NICE, France – Look into the boutique at 12 Rue du Pont Vieux in Old Nice and several cat eyes stare back.
They’re everywhere. On bags, on statues, on rocks and keychains. The face of people’s more mysterious companion is plastered on everything in the store. Les Chats de Casa Mia offers a wide variety of items, some with standard cat faces printed on them, but most with paintings by artists.
Isabella Dissette opened the store on Dec. 12. She said everyone told her she was crazy to open a cat boutique. “But why cats?” they would ask. Dissette didn’t want to sell anything else. Although there are several cat-related stores in the world, Dissette’s is different because it features customizable, original artwork.
Since childhood, it’s always been cats for her. Her first was a Persian. “He was the love of my life. He was my fiancée, my love, my son, everything,” Dissette said in French through an interpreter. When he died, she was devastated and told herself no more cats. That lasted about three months, and then Poppi pawed his way into her life. Now she has three cats and can’t wait for the fourth.
Dissette originally owned a restaurant. Her register was surrounded by cat statues, and people kept bringing her more as gifts. Soon she had a large collection, which led to several conversations. She says they didn’t even talk about food there, they talked about cats.
“When we sold the restaurant, I wondered: ‘Why not open a cat boutique?’ When I go to the city, I am always looking for a cat or something with a cat,” Dissette said. “So why not create a boutique with only cats? That’s why I opened this store.”
About a year before the store opened, she and her husband Alfonzo took a trip to Tuscany and stumbled upon a woman painting cats on rocks.
The artist, Ladzarini, takes rocks from Gola del Furlo, a national park in the center of Italy. Dissette found her at a food fair and bought her rocks. She took down all of her contact information and asked if she would be interested in selling her cat rocks. She said sure why not, but Dissette could sense Ladzarini thought she was crazy.
Around the same time the following year, they went back to Tuscany and bought all of her rocks. She had a beautiful and incredible collection of rock animals everywhere. Dissette says she took a large box, then asked if Ladzarini would be able to make more. She said yes, but once again she seemed to be in disbelief.
It only took 15 days before the rocks sold out. Ladzarini agreed to make more, and said she was pleased that Dissette ordered so many cat rocks because she had too many at home. She assured Dissette that she thoroughly enjoyed painting them, though.
For Dissette, it really was fate to find Ladzarini at the fair. “I’m really happy to have found her because she really saved me.” She says it’s complicated to try to find such items, even on the Internet.
She has customers who also appreciate finding rare cat memorabilia. Leatitia Briand is another person who says she was brought here by fate. Trying to avoid the crowded streets of Nice, she took a smaller street to get to work and came upon the store.
“That day, there was nothing in particular that caught my eyes, it was just a cat boutique,” Briand said on finding the store. To her, it was almost like Christmas had come early. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I can believe in Santa Claus again.’”
Briand is a big collector of unique cat items. Her whole bathroom is filled with cat things. She said if there were an earthquake, she would be more devastated to lose her cat items than anything else. She thinks of her collection as one big item — a sentimental gift from her family and friends.
The store had only been open for 15 days when Briand stepped in. The first item she bought was a white foulard, a light scarf, with a black cat print. The last item she bought was a black cat ring.
Briand and Dissette have developed a close bond over the last year. Briand said they can talk for hours about cats. She is always on the lookout for unique cat items, which Dissette helps her find. The black cat ring doesn’t exist in the boutique; it was ordered especially for Briand.
Every two weeks, Dissette orders new things. Sometimes she has customers who come in and want to have items customised. Another sentence on a tile, more cats, writing in another language — they always do different things. Because the work is done by an artist, it is possible do to whatever the customer wants.
Briand wears a small silver pendant with black strings. The bracelet came from the boutique, but this one was made for her. Originally, the cat on the pendant was more transparent, and the bracelet had pink strings. Briand mentioned to Isabella how much she would love to have one with black strings, and Dissette said she would talk to the artist. Then one day she got a call from Dissette saying the bracelet was ready.
“They didn’t open a cat boutique because it didn’t exist in Nice,” Briand said. “They have a real passion for cats, just like me.” It’s not because they did a market study and found that there are no other cat boutiques, not because they thought cats were starting to be fashionable, so the shop would work. “She did it because she was really, really passionate about cats.”