Savvy Style, Unsurpassed Service The Porcupine has a passion for fashion… and people
Author: Blanche T. Sullivan | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai
“When you buy in a shop, you buy what you discover, what you might have had no intention of buying.”—Karl Lagerfeld, fashion icon defending “Selective Distribution.”
Like the legendary Lagerfeld, local Avis Rollison, owner of The Porcupine, agrees that, while modern society is entrenched in the Internet, online shopping cannot compete with the personal connection afforded by a quality in-store experience. “You go into a store and there is an energy, style sense. You see something you like and it becomes like a best friend. You can’t get that online,” she stated.
As the owner of one of Hilton Head Island’s most successful, enduring and respected businesses, Rollison has become somewhat of a fashion icon herself. The modest mother of two sons will amusingly shrug off such a suggestion, but just ask any number of clientele and all will wholeheartedly attest to her business savvy, as well as her passion for fashion and people.
Roxanne Gilleland, employed with The Porcupine for five years, said, “Avis is a leader in fashion, not a follower. Her store definitely helps set trends. She is always very professional, a lady who takes care of ladies—not just customers, but employees, as well. She is number one.”
What fueled Rollison’s passion for fashion? “I grew up shopping. My mom and I loved shopping together. It was a sport,” she said. And what initiated her purposeful strut down the entrepreneurial runway? It was 1976, and a young gal began stitching together her career path when she purchased The Porcupine Craft Shop, a simple and cozy gift store tucked away in Hilton Head Island’s Coligny Plaza. While the island’s population was small then, Rollison’s vision was vast and she recalls her humble beginnings with amusement.
“There were only about 4,000 people here, but Sea Pines was celebrating the bicentennial, and it was pretty exciting. There was a lot of energy.”
Her young store was a far cry from the well-appointed and chic fashion boutiques of New York. According to Rollison, she and her partner then didn’t even have many traditional essentials. “We collected discarded wood from construction sites and used it for the walls and to build shelves. We didn’t even have racks for clothes. We took two-by-fours and nailed them to the ceiling so they hung down vertically. We drilled holes in the boards and stuck rods in them so we could hang up the clothes,” she said.
But its rustic and creative décor, which might be considered “green” today, did not deter discriminating consumers craving high-end, big city shopping, nor did it hamper Rollison’s ability to bring upscale, runway-inspired attire to them.
The Porcupine, situated between a grocery and a pharmacy, initially carried Aarikka jewelry, Matushka dolls and Landlubber jeans. Rollison gradually incorporated other unique offerings, such as Native American jewelry and Seventh Avenue fashions, which began establishing the shop’s reputation for originality and eclecticism.
According to Rollison, the developing island offered few options for lingerie and, more urgently, shoes. In addition to expanding the store’s square footage to include such departments, The Porcupine introduced a “men’s night,” which became a fun, annual event. The Porcupine also provided expert suggestions and visuals to assist shoppers with pulling together flattering, trend-embracing ensembles, thereby, strengthening its foothold as a premier shop.
Success caused The Porcupine to outgrow its Coligny Plaza location and, in 1983, the blossoming business assumed a new residence within Hilton Head Island’s Gallery of Shops. The Porcupine established the “Shoe Source,” and began offering children’s items—The Porcupine for Kids.
In 1995, a major fire wiped out the entire store. Losing everything would devastate most individuals and cause many to hesitate beginning anew, but not Rollison. The shop emerged from the ash like a Phoenix and, following a brief stint on New Orleans Road, pulled up stakes and moved to The Village at Wexford in 1996.
In 1998, the store earned the coveted Diva Award as the Southeast’s premier contemporary shop. Today, after more than 10 years in its Wexford home, The Porcupine continues to dazzle and draw accolades and adoring clients.
The reasons for Rollison’s success are as numerous and varied as the attire and accessories adorning The Porcupine. According to her staff, it is her knowledge and keen eye, as well as her stellar treatment of employees, customers and vendors, which fuels her success.
“She [Avis] has unbelievable respect in the industry and it trickles down to us—to her employees,” said Gilleland. I learn every day, and it’s a true team here. Everyone is treated the same, whether they are buying a $10 T-shirt or a $5,000 gown. Avis is truly amazing.”
Rollison has earned many frequent flyer miles visiting New York City, a fashion Mecca, and shoots countless photos of items before she purchases them for her Hilton Head Island shop. In addition to offering recognized labels, she is a master of uncovering rising fashion stars and trends.
From Carter Smith’s Shibori (tie-dyed) silk dresses, painstakingly painted one at a time, and the popular Marisa Baratelli line, to Valentino gowns and Stuart Weitzman shoes, The Porcupine’s offerings are exceptional. The shop’s staff also works with clients and designers to create one-of-a-kind pieces. The store’s numerous resources include books of fabric swatches and high quality ribbons, sample gowns and more. If you can envision it, The Porcupine can help you achieve it.
The store truly offers something for every occasion as well as every budget. The latter may surprise those who have never visited the shop, but The Porcupine’s sale items are as legendary as its high-end merchandise, and shoppers need not be intimidated to explore. Regardless of what you are seeking, you will be met with know-how and a smile every time.
Local customer, Felice LaMarca was so impressed with her experience at The Porcupine, she was moved to purchase a painting and donate it to the shop. She said, “I met The Porcupine about 17 years ago when I was coming here [to Hilton Head] to our second home. I was a young, successful corporate person in Atlanta and there were not too many places to shop. The Porcupine is truly special. When you go there [to The Porcupine], they make you feel important. Everyone has a positive experience.”
Positive enough to garner a painting?
“I am not an artist,” LaMarca stated. “I love art and support local artists and the Hilton Head Art League Gallery. I saw this painting at a ‘Fabulous Fakes’ event at Pineland station and thought nobody else should have this painting but Avis. This belongs in The Porcupine.”
The painting, an oil by local artist, Anita Stephens, is a reproduction of John Sargent’s “Madame X” (c. 1884) with a clever twist—the famous portrait depicts a shopping bag with The Porcupine logo.
LaMarca added, “I think Avis does a lot for the community and tries to reach out to make the shop inviting for everyone. I truly respect her as a businesswoman and think she should inspire others by her example. I just wanted her to have the painting and feel good about it.”
Rollison felt so good about it, she proudly placed it on the wall near the store’s front counter. In addition to being extremely flattered by the gesture, Stephens, an artist with the Art League of Hilton Head, said that it was coincidence that Rollison likes Sargent’s work.
“I subscribe to Artist magazine and saw a write-up regarding the top 10 portraits ever painted. ‘Madame X’ was number two. For the Fabulous Fakes event, everyone tries to take a famous painting and do something funny with it, add a twist. I thought Madame X looked like a woman in the know—fashion savvy,” Stephens said with humor.
Of all shops to be depicted in the painting, why The Porcupine?
Stephens continued with a smile, “The Porcupine is the premier ladies’ store on the island. I think Madame X would shop there.”
Rollison credits her success with having an incredible and talented staff dedicated to helping her provide an unsurpassed shopping experience to all who pass through The Porcupine’s doors.
She said, “We all have our choice regarding where we shop. For some people, shopping is not fun—they do it begrudgingly. For others, it’s a pleasure. I go to New York and am more entrenched in fashion and the business than anyone here. We try to take the lifestyle of New York and bring it here, create a style that works in our climate.
But, most importantly, I have an amazing staff. They make everyone feel important, feel special, and that is why people come here.”
The Village at Wexford, E4
Hilton Head Island, SC 29928
(800) 211-9198, (843) 785-2779