Lauren Eulau and Paul Schneider founded what is today known as Twist in the late 1960s as a ceramic and weaving co-op.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the print edition of the 2022 Retailer Hall of Fame. Click here to see the full issue.
A visit to Twist in Portland, Oregon, immediately shows a rarefied sense of style at work.
Custom lights converted from Harley-Davidson gas tanks by artist Brian Elliot flank the entrance of the former brewery, built in 1910 on the corner of what is today one of the city’s premier shopping streets.
High ceilings supported by original cast-iron columns and careful lighting make the Richard Altuna-designed space feel expansive and light-filled, even on the rainiest Portland day.
From the jewelry to the historic building’s architecture, to the custom showcases and shelves of pottery, there seems no end to what one can discover in this far-from-typical jewelry store.
Those who work with the world’s best fine jewelry retailers, like Meaghan Flynn Petropoulos, founder of brand development agency Necessary Excess, say Twist is unlike any other store.
“Some stores are known for carrying designs that are very organic, and some for super-modern. Twist recognizes what is the best design from every type of designer and they curate it beautifully. Anyone from any corner of the world could go to Twist and find something perfect, whether they want something totally clean or very ethereal.”
Twist refuses to be pigeonholed. Perhaps the only real common thread among its designers is excellence.
A Weaver and a Potter Walk Into a Co-Op
Just as Twist is an atypical jewelry store, so was Eulau and Schneider’s path to creating their business.
Both native Californians, Eulau and Schneider studied at the University of Oregon in Eugene, a college town about two hours down I-5 South from Portland.
It was the late 1960s. “The counterculture movement was amping up; the Vietnam War was going on. Everybody was looking for an alternative lifestyle,” Schneider explains.
The two were involved in the American Crafts movement. Eulau was a weaver and Schneider, a potter.
Both belonged to artist co-ops where each artist would work one day a week at a shared store.
“At the time Lauren and I got together we consolidated two co-ops into one,” says Schneider. “As with all co-ops, eventually it fell apart. It was just the two of us left. We continued to make things and sell them in a little store.”
From that point, the pair were romantic partners as well as business partners.
Operating under the moniker Clay Trade, Eulau and Schneider also sold friends’ work on consignment. But their focus was their art.
“We were really committed to our crafts. It was our religion.”
Combining Art with Commerce
As purists dedicated to their respective mediums, Eulau and Schneider had no grand plan to open multiple jewelry stores in their future.
“Our business and our personal lives have always been linear. We’re not the kind of people who set big goals. We’re not big planners; we just do what comes next,” says Schneider.
Next at that point for Clay Trade was stocking more artists and products beyond their network of artist friends in Eugene.
Their first foray into jewelry came when they found the brand Lotus Jewelry, which made ceramic and porcelain jewelry the couple felt “was true to what we were.” They stocked the designer’s porcelain flower stud earrings, displaying them in a 20-inch square case.
Pretty soon, “more money was changing hands off that 20-inch square than in the whole store,” Schneider says.
Simple artisan jewelry was the gateway drug, so to speak, to more creative work crafted in bronze and silver.
By now it was the 1980s. Schneider and Eulau opened a sister store to Eugene’s Clay Trade in Beaverton, a suburb in the Portland Metro area, answering the call of the much-larger pool of customers in Oregon’s only major city.
Just as they followed what felt like each logical next step in their careers, their personal lives demanded changes when the couple was expecting a child.
Schneider recalls driving with Eulau from their weaving and pottery studios in the couple’s Honda Civic while she was pregnant with daughter Sasha.
“It was kind of a conversation that, we make things and we sell things and we’re having a baby. Three is too many. We either had to stop making things or stop selling things. It could have gone either way because we liked it all. We closed our studios simultaneously and started selling other people’s work only.”
Sasha was born in 1986. For several years, Schneider and Eulau commuted back and forth between their stores in Eugene and Beaverton, their new daughter in tow.
Eventually they relocated to Portland permanently, drawn by the opportunities available in a major city. They shuttered the Eugene store and soon moved their Beaverton store to Northwest Portland.
The Unexpected Jewelry Store Looking back on the decades of evolution that shaped Twist, the path is punctuated with designer meetings that changed the course of the store’s trajectory.
At a San Francisco crafts trade show, Schneider recalls encountering a woman wearing a necklace from jewelry designer Jeanine Payer. It was a silver egg engraved with a quote from the poet Rumi that, on one side, featured a small photograph held behind a thin piece of glass with gold prongs.
“[Payer] didn’t do crafts shows, she did fashion accessory shows. We had no idea those even existed.”
Schneider and Eulau began expanding from art jewelry to fashion jewelry, which required a mental adjustment for the former weaver and potter. “We realized most people wear jewelry not as a piece of art but to enhance how they look,” Schneider says.
As they began exploring the marketplace, they discovered there was plenty of talent to be found.
The bridge to fine jewelry followed just as logically. Schneider remembers clients shopping for silver Jeanine Payer earrings at the Portland store who were wearing gold watches and gold hoop earrings.
“It was kind of the same thing, again, like, ‘What’s going on here?’ We just presumed that all fine jewelry was made by Tiffany and big companies, and it was traditional and without creativity and why would we have anything to do with that?”
Soon, Twist would enter the world of fine jewelry, and it wouldn’t look back.
A Fine Connection The first fine jewelry brand Twist ever stocked turned out to be the company’s most important relationship.
Schneider and Eulau became familiar with designer Cathy Waterman more than two decades ago.
Nothing about Waterman’s work said traditional, mass, or commercial, or any of the qualities Twist associated with precious jewelry. Furthermore, Schneider and Eulau identified with Waterman as an artist.
“The fact that [my jewelry] was so different from what you could find is what attracted them,” Waterman remembers. “They love beauty and I want to make beautiful things that people want to wear. One thing that has always struck me is that it’s not purely about commerce for them.”
At the time, Waterman was stocked at Barneys New York—then the destination for designer fine jewelry—in addition to a few other stores.
Twist, on the other hand, only carried fashion jewelry. But they pursued Waterman nonetheless.
Waterman was purposely difficult to reach, but Schneider and Eulau tracked down her phone number.
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Schneider remembers, “We called her up and told her the whole story, that we had never done [a fine jewelry buy] before. She said, ‘You’ll have to come down to L.A.’ We went to her office and to her home and met her kids, and we loved the jewelry.”
Waterman says, “I just liked how honest they seemed. Theirs was a small business like mine. I’m not looking for the regular kind of people to sell my jewelry. They seemed fearless.”
So fearless that they were willing to pay the $20,000 purchase order minimum, far more than the orders Twist placed at that time for fashion jewelry. Waterman broke her own rules when she let them pay in installments.
“She’s still our No. 1 designer 25 years later,” says Schneider. “She’s still influential. We’re close to her family. She’s just as creative now as she was then.”
Today, Twist stocks more than 120 designers. Colleagues recognize the business as a special advocate for artists.
“I think Twist is the biggest champion of craftsmanship and designer jewelry in America,” says Polly Wales, who has worked with the retailer for about a decade.
“I think they truly believe in the designers they support and believe in the work they produce, not just in what the designers can do for them. I think that makes them true champions.”
Twist is well known in the industry for not buying on consignment. (They allow some designers to supplement their buys with consignment pieces on a case-by-case basis, though they prefer not to.) Many attribute Schneider and Eulau’s designer-friendly attitude to the fact that they began their careers as artists.
“I think that’s what sets them apart,” says Wales. “It gives them the ability to sell designers’ work with a passion and understanding that is hard to find otherwise. Because of that they also have a huge amount of integrity in what they do.”
“We’ve lived that life,” Schneider explains of the company’s affinity for designers. “We’ve been there. Our whole upbringing was as people on that side of the bench. We love that. We honor that.”
Flynn Petropoulos, of Necessary Excess, has been acquainted with Twist since she joined the jewelry industry. She began working with them professionally about four years ago. Now, Twist stocks about six of the brands she represents.
She says working with Twist is, “a humbling experience in so many ways because they are just pillars in our industry. I have so much respect for everything they have done and grown.”
Investing in the Future Twist opened a second Portland location at the Pioneer Place shopping center in 1990 when it was the pinnacle of the city’s retail scene.
Acknowledging their identity was now firm as a jewelry store, they finally parted with the name Clay Trade, opting for Twist instead. (For more on how they chose the name Twist, see the story on page 36.)
They stayed at Pioneer Place for about 20 years and continued to operate their Northwest Portland store as well, moving it across the street to their current spot in 1994.
In 2000, they branched out farther, opening a store in Seattle.
Flynn Petropoulos explains, “They have this incredible curation. Seattle is different from Portland. They didn’t just replicate a second location. They are very tailored to their clients and who they see as their brick-and-mortar customer in each location.”
Around the same time the Seattle store was opening, Twist launched e-commerce.
At that time, few companies sold luxury products online, let alone precious jewelry. Many well-regarded jewelry stores would take decades to follow suit.
Schneider says they didn’t necessarily foresee the exponential growth of online sales, but a simple website seemed a logical next step in the early 2000s.
“We were too naïve to be intimidated by [e-commerce]. We always thought, ‘It can’t be that hard.’”
Putting one metaphorical foot in front of the other, online capabilities and sales grew, and the Twist customer was no longer only a Pacific Northwesterner, but anyone from around the world. Schneider and Eulau invested more and more resources into their digital storefront.
“It was not that long before we realized we need to treat this like a store of its own with its own inventory, its own staff, its own space. [Today], we really run our business as three stores: Portland, Seattle, and online.”
Currently, there are more than 20,000 items available to shop on TwistOnline.com. Five employees work on the site full-time, including two photographers who, between them, are there seven days a week photographing every new piece of jewelry.
It’s not a surprise to Waterman that Schneider and Eulau are exacting in their website standards, just as they are with their stores.
“You look at their website and it’s beautiful,” Waterman says. “They care about the artistry.”
“Our goal has never been to have something for everybody, just things that we like,” Schneider says. “This store is a point of view. That’s not to say we have all the best jewelry possible. We don’t say we have great taste; this is just what we like.”
Behind the Scenes Those who work with Twist are familiar with the yin and yang that is the Paul Schneider and Lauren Eulau partnership.
Eulau doesn’t give interviews and declined to be interviewed for this story. People describe Schneider as “the face of Twist,” and Eulau as his far quieter, behind-the-scenes counterpart.
“A lot of couples have a thing that brought them together, a passion they share, that can grow with the relationship. For us, it was always beautifully designed and made objects,” Schneider says.
Passion is where the similarities in their operating styles end, however.
“We’re incredibly well suited for each other because we’re really opposites in so, so many ways,” Schneider says.
Waterman explains, “Lauren is the core behind that business. She is a buyer. It’s her buying and her taste level.”
Colleagues say Lauren is meticulous and deliberate in her buys, open to possibilities but always sure of what she wants.
Schneider says his wife “buys from the heart,” explaining, “She wears virtually no jewelry at all, but every single piece is for her. She buys it because she loves it.”
Eulau has an almost computer-like register of Twist’s stock. She writes orders by hand, referencing both memory and line sheet, crunching numbers to perfect a buy within her desired budget, then writing the sheet anew to send to clients.
She also possesses a tireless work ethic. At the Portland store, Eulau works from an art-filled office. Before and after she’s there, she gets work done at home.
“She says she does her best work on the weekend because she can do it all day at home, no interruptions,” Schneider says.
Accordingly, one of Schneider’s duties is cooking three meals a day for his wife.
“I’m a fly fisherman,” he says. “I go fly fishing in exotic places around the world. Before I leave, I have to make every single meal in advance for her and tell her how to heat it or she won’t eat.”
Flynn Petropoulos thinks Schneider and Eulau’s synergy is behind Twist’s success.
“Lauren just curates everything perfectly,” she says. “I think what’s also super-endearing is, Paul lets her fly in that way. He’s such a ringleader in the store and the cheerleader and he celebrates all of his incredible staff’s strengths and lets Lauren do what she does best and make that amalgam of beauty that’s not found anywhere else.”
Indeed, Schneider says managing staff and fostering new business relationships are a large part of his day-to-day focus. He cooks, he talks on the phone, spends time on the sales floor (though not as much as he used to be able to), gives feedback to his employees, and handles the many tasks that arise daily.
Wales notes of the couple’s relationship, “Paul does a really beautiful job of creating a space for Lauren to do her work. He does that with his wit and charm. It took me a while to appreciate how he holds the space for her. I think it’s pretty magical.”
Schneider says he and Eulau have no plans for retirement, or to sell the business.
Their partner Cullen Tavelli runs Twist in Seattle, and they remain dedicated to supporting designers, colleagues, and employees.
Their achievements in doing so are what Schneider is most proud of, so far.
“I think we’ve made a real difference in a lot of designers’ businesses and their careers. We’ve helped launch and nurture many designers and we’re really proud of that.”