Friday, August 1, 2014

Chic Mentors – Country Road

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!


  1. What a fascinating post. I love that you took inspiration from a store. I'm so interested to see what people have to say in the comments on this one. One of the things I bought when I was a young bride was a small set of nice crystal wine glasses, champagne glasses and tumblers from Waterford. I saved up and bought them as I could afford them and I still only have 12 pieces total, but I love them. It is such a pleasure to use them on a regular basis and they look as new as the day I bought them.

  2. gosh i have so many thing that would fit this category, my whole house actually. I've always preferred the old and battered to brand new. altho there is a place for new for sure!

    you would love my son's alex home. after working for rl for many years he has really honed his eye into something special. now he's out on his own with his own store and clothing line that i think rl would be v proud of.

  3. I love sheets that were a fine quality to begin with and have softened with washing to an almost velvety finish. I am breaking down this vacation and buying a new set. It has been eight years since I bought a new set, but hate to give them up at least until the new ones are broken in.

    And I have bowls that came from my grandmother's house called Knowles Utility Ware. They are an aged-ecru color with a fruit motif on them. I use them sparingly since they are old and treasured.

  4. When I was younger and did not know myself as well as I now do, at times I took the cheap and easy route and went with popular fads. Now I am so much more discerning about the things that make the cut. I've had the same patio furniture for ten years. It was expensive and I wondered if it would be worth the price. It looks as good today as when it was new. My brother moved into a house with gorgeous custom made drapes in the dining room. He used them for several years and then asked me if I would like them when he moved. I took them and hung them in my dining room for eight years. I only changed them when I redecorated. The quality was wonderful. Last thing, I have a classic cut black dress that I have worn more times than I can count. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many years I have had it. I don't have any plans to get rid of it any time soon, though. It's great to have something that pays for itself to soften the blow of the purchase mistakes I've made!

  5. When I graduated from university and was working at my first "proper" job, I wanted some semblance of order at home and so decided that the odds and ends of school-days dishes and cutlery had to go!

    So, when a big shop in Canada (Wm Ashley) had it's mammoth annual sale, I went out and bought Denby stoneware, Emile Henry mixing bowls, and some sturdy cutlery. I still have all of it (and use all of it daily) more than 20 years later and it looks as good as new.

  6. I don’t like ballet flats. But there is one style that Kenneth Cole New York made 9 years ago that I bought in as many colors as I could afford. And I will doggedly repaint, resole, rebuild the heel when it disintegrates…I won’t give them up ever! The design is simple enough, sort of squared off toe, with a “button” on top. They can be casual, dressy, feminine without being too girly or sweet, flattering (they don’t look like clown shoes)…to me utterly perfect. I dream one day I can find a shoemaker to just remake them for me.

  7. Stephanie, they must be divine to drink from. What a great purchase. Waterford is stunning!

    Janet, congratulations to your son, you must be so proud. I think this post should have you as its Chic Mentor above Country Road and Ralph Lauren as the lady who makes everything look so good, no matter where it comes from.

    Kristien, soft smooth sheets with long thread fibres, mmm, so fabulously luxurious and like you say, get better with age. Eight years is amazing for sheets. And your true-vintage bowls sound beautiful.

    Miss Dishywoo, great examples! Good quality curtains/drapes make such a difference. It was fortunate that you could recycle your brothers ones! Your patio furniture and LBD sound fabulous too. I have a knee-length LBD and a simple ankle-length evening dress from... Country Road and both of them are timeless. I've had them both at least ten years.

    Anonymous, I have two Emile Henry baking dishes from about the same time ago as you, and like you use them often. I love Denby too, so sturdy and English.

    Pret a Porter P, what a great story about your favourite shoes! They sound like a real design classic, hopefully they will be re-issued soon. Wouldn't that be something, just as your last pair gives out?

  8. My husband and I just had cushions recovered on our leather sofa. Yes we had to get the leather from Italy. Expensive? Yes. But worth it. After all we bought this couch in 1969.
    Love your blog!

  9. I am from Australia and as a young lawyer I used to love the cotton Country Road Shirts that were just beautiful to the touch and made in Australia. Over 30 years on I still have one of their corduroy skirts in my wardrobe. Still fits, still classic and in immaculate condition. What can one say about quality. I still have some of their homewares as well.

  10. some of the RL ideals sound like my grandparents and the approach taken by those who had been through the Depression. If it's good quality to begin with, things can last a long time if cared for well. I have lots of such heirlooms. I just bought some very expensive linen sheets that are so perfectly wonderful; they are the last sheets I think I'll ever buy, if the stories are true.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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