by Hannah Saulters | Photographed by Frank Farmer
Jude Muse climbs the spiral staircase leading from her basement office to the sales floor for one of what will likely be dozens of times in a day. She counted once. By closing, she had made 64 trips. It is a fitting metaphor for Muse’s own career. Not only did she move to Mississippi, then away and back again, but her jobs have always circulated around retail and with every progressing step she has gained more independence and ownership within the industry she loves.
Treehouse Boutique has changed a great deal from its early iteration to the shop as it exists today, largely due to Muse’s personal vision. When she purchased the store thirteen years ago, merchandise consisted of home accessories and gifts, but under Muse’s guidance has become a staple for Jackson’s savvy shoppers from adolescence into adulthood. “When you’re younger,” she notes, “you want to look like everybody else… but as we age we get more comfortable refining that and developing our own style.” This shift in product and attention to a wide audience reflects Muse’s background in corporate retail.
After graduating from college with a degree in accounting and political science, Muse leveraged her time working in retail and was immediately recruited into a large group of department stores. She came to Mississippi working for McRae’s but moved to Pennsylvania for her husband’s job, also in retail. When they returned to Mississippi, again for work, Muse planned to continue consulting small businesses but when Treehouse went up for sale, jumped at the chance. “I had always said, ‘Someday, maybe when the kids are older, I’d love to have a little boutique.’ It really wasn’t when I was going to do it, but it just worked out. I had always said I wanted to be in Fondren and suddenly this became available so I thought it must be meant to be.”
Despite her ties to corporate retail and being a self-described “numbers person,” Muse calls Treehouse “died-and-gone-to-heaven retail,” largely for the personal relationships she has developed. She extends that same sense of hospitality to the staff, whom she affectionately refers to as “my girls” throughout our conversation. Upon hiring new staff members, she encourages them to view their positions not as “a greeter. You are not a cash register ringer,” she explains. “It’s like any person walking into your house. They are your guest.”
This familiarity extends beyond the walls of the boutique itself. Muse attends market six times per year, always going with certain social events in mind, but also particular customers. She tells a story of meeting with a vendor years ago when her daughter was with her. As a sales representative pulled out a dress, her daughter (who was only ten at the time) turned to her and said that it looked just like one of their regular customers. Since then, Muse has had several similar moments, where vendors look in awe as she goes through her list of “don’t-forgets” looking for the right pieces. Quick to recognize how rare that is in the business world, she notes that “for a little store we’ve really been able to build some strong relationships with bigger labels… It really is all about relationships.”
One of her approaches to style is that if you look great, you feel great. Although she describes her personal style as “simple, clean lines with a little bit of a twist,” Muse is wary of sticking too strongly to a single look. “As I’ve gotten older,” she says, rolling her eyes slightly at the word, “I am always trying to make sure that I’m not getting set in my ways… I am always keeping my eyes open to what’s out there. Whether I’ve seen it pass through already, I have to remember that maybe millennials haven’t.” She recounts a recent interaction with a vendor where a young sales representative gushed over a ruffled wool cocktail coat, saying Jude would just love it. “She pulled out this coat and I had to tell her, ‘I do love it, because I own it. I have that exact coat from when the designer did it nine years ago!” She laughs.
When she isn’t immersed in her work, Muse’s creative interests bleed over into her spare time. If she weren’t in this line of work, she would be doing something tangential, like home design and restoration. Coming from a big Italian family of six children, and with two children of her own she also loves to cook and entertain, citing chefs who are stylish as they are talented as two of her favorites: Ina Garten and Giada Laurentiis.
These women are just some in a long line of empowering females in Muse’s life. In terms of style, she admires such classic beauties as Carolina Herrera, Coco Chanel, and Audrey Hepburn. But she speaks most excitedly about the women she knows personally. There are so many women in Jackson, she says, who “I hope when I’m their age, I am as cute and fashionable as they are.” It seems as long as Treehouse is around (and she keeps climbing those stairs), she will get her wish.