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From the pages of Vogue to Gresham

Along with successful online business, Vona Cline opens storefront downtown
by: Carole Archer, Accents of Elegance owner Vona Cline, left, and friend and store manager Rebecca Fisk share their excitement about the new downtown storefront at 316 N. Main Ave. in historic downtown Gresham.

Vona Cline sells designer handbags to some of New York's most chic customers, but that doesn't mean she's turned her back on her hometown.

Cline's online store, www.accentsofelegance.com, is frequently featured in magazines such as Vogue, Lucky and Self, but Gresham customers don't have to search for stylish Franco Sarto bags online.

They can head to downtown Gresham, where Cline recently moved her retail shop out of a closet-sized corner inside Pizazz Salon to a much larger space at 316 N. Main Ave.

Cline's design team, led by Brenda Abernathy, has transformed the space into a wall-to-wall mix of collectable, hard-to-find designer accessories.

On one wall, Franco Sarto purses spotlight the shoe designer's timeless style and luxurious leathers. Next to the Sarto bags, limited-edition Spencer and Rutherford handbags stop a customer in her tracks.

'These are works of art,' Cline says of the whimsical, ribbon-adorned purses from Australia. 'These are so popular in Australia, they have collectors' groups that meet and talk about their handbags.'

One of the collectors' favorites is the designer's 'Twiggy' line. Cline offers the 'Fairy Godmother' version of the Twiggy bag - a dainty purse covered in vintage material and embellished with delicate ribbons and beads.

All of the Spencer and Rutherford bags are limited editions, and Cline only gets one of each limited edition for her retail store, so Gresham customers will never see their handbag floating around town on the arm of another person.

A former Nordstrom employee, Cline really knows her way around the handbag and jewelry counter. When she launched her online store five years ago, Cline depended on her Nordstrom knowledge to choose the best purses and jewels.

The business took off after Lucky magazine featured the store in a spread on Whiting and Davis' mesh cosmetic purse.

'We completely sold out of our Whiting and Davis after that magazine came out,' Cline says. 'And then we were featured in More magazine … and Vogue at least three times.'

Two years ago, Cline moved some retail product into a tiny space inside downtown Gresham's Pizazz Salon, to see if Gresham customers would snag the same goods that New Yorkers and Texans loved.

One of her most loyal customers turned out to be a self-taught expert on purses and fine jewelry, so Cline hired her.

Rebecca Fisk worked for the Gresham Fire Department for 15 years, but being around all those manly men never dissipated Fisk's passion for leather purses and shimmering jewels.

'Rebecca knows more about handbags and real jewelry than any person I've ever met,' Cline says. 'She keeps me organized … and she's one of the nicest people I've ever met.'

Fisk does a little bit of everything for the new store.

She packs items that have sold online for destinations like Los Angeles, New York or Houston. And she has an eye for ordering purses and jewelry that appeal to people in big cities as well as Gresham.

Some of the most popular items include the Pandora bracelets (a new type of charm bracelet that is quickly replacing the traditional Italian style charm bracelets, according to Cline); Hobo International purses and wallets; Crislu jewelry (recently featured in Vogue magazine); Inge Christopher handbags; whimsical pieces of art turned into pocketbooks by New York artist Debbie Brooks; Kenzie purses; and Mary Frances' collectable bags.

In the back of the new store, Cline has dedicated space for baby accessories and gifts, including some very funky (and fluffy) diaper bags designed by two California moms, who are keeping all their production in the United States.

'The line is called la Bella Ragazza,' Cline says. 'And it is wonderful. They use synthetic fur … the type that doesn't come off when you rub it against your clothes, and they have diaper bags, backpacks and we're getting their little baby blankets soon.'

The line features furry, cotton-candy pink diaper bags that Cline recommends for her most feminine customers.

'I tell them, you get this diaper bag for dad,' she says, pointing to a classic black and white diaper bag. 'And you get this pink one for when it's just you and the baby.'

The line drew at least one new customer into the store this week, and she traded handbag speak with Fisk, who salivated over the customer's black Michael Kors bag.

The designer is one of a handful that Cline may soon carry and her plans don't stop with additional merchandise.

'I'd like to open two more stores, one in Bend and one in Dallas, Texas,' Cline says. 'And, eventually, I can see opening an upscale women's clothing store in downtown Gresham. … I love my customers down here. Gresham's been fabulous for this business.'