|From Country Road on Instagram|
On my list of chic mentors, I don’t just have people, I also have a handful of retail stores. Is that strange? I don’t think so. Retail stores spend a lot of time, money and expertise in creating a compelling feeling of wanting to buy into the lifestyle they offer. Ralph Lauren is a master, and another closer to home for me is Country Road.
In the nineties my absolute favourite store to daydream in (and about) was Country Road. Country Road is an Australian clothing and homewares store and the things it used to stand for were authentic materials which were classic and simple in style and made to last.
I think they were ahead of their time in New Zealand and Australia as there weren’t really stores that had a complete lifestyle vision like Country Road. If you had the money, you could dress both your home and body there. I remember the blonde-wood simplified sleigh bed, the scrubbed wood kitchen table, the wide-striped cotton tea-towels and perfectly classic wardrobe items.
Nothing is forever of course, and in the late nineties a huge corporation bought Country Road and now it is not a patch on the store it was then (in my opinion). As with a lot of brands most of their products are now made in the Far East, whereas back then, their production was done in Australia and I even have a Country Road wool jersey that is made in New Zealand.
The styles have changed too (or maybe I have?). They are now fast, slightly classic fashion rather than the chic wardrobe basics they used to be. Like everyone else, they want to stay alive in the cut-throat business of fashion retailing. In addition, it now seems like every other week they are having sales and big discounts which makes you question their normal prices and not want to pay full price.
That doesn’t stop me being inspired by what they used to be like though. At the time I had very few items bearing the brand simply because of their price compared to what I was earning and also due to the fact I was a new homeowner with a decent mortgage. I used to browse at least once a week though, do a little window-shopping on my lunch break to re-inspire myself to live a beautiful and simple life and also see what new and desirable items they had.
Country Road put out slim seasonal catalogues that were as inspiring as any lifestyle magazine and they even issued a magazine once. I kept it for many years and eventually decluttered it. I’d still love it today I think. I remember they interviewed ‘normal’ people about their favourite Country Road piece of clothing and of course they’d had that piece for years and worn it with everything.
One woman in the magazine said how much she loved her Country Road towels and that they lasted forever because they were such good quality. Well, I am a good consumer so one Christmas in the mid-nineties I requested two Country Road towels as my gift. Yes, I received strange looks when everyone else was opening many little items and I had… two towels. But I loved those towels – thick and fluffy, palest ecru ribbed cotton. I’d never had towels like them and they did in fact last a long, long time before they were eventually donated to the SPCA.
The Country Road approach to functional, perfect, well-made pieces reminds me of Ralph Lauren’s aesthetics. In his self-written book (the giant sized one), Ralph talked about how as a young man with not a lot of money he preferred utilitarian items such as an army surplus jacket or an old wooden piece of furniture. Items that are made honestly with good quality materials in a quality way that means they are going to last a long time.
This take me back to the thought of investing in quality – and quality doesn’t necessarily mean expensive (not all the time anyway). But you have to have an eye for good quality, no matter the price-point.
The kinds of ideas I get from Mr Lauren are:
- Appreciating old and battered things, whether they are adorning the home or the body
- Embracing utility items
- Looking after your possessions, care for them and show them respect
- Keeping something for a long time and mending or fixing if need be
- Gathering furniture and clothing over time to create your own unique style
- Aiming for style, not fashion.
I like to relive these thoughts every now and then to remind me not to be swayed by the new and shiny. To enjoy using and looking after the quality items I’ve come by in the past and be selective about what I allow into my life in the future.
What’s the first item that comes to mind for you? What have you had and loved for its quality, usefulness and good looks for a long, long time? People and pets excluded because they go without saying!