I sat in bed the other night with Lola snuggled by my side, engrossed in Kate Schelter’s visually delightful new book, Classic Style: Hand It Down, Dress It Up, Wear It Out until the wee hours. Through vibrant and playful watercolors, thoughtful anecdotes, and personal memories, Schelter celebrates iconic items, ranging from Stan Smiths to a signature Rolex to a Le Crueset pot, encouraging a less is more approach that embraces the simple luxury of the well designed, allowing for more space to express one’s true self. Dig deeper and the imagery and essays become about so much more.
Some might say that I am a more is more kind of person — my shoe collection is in the Carrie Bradshaw vein and my jewelry style distinguished by layers of gold chains and statement hoops that I have amassed since childhood has an Adriana from the Sopranos quality.
That being said, my motto in life and for Garland Collection has ironically always been “Classic is What Counts.” If I’m not going to wear it forever, I’m not going to buy it. Buttondowns are staples, as are the silver Birkenstocks that I bought before a trip to Rome almost a decade ago. I garden daily in the Naot clogs that I purchased in Israel on a teen tour when I was fifteen. And while my greater shoe situation does give me reason to wonder if there is a void I’m trying to fill (everyone has a weakness), if I could only keep one pair, it would be the Prada wooden heel platforms that I have worn to almost every meeting and most events over the last fifteen years. They are so comfortable that I am sure I could go for a run in them, they look good with everything, and their height and timelessness give me confidence.
But I am no bag lady. I invest only once every few years and if its lack of sartorial experience means my grandma could not have owned it and my grandchildren won’t want to borrow it, I’ll happily stick with what I have. For this reason, my collection of Goyards are so worn in that the monogram and stripes have chipped away on one (it has seen a lot of life in its decade and a half) and each one is smattered with small(ish) holes that I like call “haute hobo.” But their utility and history keeps the well-loved look in regular rotation. As a personal appeal, now that everyone has been informed that this designer dishevelment is a means of self-expression, stop telling me I need new bags. You know who you are.
I rarely travel without my Louis duffle — it matched my grandma’s when we went to St. Maarten together (we once mixed them up at security and I had to explain to the officer why I had a ziplock of roughly twenty prescriptions with someone else’s name on them) — and my LL Bean Boat N’ Tote that I bought at the flagship in Vermont twenty years ago with my pre-married monogram is still a summer staple. My Smythson “Travels and Experiences” diary is always with my passport or road map— it’s pages lined with notes on the random field to find Shona sculptures in South Africa, how to locate the fisherman in a remote Belizean village who will take you out to catch Barracuda, the address of the best antique store in Cleveland and the less than appealing fish shack in Iceland that will blow any seafood lover’s mind.
And while I am typically known as a refined blazer-loving dresser come fall, Roberta Roller Rabbit kurtas with vintage costume jewelry are my summer look. In full disclosure, I wore one to my first meeting with Vogue when my Garland signet ring was chosen for the September cover. My publicist was appropriately shocked by my entrance in beachware, but it was August and it’s all about personal style, right? And since I design jewelry, there is no shortage, but if I were ever forced to grab one thing and run (beyond my children, dog and photographs who in this fantasy are safely outside), it would be the charm bracelet which I have been adding to since my parents gifted it to me for my sixth grade graduation. What’s more classic than that?
My twin almost six-year-old boys are subconsciously starting to gravitate toward distinctive styles as a way to project their own sense of self. Sweetlips has been wearing Air Jordans since he was a year old and Bean has only recently allowed skater style Air Force Ones into his rotation of old-school Converse. They are each allowed only one pair of sneakers for camp and for school, so they choose thoughtfully. (I do see that this rule is at real odds with my own shoe situation, but collecting kicks seems even less appropriate when you are only graduating Kindergarten.) Sawyer Bean has never seen a pair of Bermuda shorts he doesn’t like and Crosby’s collection of retro sports team tees will be outgrown but not forgotten. Polo shirts, (“Big RL pony only”) are visible in most photographs (they know momma likes a popped collar), and I’m pretty sure that they are the only humans beyond Mario Batali to still make Crocs look cool. They have been their trademark warm weather shoe since their infanthood in LA.
Unexpectedly, Classic Style also happily brought me back to the first post I included in this blog years ago, long before our new redesign. The essay, titled “Born to Shop,” about the women in my family’s link between fashion and memory ended with inspiration boards featuring just these items that I’m still reminiscing about. Because the emphasis on the Garland womens’ legendary wardrobe treasures influenced so much of who I am, it’s the first essay I archived on this updated site. I love how Schelter’s book had me thinking back, musing on my own classics and reminding me of my roots in starting this blog back when I was an editor and designer trying to bridge the gap between my passions.
Below is that original essay from long ago. My grandmother is no longer with us, but the memories still ring true. I again updated the boards from years ago mostly with new links…as classics, my choices are inherently unchanged.
On that note, what are your classics? Share them with me — I love to hear personal anecdotes! And more importantly, share them with Kate Schelter @kateschelter. (Her instagram is filled with her joyful watercolors) I don’t know her personally, but I’m sure she’d love to hear how she’s inspired.
P.S. If you are looking for a great hostess or birthday gift this summer — Classic Style is a great choice. It’s as pretty as a coffee table conversation starter as it is a great read on a glorious beach afternoon.
Born to shop
(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)
Lying on my parent’s bed, my face cradled in my pudgy hands and steel blue eyes wide, I gazed up at my mother as she was putting the finishing touches on her evening’s attire, and like any innocent two-year-old would question as mom slung a purse over her shoulder, I sweetly purred, “Mommy, is that your Gucci?”
There were so many things wrong with my childlike curiosity. First off, the bag was a Fendi.
The second, more obvious issue, was how at two-years-old, the same age at which many of my peers had yet to gurgle words like cookie or poop, my vocabulary consisted of high-end Italian designer labels. And, I didn’t just throw these words around without understanding their connotations, like a child overhearing an unknowing parent’s accidental expletive, who for the next month will inevitably drop the F-bomb at regular and altogether inappropriate intervals. At twenty-four months old, I could match accessories, like shoes and bags, to their proper couturier. I took born to shop to a whole new level.
I obviously wasn’t flipping through pages of Vogue to view 1980’s must-have culottes or pounding the pavement on Madison Avenue. So where did my diaper clad propensity for the bag de jour, (or more aptly at times, the bag Dior) come from? While I have always been a slave to fashion, my family recognized that this wasn’t the sign of an overindulged toddler. Rather, it was something immensely more innocent -- a revealing example of the early devotion to the women in my family. My grandmother Loni has always been my fashion idol and, more importantly, the person whose every word I have lovingly hung onto since the age of two. When I took inventory of my mother’s accessories like the diaper-clad fashion police, it wasn’t about the clothes, but about my desire to emulate Loni and be a part of all the stories and laughter that was traded between the women in my family.
At two years old, I was the only grandchild, and the daughter and niece of three women, all still in their twenties. My mother, aunts, and Loni often sat at the kitchen table, telling stories and laughing until tears poured down their cheeks and their stomachs hurt from fits of doubled over hilarity. Even though I was so young, I always sat with them at the table, and in a very innocent way, I absorbed all of that female camaraderie.
So, as Loni would reminisce about the “good ‘ol days” when she was kicked out of the weekly dance at Poe Park in the Bronx with my grandfather because she bravely wore pants when the dress code for women was clearly skirts, the story would somehow become proudly engrained in my childhood brain as my own personal inheritance. Loni spoke of those difficult days of the Depression, days she looked on fondly because she knew of no better life, and the $25 (a lot of money in those days) Loni’s aunt gave her for her college wardrobe at NYU. She can still tally off her little luxuries – one sweater set, one skirt, and one pair of shoes from B. Altman & Company. She would ultimately have to leave to go to work to care for her young brother and ailing father, but that tough personal interior became a part of my own biography very early on.
While the surrounding circumstances of that event were tragic, it is my grandmother’s ironically joyous memory amongst all that hardship that has remained in my heart, despite the privileges that I, because of them, have had. It’s never really been about the clothes themselves, but the stories behind them that taught me about character and helped me to shape my own. Oddly, as an adult, with so many of my own life experiences to share, I still manage to repeat the story of Loni’s NYU “spree”, for it seems to be a more acute representation of who I am, shaping my own outlook on life. Those four little pieces of clothing gave Loni joy and made her feel special and that, not the part where she had to leave the education that she loved, is the Depression story she remembers.
We all seem to have inherited Loni’s tendency to weave together the past through the clothes we wore, remembering our attire from a particularly memorable life event as though they are the landmarks to find our way back. I guess at times it is because the clothes alone tell the story – past, present, place, and person. My mother often recalls her time as an art student at American University by mentioning the 70’s-esque tube top and painter pants she almost always wore to class, as if the outfit itself embodied the cool, young, free-spirited artist that she once was. When my aunt Valerie fondly remembers going to my aunt Susan’s college graduation and becoming drunk for the very first time, she never fails to detail the white wedged clogs she was wearing that day. She was the first person in her high school to introduce those fashion forward “wedgies” with the thick pieces of wood along the bottoms, and when she became sick into a pillowcase at seventeen, all she remembers seeing were those shoes – they, not the Tequila Sunrises, were the symbol of her coming of age. Even I reminisce on the low slung corduroy “recycled” bell bottoms that I wore practically every day through my eleventh-grade hippy phase, including the afternoon at sixteen I sparked a crush on a tenth grader who would one day become my husband.
From countless hours around my grandparents’ kitchen table, perched on my knees between my grown-up aunts, I learned the difficult stories about my grandparents’ life and love for each other during the Depression, and at other times, like when I encountered the word “Gucci,” they laughed about the story of a bag, which represented a different life than what my grandparents were born into.
So, chances are, like some kids learn the word bake or knit because Granny has taught them of her two joys, I learned about Gucci because my grandmother told the story of when she received her very first one – and, oh yes, was it joy. As legend goes, the doorbell rang and my grandmother answered the door knowing that the highly anticipated monogrammed Gucci purse with the bamboo handle had arrived.
Who would have thought that Leona from the Grand Concourse would one day have such a luxury? My aunt Valerie, who was still in high school at the time, began yelling out the windows in mock excitement, “It’s a Gucci! It’s a Gucci!,” lovingly mocking my grandmother’s delight over her new designer bag. Loni put the bamboo handled Gucci in retirement many years ago, but it has remained in it’s original box at the top of the closet, one of the few pieces that she is not willing to part with and add to my vintage collection.
At twenty-four months old, after hearing the story that has become female family lore, as far as I was concerned, everyone must have a Gucci…and, I still don’t disagree. Yet, to my naively astute two-year-old mind, the value of the Gucci was not monetary or social standing, but an altogether different status symbol — one in which I was allowed to claim my place around the kitchen table with the women I adored.
Garland Collection was named for my grandparents,
Leona and Stanley Garland.
I shop a range of high and low - "Classic is What Counts." But I keep a handful of investment pieces that will stand the test of time. A few of these items are long-time staples in my closet, and one (i.e. the vintage black Kelly bag), are on my “one day” list.