Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chic Mentors

Adding to my list of chic mentors which I profiled here, may I present you with two new ones.

Firstly meet Janey, a customer of our shop whom I’ve met a couple of times in the past years, but have had quite a lot to do with in the last few weeks.

Janey is an interior designer (but a real one with a passion for design, not a rich wife one with a put-on posh accent. You can just tell). She is in her early fifties and part of her look is Converse All-Stars. From that you would think she tries to dress young (as Adrienne covered wonderfully recently). But no, she wears gorgeous, sophisticated clothing, mostly pants, with quietly expensive looking tops and often a chic coat or jacket. She wears long, fine-knit scarves too, looped casually around her neck with the ends down.

A while back she asked me to let her know when we received any Converse in brown, olive or green shades. Here in New Zealand we don’t get the huge range of colours that are always available in the US. Our tiny population is less than the size of one city in a bigger country, so this is why.

We received in some ‘vintage brown’ All Stars which even had subtle cream rubber/laces compared with the bright white of most other colours. I thought these would be just her style, so I emailed Janey to say some had arrived in store. She said she would call in at some stage to take a look at them (a bit non-committal, and that’s fine, it was months since she had left a note in our customer book) and I thought nothing more of it.

I remember thinking how picky and difficult she was when she first came into our shop. Not because she was unpleasant though. I now realise she was being selective, a la Vivienne of ‘The Vivienne Files’ fame at the French Chic yahoo group. None of the approximately 20-30 colours of All Stars were good enough for her, and that’s when she asked me to let her know if we ever got any in earth tones in.

She came in to see the brown ones one night last week. It was ten minutes before we closed and a rainy, dark night. She had battled the traffic to get to us and when I went to get her size to try on, it was the only size we didn’t have. I didn’t want to go back out to the shop to face her! I had totally wasted her time and I felt terrible. Even worse, when I checked the Converse stock list it seemed there were none left in her size in the country.

She couldn’t have been nicer about it and said she would come another time. The next morning I found out that we did in fact have a couple of pairs in her size, in an overflow stock area. I emailed her again and told her about my faux pas. She really was so gracious and kind when it was her being mucked around, that it inspired me to be more that way.

She came in this week, same time, ten minutes before closing. She comes in after work finishes for the day and not on weekends as it seems she leaves the city on Thursday night for her home in the country and returns to the city on Monday. Doesn’t that sound lovely? She may well be, but she doesn’t give off the aura of being mega-rich. With her appearance and her demeanour she more whispers ‘I choose my ideal life and live it the best way I can with the resources I have’. I could be wrong, she may totally be a millionaire though, you just can't tell (which I think is rather nice).

What I am most inspired about by this latest chic mentor, apart from the fact of her calm and gentle understanding is the way she comports herself. She is fun in a soft way, she keeps a slight distance but is very personable. I can’t imagine anyone blabbing away in her yoga class. And if they did she might not even notice.

Her personal style is great too. Working in the interior design industry she clearly has an eye for colour, and she carries this through to the clothing she wears. She doesn’t just buy what’s available at the time, even if she needs something, she will wait until just the right thing comes along.

Her clothing style was quite classic in a casually sophisticated way. And of course she was slender. I definitely don’t see her watching 2½ Men with a bag of potato chips in her hand. She would likely forget to nibble at all before dinner and maybe sip on half a glass of wine or sparkling mineral water.

My second new chic mentor is a man – bet you didn’t expect that. His name is Niko and he’s a sales representative who has been visiting us with various shoe ranges since our shop opened almost six years ago.

I know you’re probably thinking ‘does this girl meet anyone that isn’t a sales rep or a customer?’ Maybe, or maybe not. We do work a lot at the moment, so I tend to see more people who are customers or suppliers. I don’t have a lot of time to join sports clubs or organisations. To tell you the truth I’m not a big team/group person anyway, even if I had all the time in the world.

But onto Niko. As I said he’s a sales rep. He is very Italian-looking and comes from an Italian family but I believe he was born here in New Zealand. He certainly has a New Zealand accent rather than an Italian one.

I met he and his wife a while back out of work at a dinner hosted by friends who also own a shoe shop. His wife brought along the biggest and most lush salad I had ever seen and I heard them both talking to people about enjoying healthy food. As a comparison one of the other wives, who is solidly overweight and quite a negative and manipulative person brought along a killer cheesecake - and declared she couldn't eat it as it was too rich for her. I remember thinking I know which one I want to be like!

Recently Niko was in our store showing us his shoe samples. It was a Friday and he popped next door to buy himself some lunch. He bought a vegetarian sub sandwich and a fruit smoothie and, when finished, patted his stomach and said ‘aah, that will keep me going until dinner-time’ (no snacking then, I thought to myself).

Niko is probably in his early 50s and he is very slim – no sign of a paunch on this man. He is also very well dressed in a Euro way. Always quite casual, he’s not in suits when he visits us. The other day he wore slim/straight fitting jeans but in a washed-out burnt ochre colour, with tan slip-on dress shoes and a black long-sleeve t-shirt (which had a charcoal/mid-grey t-shirt underneath, you could see a tiny bit of it at the neck).

He’s not trying to dress particularly young, but he certainly looks youthful and European, in an age-appropriate way. He’s a lot of fun, tells a great story and would be loyal and trustworthy too. He told us he is working a few days here and there at our friends’ shoe store to both give them a break and earn some extra money.

At one stage he was saying to my husband how he and his wife chose to live the European way, following his family heritage from the old country. Sadly I was in the shop at the time or I would have (subtly) picked his brains.

When I said to my husband Niko must live a nice life, he said straight away ‘he isn’t rich at all’. I already knew he had been let down by some people he worked with and this affected him financially. Regardless he always carries on, finding new shoe brands to show, and now being a part-time retail assistant for some extra spending money. I admire that about him. And through it all he’s always positive, cheery and upbeat.

From listening to him talk he is the ‘work to live’ type, rather than ‘live to work’, but with that, gives his all to whatever job he’s doing at the time. When he was packing up to leave our shop, his wife called to ask him to pick up some fresh oysters on his way home. He said they planned to ‘watch a couple of indie (art house) movies with a bottle of wine and some oysters’. I thought that sounded like a very stylish evening.


  1. Thank you for describing both people so well...in such detail! I would be enamored of both of their styles if I were to meet them!

    And that evening of oysters and indie films. very stylish evening indeed!

  2. You have created a desire for me to look for a mentor....I am hoping for more delicious tips and info on becoming chic from your blog!

  3. I wish I had people like that in my life! They both sound utterly fascinating and stylish. Hey, you may meet the all through your shop lately, but at least you have some excellent mentors!

  4. *clapping with delight*

    These are both excellent descriptions! I really enjoyed reading every word and it's so nice that you observe such details. It's nice to have mentors out there, even if they don't know they are your mentors. Admiring from afar and just noticing things is enough.

  5. I adore the detail in your writing. I just realized that you are from New Zealand...I will share a little something that I believe relates to your post. Last year I had dinner with a man who now makes his home in New Zealand. He is orginally from Ireland and happens to be a billionaire. It is a crazy story as to how we came to be having dinner together....will share at a later time. I would rather not share his name in an open forum, but I believe you may know who I'm speaking of? Anyway...with all of his wealth and his work work work attitude, I believe him to be very unhappy. He has everything that money can buy, but remains a lonely man. Attitude really is everything!

  6. Sunny, I am all about the details. I just can't help it. Somebody stop me!

    Hostess and Kalee, mentors are all around. Niko has been visiting us for many years, but it's only recently that I've thought of him as a 'chic mentor'. They don't have to have it all in one package either. Think of friends and family and if there are things they do that you admire, such as living well on a budget, tying scarves well, being a natural hostess etc.

    Stephanie, glad to be of assistance. *curtsey* I've been thinking of you a lot in your sad time.

    I have wondered about the 'mentor from afar' thing - perhaps I'm being a stalker. I'm not driving past their house or anything though... but I would like to see Janey's home in the country!

    Morisot, I am so intrigued and have no idea who you mean - clearly I don't move in the right circles. You are welcome to email me - howtobechic at gmail dot com!

    I've often wondered about rich, driven people. One of my favourite things to do in life is nothing (read, potter, relax, noodle about at home). When you're rich and driven you don't do that.

    You're so right, attitude IS everything.

  7. I love spotting chic people. I usually will whip out my Moleskine notebook and take notes so I won't forget any details. I'd love to snap a photo of them, but don't have the nerve to ask.

    Thanks for sharing yours Fiona. I wonder what kind of outfits your customer will pull together with her new Converse sneakers????

  8. As always, you really paint such a vivid picture with your words. I wish I could find a mentor in my area!
    Also, Phyllis, too funny, I do the exact same thing: I was awestruck by the style of a woman in church once (unfortunately she was just visiting) and after church wrote down everything about her in my moleskine notebook!

  9. Phyllis and Kristi, I have heard about Moleskine notebooks a lot in blogland. Can you tell me why this particular brand? I would like to find out if they are available here. Currently my notebook is a cardboard cover school one. Not so chic. I planned to cover it with stylish paper, but now it's too battered. I hang my head in shame.

  10. Fiona,

    I love the image of that woman wearing her Converse so chicly - and carrying it off at her age.

    What also stood out to me is how well you operate your business. Going out of your way to please a customer and making her feel important will take your business a long way. It's hard to find quality customer service. Your clients are lucky to have you and your shop.

    Care to open another location in Sonoma?


    P.S. thank you for 'the mention' in this beautifully written post.

  11. hi fiona,

    i am in agreement with all the above comments. i love your writing style.

    i too am enamored with people of all ages and genders who simply know how to live. i have a dear lady friend who is in her 80's that inspires me everytime i see her. she dresses impeccably everyday, no matter what her chores are. i see her out with huge shears working on an unruly shrub dressed in a floral skirt, white blouse and delicate cardigan. she believes this is her only life and she wants to be perfectly presented no matter what. she is also very, very frugal b/c she wants to be not out of necessity. most of her clothes are second hand. i really should do a post on her and her home.

    thank you for sharing.


  12. Love your blog! Aren't people like you wrote about fascinating? I would love to see the Converse Lady... Love those shoes! You never know who is watching you, do you? Have a great day! Lisa

  13. Adrienne, thank you for your kind words. We do try to differentiate ourselves from chain stores with our service. It's really all about common sense and decency - treating people as you would want to be treated. We're not perfect of course, but we always try to give good service, and follow up when we say we will.

    Janet, I would love to read a post on your observations of this woman, she sounds wonderful. To me, an interview with someone in a magazine is most appealing when it covers how they live their life, not just what they wear or about their job.

    'she believes this is her only life and she wants to be perfectly presented no matter what' is my favourite part of your comment (along with the word frugal, that always gets my attention).

    Lisa, thanks, and lovely to have you visit. Your cat-family is adorable.

  14. Fiona,
    I usually buy mine at a bookstore:
    I decided a long time ago that I would write in a leather bound journal with a very nice pen as a way to bring a little bit of luxury to my life. I like the way they look and feel and I guess I like the romantic idealism of them because hemingway and picasso, etc used them.

  15. Fiona, I'm mostly impress how you care enough to tell your customer about your faux pas. Chic customer sevice:) Thank you for sharing about your chic mentors. Excellent!

  16. Thanks for the info Kristi. I love your reasons so much.

    Thanks Ping! I've found that with everything in life, truth is the best answer. If you try to cover something up (even if just to save face) you're going to get found out. Sometimes I've been talking to my husband about something that has been bothering me and how to handle it and the solution is always the same 'just tell the truth'. It is so freeing.

    I heard a saying recently - 'sunlight is the best disinfectant'. I love it!

  17. I love your writing style, and the way you describe these chic mentors. Unfortunately I don't have any such people in my daily life. Where I worked there were a couple of women who I could have considered mentors but I don't seem them anymore.

    My mentors now are the lovely chic ladies I've *met* on-line, such as you, and Stephanie and Kristie and Kaylee, and others who have such wonderful blogs that I so enjoy reading, and who are teaching me so much.


  18. Jackie, thank you for the compliment. I feel that way too about the lovely bloggers I've gotten to know through their writing (yours included).

    Maybe you don't have any current mentors, but think about the women you used to work with - can you recall any details of why you considered them mentors?


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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