Ace Award Winner elysewalker

Specialty Retail
Elyse Walker: Curating a Stellar Shopping Experience

By Sophia Strawser

Entrepreneur, mother, wife, and retail connoisseur. Elyse Walker has not only created a name for herself with eight successful locations of her namesake boutique nationwide, but she has transformed the digital space with her three-year-old site Over the last few decades, whether in her own empire or her parents shoe business she has worked hard, learned a lot, even turned the retail industry on its head — all while logging off at 6 pm.

As winner of the ACE Award for Speciality Retail, Walker attributes a large part of her success to accessories. “In 900 feet [in 1999] we did 2.7 million in our first year. That’s $3,000 per foot,” she said. “That number was and still is off the charts. That was mostly due to the accessory business.”

Walker believes in investing in quality basics and layering in trends with jewelry, belts, footwear, and other key accessory items. And while it may seem a simple formula, there’s more to it than that. Decades of training her eye to understand what brands to watch; being a forerunner in offering in-person styling; and creating a world where the customer ultimately trusts her vision more than their own. What makes the elysewalker boutiques so unique is the level of curation. The stores are a combination of brands, styles, and colors brought together to create a space that feels less like a storefront and more like a dream walk-in closet.

Born just north of New York City, the fashion industry chose Walker from an early age. “Both my parents were in the shoe business. And when I was in high school my mom started a retail store named Capretto. My dad was always building new brands in footwear,” she told us. “And now [at elysewalker] a third of our business is accessories. I always say that no matter what mood you’re in, an accessory makes you happy.”

After years of watching her parents master the accessory business, all while keeping her own love of big and bold pieces, it was her turn to strike out on her own. “I loved fashion. Specifically accessories. Growing up, we used to go to the public swimming pool, and my friend’s mom would drive us. One day, she kept looking back at me through the rearview mirror and finally said, ‘if you go swimming with all that jewelry on you’re going to sink.’”


As Walker finished a degree in mathematics at Columbia University, she stepped in to help her mom run her store. But she also had another dream: crunching numbers on Wall Street. “I was never raised in a world where I thought these jobs are for women and these aren’t,” she explained. “I’m lucky that way. But when I was in college, my mom got sick with ovarian cancer and so I helped run the store. Then I inherited the little shoe business in 1989. I wasn’t happy about it at first even though I loved the business. It took me a little under a decade to make the company my own and then that ultimately led to the birth of elysewalker.”

In 1999, following a move to LA for her husband’s job, the first elysewalker boutique opened in Pacific Palisades, an area she instinctively knew would be a good fit. “I saw the opportunity and had to do it. There didn’t seem to be any clothing options in such an affluent area. Why spend your weekend stuck in traffic going to Beverly Hills to shop when you can just pop into a shop in your neighborhood?” The store was met with instant success — something she credits partly to her natural talent and partly to her decades of observing, training, and running the family business. She found her speciality in luxury basics and still excels in that arena today with cashmere staples, statement blazers, and classic heels. It’s not just shopping, it’s curating.

According to Walker, each boutique tells a story. “Carrying six items from a brand is much more powerful than carrying the full line. You’re crafting a story that your target customer will want to be a part of. It saves time, it adds elevation, it is the elysewalker experience,” she explained passionately. “Nowadays, everyone has access to everything. So people come to us for a point of view. For our story. In handbags, tell a story. Don’t buy one of this and one of that pick the top tote and just commit to it in four colors. This is the silhouette. This is the one the customer should be wearing. Edited curation with a perfect mix of brands. If you believe in it, the customer will too.”

In 2012, Elyse Walker made waves in the digital space with Forward by Elyse Walker for Revolve. This seven year collaboration grew the company grew from $2 million to $100 million. Then in 2019, FWRD went public and pivoted to “We are still brick and mortar. Touch and feel, but the digital landscape supports what’s happening in the stores,” added Walker. “All of our stylists have access to pull from any store’s inventory, including online and our Towne stores as well. (Towne is the company’s more casual men’s and women’s offerings.) This allows the client to always get the best suggestions. Whether in person or online, the stylist will get to know you. For example, they will know your sizing so they can say ‘I know this runs large so let me get them a size down.’ One of the most valuable things you can say to a client is I don’t love that on you, I think we could do better.”


One store led to another. After Pacific Palisades, she opened in Newport Beach, Calabasas, and St. Helena, before landing back in her home state of New York with storefronts in Tribeca and the Upper East Side. But no matter the location, the mission has stayed the same — to provide stellar service to repeat clientele.

Walker even stressed that she doesn’t count success in numbers but in units. She wants a customer to trust the store enough to buy 25 units. “The retail world is hard. There’s always an opportunity to be warmer, kinder, etc. We try our best to give our team as much support as we can. There’s always better to be done. I don’t want to say we figured it out because there’s always growth. But we learn from that. It all ties together. People want to go where they feel good. Where it’s a warm feeling. We value each customer. The digital space is always looking for a million likes, but we’re looking for the one. The one customer, the one stylist. We can do a lot with that one.”

When asked what piece of advice she would give to those starting their own journey in the fashion industry the ACE award winner said, “You think you know what you want, but sometimes it will find you another way. Go for it, but don’t be opposed to something popping up out of left field. For me that was fashion. If you don’t give up, it will bring you somewhere great.”

Through it all, the ups, the downs, the COVID years, the best years, Walker said she’s known for taking nothing for granted, working very hard, but always clocking out at 6 pm as a way to invest in her personal life and celebrate as much as possible.

“I’ll find any and every reason to host a party for someone. I love celebrating,” she told us. She’s even been known to throw a dance party or two. And it’s clear through her business model and how a customer feels from the second they walk into one of her stores, that celebration is at the core of her mission statement. Although there won’t be dancing at the ACE Awards, we’re still thrilled to take the evening to celebrate one known for always celebrating others.