Sunday, December 14, 2014


I may have reservations about brand loyalty, but I make an exception when it comes to shoes--sizing and comfort are so key and brand's own lasts often mean that their footwear either works or it doesn't. I've bought too many pairs in the past that remain pristine because they hurt my feet (some even end up unworn despite their beauty and style). On the other hand, I live in certain pairs from Fiorentini + Baker and Surface to Air to the point that some shoes, boots and sandals are practically decomposing. In many cases I would have purchased a second identical pair but could never find more than one. A pair of my favourite Surface to Air shoes were on ebay recently but they were one size too small (and went for $17). If they had been a size 40, I'd have been happy to pay ten times more, but I'm pretty certain I'll never find another pair. Today I bought another pair of Fiorentini + Baker ankle boots (the Eli in blue), not because my black pair of Chads are decomposing--quite the opposite as they are practically new--but because they were a good deal at 50% off (F+B don't go on sale often and usually you can't get much more than 25% off).

But there are two pairs of shoes out there that I may take a chance on. While reading the UK papers online not so long ago, I spied a pair that captivated me and looked like they could fill a huge gap in my  pretty small (wearable) shoe wardrobe. Of course, it wasn't that simple. The brand--Senso--may be affordable (i.e. shoes around $250-300), but they are Australian and the shoes I loved--and another pair I liked even more--are not available in the US although the brand can be bought here (the different seasons obviously play a role). So I've decided to risk it, but only after the holidays as I'll be travelling with Severin while Evan stays behind and mans the fort. I've never ordered anything from Australia and will probably start with the slightly cheaper pair, but I'll have to see what is still available and just hope that there is a pair of each for me. These shoes will give me the dressy but not so high options I need and will add value to my wardrobe, allowing me to wear some items that don't go with my boots and flats without (hopefully) crippling me or damaging my ability to keep up with Severin. They'll also add a different look that will give me some much needed versatility--that is, of course, if they fit comfortably.

First, the pair that first caught my eye--Qiana IV

And here the pair that I perhaps like even more--Quarry II--which may be dangerously low in stock already in my size. Dare I wait?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Against Brand Loyalty

My wardrobe tells a sad story of brand infatuation. When I was younger and had way less money my options were limited to vintage stores and the Top Shop and Miss Selfridge sales racks, cultivating a habit of waiting for markdowns that survives to this day. At that time, I aspired to the slightly higher priced High Street brands like Warehouse (once a brand with some style that featured a young and less androgynous Tilda Swinton in its advertising, not the ugly polyester that now fills its racks). My sorry story of brand loyalty started there, first with a lovely striped cotton 1930s style blouse and pleated skirt that I left behind at a friend's wedding when I changed into my bridesmaid's dress. By the time that my first real salary cheques allowed me to binge purchase in the late 1990s-early 2000s, the brand was turning sour and I knew it, but bought anyway, clouded by memories of prior glories as I chased earlier aspirations. A couple of years later, I'd donated the clothing and thought I had learned a lesson--not to trust high street brands.

A series of similar but milder infatuations followed. Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, Jill Stuart--but none were exclusive and as I only bought on sale, I didn't end up with much excess. Amongst my buys were items I liked and wore, but a few gaudy dresses and ugly tops ended up in charity bags. Then I discovered Lyell, which actually was a pretty good, if--or perhaps because--it produced so few items. What little I didn't wear then, I sold. And while there are pieces I'm still hanging onto in the hopes that I can slim down enough to wear again, I know they can be sold if necessary, leaving me without too much of a loss. Lyell's craftsmanship, vintage style and lack of excessive adornment meant it didn't date badly and was appropriate for day to day life. The fact that it ran small also prevented me from buying as much as I'd have liked, limiting stupid purely brand-centred purchases (and, yes, there were a few). 

I'd loved Mayle from afar but when I could afford it on sale I made a few judicious purchases--shoes that I wore to death, coats that are still in regular rotation, a couple of workhorse dresses and blouses. If the brand hadn't closed and I hadn't gone crazy, perhaps all would have been fine. But the end of the label, for me and others, spurred a frenzy of inappropriate label-centred purchases, mainly of the dregs of the line but sometimes of beautiful pieces that didn't fit. Tops and dresses that pulled over shoulders and hips teamed with muddy olive silk dresses now rest in the back of my wardrobe, devoid of the crazy value they briefly possessed in those days of collective madness. I sadly recognised that some pieces would never fit and sold them but didn't cash the checks which lie in books to this day, as I know I have to finally email those friends and ask for something in return for the dresses I sold and never wore. Jane Mayle's depressing pop-ups with their poorly made and strangely designed clothes pretty much ended the brand's cult value and eroded my investments.

Post-Mayle, there were other brands that tempted me but seeming bad luck saved me from more stupid shopping. Rachel Comey--lovely dresses (including one of my favourite workhorses) but price hikes, erratic sizing and uncomfortable shoes made me cautious, leaving me with a few dresses from Gilt that never really fit and a sample sale buy that was disastrously small. A Detacher was always too pricey and hard to find, Suno looked great at first but odd sizings and strange materials caused me to pass after one purchase. Timo Weiland appealed but then looked too junior. I couldn't afford Mary Katrantzou even at Top Shop. Then there was the new Tocca, designed by Emma Fletcher, whose clothing ran typically very small and was barely available anywhere, especially in the size 10s that I needed.

My Mayle binges caused me to rethink. I filled wardrobe gaps with cheaper mass market brands. J Crew cashmere was pretty good (although it pilled) until they opted for a cheaper supplier and could be bought for a decent price on sale. Club Monaco had good cashmere, reliable skirts and trousers. I'd liked their clothing when I first moved to NYC as it played with trends creatively without ripping off more well known brands. Even though Zara are less than admirable in their production, labour practices and fabrics (and have tiny sizing), there were pieces there for me. As for Madewell, I exerted self-restraint as I'm trying to break the pattern of buying nondescript, ugly or inappropriate clothes just because the label and discounts are both right.

Two events really brought home the stupidity of my brand loyalty. First, the gradual rebrand of Club Monaco. The higher quality, more minimalist brand I liked started to change a couple of years ago--at first, it seemed, for the better. Their dresses started to improve--away from the workwear or party binary. Then the flagship on 5th Avenue closed for a redesign, away from its probably somewhat tired 1990s-early 2000s minimalism. While I love beaux arts and Victorian gingerbread, the reopened store seemed wrong. Beautiful but somewhat off. It reaffirmed what I had already gleaned from the pile of unremarkable reduced clothing in my bedroom--there was a new design team and their clothes were tacky. Overdesigned, over-embellished, with a much smaller fit (my old size 8s were bigger than the new 12s) and cheaper fabrics, chasing trends that didn't exist, these were not the clothes of yore. My habit of scouring their sales and outlet abruptly ended as I recognized what was in front of me, not my memories and imagination. 

The second epiphany occurred last week. I think I'd have said that Tocca was my favourite brand in my price range (even though it stretched those limits), but I now recognise that was another spell based around a couple of earlier collections and a couple of coats. I went to my third Tocca sample sale last week, hoping for some size 10s that were not small 6s in disguise. My hopes were briefly raised as I saw the size 10-12 rack stuffed with a variety of this season's coloured items--until I noticed it was the size 0s where the 10-12 rack used to be. 8, 10 and 12 were now together, except they have never made 12 in the Emma Fletcher era. There were about 3 or 4 pieces in a 10--a tiny jacket, a small shirt I'd seen in the last two sales (a size 4-6 in real sizes at best) and two heavy woolen sleeveless dresses. I did buy the coat I wanted in an 8, but after another rant about their sizes, I woke up. The coat wasn't that great and the fabric was a cheap wool that attracts threads, dust and hair. It didn't have set in sleeves. And why was I so upset about a brand that doesn't make clothes in my size and is barely sold anywhere that now uses cheaper fabrics and lesser craftsmanship? Why bother when they don't? I did get some nice cream and shower gel, and from now on, that's what I'll get from their sales--like most of their other shoppers.

On final reflection, the clothing I like and wear frequently comes a variety of brands. I never bought any more Joie items just because I liked one dress or  Rails items because I have a couple of nice shirts. I want to be more environmentally and economically responsible in my purchases and removing the blindness of brand loyalty is one important step on that journey.