woolly-mammoth ivory ($1,200).
There is a collection of basics, too, from Binchotan-charcoal toothbrushes ($8), pumice stones ($15) and facial soap ($30) to silver tins of Blue Smoke tea (£17) and jars of black honey ($18), sourced by Occulter’s own beekeeper, Mr Spear, in Schenectady, New York.
Most pieces have a narrative, whether it informs their creation (as with the gold honeycomb necklace, $9,500, cast from rooftop beehives in Brooklyn) or motifs. A whale-shaped Great Beast brooch pin ($115) reflects Cruz’s obsession with Moby-Dick, while the range of oxidised-silver key pendants (from $125) are inspired by Cruz’s early days living in New York. “I was waiting for someone in the street one evening, when I noticed a set of rusty keys that intrigued me.”
Every item at Occulter is more compelling and sophisticated than the term “gothic” can often imply. And while a bronze human-jaw ashtray plated in oxidised silver ($2,500) or 24ct gold ($3,500) and featuring a black diamond is macabre, there’s little in the store that’s truly sinister. “The dark element is in trusting new ideas,” says Cruz. “We are a place for risk takers.”