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What started off 20 years ago as a part-time hobby to help fund a love of shopping has turned into a burgeoning business for jewelry maker and boutique owner Melanie Luger, founder of Coulee Creek.
“I’ve always worn turquoise,” remembers Luger, who is a member of the Mandan/Hidatsa Native American tribe from the upper Missouri River located in North Dakota. “Everyone in our family wore it, so it’s something that was natural. I couldn’t afford the expensive pieces, and I liked a little sparkle. So I started making what I like and wearing it, and it just grew from there.”
Luger was strictly in the jewelry-making business, selling her wearable art at rodeos and craft shows, until three years ago when she opened a Coulee Creek storefront in New Town, North Dakota. The boutique store, which recently expanded to include a second location in Bismarck, sells not only Luger’s custom creations but also high-end Western wear, accessories and boots from top designers like Double D Ranchwear, Old Gringo, Lane Boots and Juan Antonio.
“Back when I started making jewelry there was no such thing as YouTube or anything, so I taught myself,” says Luger of her crystal and turquoise necklaces and earrings. “I do mostly beading, no silver-smithing or anything like that.”
Luger says she sources her jewelry materials from everywhere, selecting “whatever floats her boat” to create the unique pieces. “I like to stick to the multi-strands with the crystals and pieces of turquoise,” Luger says. “I like that style of necklace, so that’s what I usually make. I don’t mass-make anything. They’re all different, and they’re all one-of-a-kind.”
That can get a little tricky, Luger explains, when a client reaches out asking her to replicate or update a piece that they previously purchased. She laughs and says it’s hard to remember all of them because no two pieces are alike. “It’s more of a hobby for me. I really enjoy doing it,” says Luger. “It’s just something I like to do for fun. People like the uniqueness of it – that they’re all different.”
Luger’s 22-year-old daughter Jordan, who is in charge of the new Coulee Creek store in Bismarck and also models for the Coulee Creek ads, comes by her own love of fashion naturally. “I was at a mall a week after I was born!” she says with a laugh. “My mom and my grandma love clothes and jewelry. It’s my passion, too.”
Jordan obtained a fashion degree from LIM College in New York City. She says that while their tastes differ, she appreciates her mother’s fashion sense and also her ability to create custom baubles.
“My style is very New York – dark and chic – while hers is more Western and crossover,” explains Jordan. “But if I need an opinion, I call my mom.”
Jordan adds that she sometimes creates her own choker necklaces to go with outfits she’s putting together, but she doesn’t consider herself an artisan like her mom. She praises her mom’s vision and her ability to create the quality jewelry that she designs in a small room in the New Town store.
“It’s crazy because she lives in the country, but she’s really glamorous,” compliments Jordan. “My mom’s jewelry is unique and not something you see at typical stores. It’s very on-trend, but she also has a lot of classic pieces that never go out of style.”
Luger says that being from a small town on an Indian reservation, living in the country with horses, and being involved with rodeo are key components to her inspiration and evolution as a jewelry maker. “The clothes and the boots revolve around the jewelry,” she says of the Western apparel sold in her store. “Basically, I make the jewelry for the clothes. If something comes in, I make something to go with it. It’s calming to me. It’s what I like to do in my free time.”
Luger’s pieces – which range from $75 to $350 – are available in the Coulee Creek Design stores in New Town (348 Main Street) and Bismarck (2700 State Street, Suite M-1), North Dakota. Online orders can also be placed at www.couleecreekdesigns.com.