Free to Explore Earth Spirits

Free to Explore

Free to Explore Earth Spirits
Every inch of Earth Spirits has been layered and curated in the artistic style of owner Denise Castilleja.

If you’ve never been to Earth Spirits, this El Paseo mainstay is a must-see for eclectic clothing and jewelry that wear like true/handmade/hand-crafted pieces of art.

By Lisa Marie Hart
Photography courtesy of Earth Spirits

Prepare for a sensory feast and a place to explore. Much like an art gallery or a museum, Earth Spirits takes shoppers on a unique journey once inside. Many pieces — other than conversation-starting pieces of home décor — can be tried on. No need to keep your voices low. Bursts of enthusiastic exclamation are a daily occurrence here.

Every inch of this always-evolving destination has been layered and curated in the artistic style of owner Denise Castilleja, who opened the boutique on El Paseo in 1991. Thirty years later, she maintains a loyal and diverse client base, including some who have been devotees since those very first seasons the shop was open.

At the time, every marvel of free-flowing fabric on the racks was one-of-a-kind. Today, much of them still are, offered in just one size or free size. Interspersed are a mix of tops, tunics, jackets, and pants by independent designers, many who incorporate an element of the human touch through hand-dyeing or piecework. Their creations reflect the soulful nature of the individual spirit who steps out in it. Many are made in the U.S., mingled in the beautiful company of garments from India, Israel, and Germany.

Free to Explore Earth Spirits
This beautiful silk top is lush with color, while necklaces of resin and mesh add the finishing touch.

Pulled together by Castilleja in smart and alluring combinations, these pieces possess the power to transform how one feels about the day, week, or season. “It doesn't have to be high-end; it's just has to be fabulous in what it is,” Castilleja notes.

Undisputable as wearable pieces of art, each is as distinctive as the woman who falls in love with it. Whether simple or ornate, they can be worn in ways that reinvent current pieces you wear most. Everything at Earth Spirits is open to personal interpretation.

“What drives me is seeking out and finding creativity,” Castilleja says. “It’s all about how people express that and turn it into something wearable or functional. And then being able to bring that in and share it with people.”

Free to Explore Earth Spirits
Easy, comfortable, and versatile. This sweater meets all three.

From nubby, loose-knit sweaters and embroidered dusters to patchwork pants, gauzy blouses and scarves in wool, Italian lace, and chiffon, a parade of textures add to the shop’s magnetism. Don’t forget to browse the shoes and a line of durable handbags made using marine upholstery.

Peeking from between the apparel are treasures for the home that trigger inquiries of the stories behind them. Animal masks handmade by artists both in the U.S. and in Africa, a child’s primitive carved-wood canoe, de Los Muertos vignettes from Mexico. The cultures all blend beautifully.

Free to Explore Earth Spirits
Mineral powders, resin and natural pigments combine to create these marbled porcelain pieces.

But it’s the jewelry cases where shoppers abandon all sense of time. It’s easy to lose oneself perusing the objects and pondering the technical skills and inspiration behind each design. Many are crafted by full-time juried artists, some that have been in The Smithsonian, and other are antiques from Papua New Guinea and Northern Africa.

Earrings of crushed quartz set in resin glisten among works in ceramic, aluminum, sterling silver, semi-precious and precious stones, pearls, paper, and glass. Sharp observers notice the earthy surface scattered across the bottom of the cases: black beans, white rice, and split peas.

Free to Explore Earth Spirits
These goddess sculptures are individually fired and glazed.

An artist in upstate New York is behind necklaces stacked with thick squares of felt and an oversize bauble of hand-blown glass. A line of watches could be mistaken for aged antiques unearthed from the Titanic. A brooch on a stand serves as sculpture when not on a lapel. Some take them home for the art-factor alone.

“It’s never been a job for me, or even felt like hard work,” Castilleja says. “It has always felt like an extension of me and my life,” which is just how shoppers feel about the clothing, jewelry, and décor.

From the entrance through to the dressing rooms, there is so much to see and explore. As gifts or new favorites, these gems capture the imagination of anyone who appreciates art, fashion, global perspectives, or all of the above. For three decades, word of mouth has drawn curious customers through the doors. You’ll often hear them saying as they go: “Thank you, Denise. That was so much fun. Now I have to go tell my friends about your shop!”

73750 El Paseo #102, Palm Desert