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Godfather of Sole

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Photograph by Phil FlynnWhen Philip Livingston finally settled on a name for his upscale jewelry spot in Rehoboth, his friends told him he was out of his mind.

“They said, ‘That will never work,’” Livingston says, laughing.

Boy, were they wrong. This month the appropriately dubbed Elegant Slumming celebrates its 15th year in the glitz biz.

And what a birthday it is. How many 15-year-olds do you know who are ablaze in peridots, pearls, coral, gold, rubies, sapphires and diamonds? A girl could do worse. “Elegant Slumming is an interesting shopping experience,” Livingston says. “It reflects what I’m all about: bold color. It’s a feast for the eyes.”

The store, awash in jades, reds and purples, and boasting a tented, striped ceiling, mixes highbrow Italian lines with smaller vendors out of New York while throwing in eclectic art and modern home accents. “Classic with a twist,” Livingston says. “Just like my style.”

His signature look is a basic pant with a sensationally “loud” shirt. “Gucci, Prada and Etro are my favorites,” he says. “I have a pretty expansive sneaker collection—I really am a shoe freak—so I’ll tie that together with a great belt.”

Though he counts John Varvatos and D&G among his chosen couture, he’s also a fan of sporting a fellow Delawarean’s name. “I’m just as happy wearing something I bought on Madison Avenue as I am wearing something from Spahr over on Rehoboth Avenue,” Livingston says. “He makes everything in the place. I love the little details that are his trademark.”

Livingston can’t help but be attuned to details. It’s a result of his education in art history and architecture. As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Livingston worked as a gofer for a Philadelphia jewelry store, and fell in love with the industry.

“I think art history and architecture play key roles in good jewelry design,” he says. “Besides, it’s a happy business. Someone is always celebrating something.”

Livingston’s preference for jewelry can be summed up in one word: bold. “Over-the-top cuff bracelets, big single-stone necklaces—I love it,” he says. “I like to take my chances and throw things out there.”

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And though the eco-bust may have temporarily put the kibosh on decadence, Livingston is impressed with the industry’s ability to follow the advice fashion savant Tim Gunn doles to disciples: Make it work.

“It’s actually good for the design process, as we have to think outside of the box,” Livingston says. “Lucite studded with faux stones, wood cuffs, silver, semi-precious stones—there’s some very cool new stuff out there.”

The collector of sole is also the collector of soul—in the form of bronze and glass sculpture, murals and floor-to-ceiling paintings. He channeled his passion for art into opening the Phillip Morton Gallery, which shares a block—and a birthday—with Elegant Slumming.

“We’ve been open two years now,” he says. “This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s a great joy to me.”

And no doubt to his patrons, who he greets with a smile on his face and fabulous shoes on his feet.

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