Category Archives: The Evolution

The LOUiS Experience (A Customer’s Perspective)

I have a confession to make.

I’ve always loved buying men’s clothing more than I loved buying women’s.

Of course buying for women was exciting, because I was buying things I would like to wear too. But buying for men was just an entirely different experience. Perhaps that was because I wanted to give men the options they need to dress in the way I knew women wanted them to.

In order to do that, you need to have willing participants. In my case, I needed to have a customer who understood, had confidence, and felt it was important to present himself in that way that would reflect who he was, or at least who he knew he wanted to be. It’s a man who understands that when you’re well dressed you command, and will get, attention and respect.

While I have been buying men’s clothing for over 25 years, I almost always leave the selling of them to my accomplished sales consultants. I never found it easy to walk up to a man during a sales presentation and insert myself into the process. In a way I felt like I was intruding on a private moment – not to mention the fact that I felt like I could be perceived as just another woman walking into his life, telling him what to wear.

Instead I found my way to a comfortable, anonymous place where I bought, and they sold. But I always bought the best, and the reward was seeing what our customers would buy.

Then one day – after having a particularly bad day – I walked into my office and found a letter waiting for me from a customer who had taken the time to very kindly thank me for his clothes. He told me that he loved the opportunities Louis gave him to find clothes of substantial quality that fit him beautifully, and went on to describe how much he enjoyed the process of shopping at Louis because it helped him know he was well dressed – and he wanted to thank me for that.

And it meant more to me than anyone will ever know that he took the time to go out of his way to thank me. I’ll never forget it.

And to this day, more than 20 years later, he continues to come to Louis, every season, to shop the collections.

It’s no secret that I have an affinity for appreciation, and it’s important to understand that appreciation is my motivator. It’s not about the money, it’s about the appreciation and the product, and how great it’s always been at Louis. So today I want to thank him, and all that are like him. I thank them every day for allowing me to do what I loved to do.

I thought it would be enlightening to hear from this particular customer about his experience at Louis. He and my other customers are painfully aware of the fact that when Louis closes the experience will be gone. Here’s a nod to the legacy of Louis as told to my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn.

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Jamie:

Can you share your earliest experiences with Louis?

Jim:

My love affair with Louis began in the mid-to-late 50’s when my grandmother shopped there for my grandfather and uncles. In the early 80’s when I attended Boston College I would sneak into the Back Bay and Chestnut Hill mall locations and shop for myself on dad’s credit card. It was never very well received, because he didn’t know it was happening until he got the statement from the credit card company.

I grew up with an appreciation for the quality of the merchandise and the staff at Louis. They are very customer oriented and part of the reason I have returned to Louis for the last 20 years to shop the spring and fall collections that come to Boston.

Twice a year I spend several hours with Arthur Jordan who along with his assistant, will reserve a section of the store for me and carefully lay out the best of the best of each season. The first hour is spent trying things on and making decisions, the second is spent with their incredibly talented tailor.

I will say that no matter where I go – whether it’s Italy, Paris, LA, and even Manhattan – someone stops me to ask where I got my clothes. You would think that the clothing opportunities at Louis may be available in those cities, but they aren’t. They don’t have Debi, and she has the extraordinary gift. The men’s collections at Louis are, hands down, the finest of any store I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to many. Some people might say it’s an extravagance, but I think it’s a necessity – to look good and know that what you purchase isn’t just a “trend,” but rather classically tailored clothes cut from beautiful fabrics. The workmanship is simply outstanding.

JK:

Who have been your favorite designers throughout the year?

Jim:

Some of my first pieces were Perry Ellis and early Armani. Then Debi started buying Dries Van Noten, Belvest, Kiton, Melinda gloss, Marni, and of course, Massimo shirts! You just can’t find anything made like a Massimo shirt!

Both Arthur Jordan, and Bob Daly before that, helped me navigate the new designers and merchandise, and feel comfortable taking some risks. I didn’t want to be the first guy in the boardroom with a look no one was wearing yet, but with a little justification from the experts at Louis, I knew that everything would be okay. And it was.

I didn’t want to be a trendsetter, but I did want to have classic clothes that looked incredible. And that is Arthur Jordan’s gift, he takes you by the hand and gently walks you through it.

JK:

What is the shopping experience like at Louis? What happens when you make an appointment with Arthur?

Jim:

Shopping at Louis is a blessing, and not an inexpensive exercise, but it means walking into the store and being treated in a 5-star manner. The staff is gracious and hospitable, and they make sure you have what you need. Arthur has a wonderful assistant so he’s always with you throughout the experience. When I arrive they have already laid out pants, dress shirts, ties, and any other more casual pieces for the season such as shorts or jackets. They let you take your time to take it all in and see what speaks to you. I begin my own selection process with the things I love and want to try on, and then Arthur will bring other things in to the mix for me to consider. And this is what makes him worth his weight in gold. He and his team continuously hand me items one at a time. It’s nothing like the locked box dressing rooms you find at department stores. At Louis it’s all about the service.

JK:

Where will you go next?

Jim:

I honestly do not know.

When Debi first told me she was closing I asked her why she wouldn’t just sell her store to someone else, or one of the talented members of her sales staff. But I only had to think about it for a minute before I realized it was a bad idea, because nobody else has an incredible eye like Debi. She has a vision and I thank her for it every chance I get.

There are other stores like Bergdorf’s in New York City, and Fred Segal in Los Angeles, but there is really nothing like Louis. When you walk into the Bristol Hotel in Paris and the impeccable Parisian dressed hotel manager greets you by saying, “I love your suit where did you get that,” and you say “A store in Boston called Louis,” you know you’ve found the best.

Nobody does what Debi can do. It has to end with her.

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Arthur Jordan – The Best in Boston – A Legend at Louis

Throughout the years at Louis, I’ve seen so much. I’ve met so many incredible people and seen so many rich and exciting things. Colors and fabrics change, patterns and lines evolve, but one thing has always remained the same, and that one thing is Arthur Jordan.

Arthur has been with Louis for as long as I can remember, and as far as I’m concerned, there will never be a better sales consultant in this city. I’ve been watching him work for decades, and quite honestly, the way he works with people is from a different era. He works with respect and taste – acting as part psychologist, part comedian, and part stylist. Perhaps more importantly – part futurist, always knowing a customer wants before they even know they want it. In the eyes of the industry, THAT is a value of a salesperson. No one is as good as Arthur, and no one will ever match his talent again. It’s an art form I am admittedly sad to see end.

Arthur has always been the ultimate wardrobe sales consultant in my eyes. It’s no secret that men aren’t always completely equipped at making the best sartorial choices, and it’s for that reason that gentlemen like Arthur will always be needed and valued.

As we have been preparing to close our doors this summer, nothing has made me happier than to see Arthur’s clients come in to honor him and get a taste of his service – one last time.

There will never, ever be anyone like Arthur Jordan. He is – the quintessential Louis experience.

Now it’s my turn to honor him. I asked my friend and writer, Jamie Kohn, to meet with Arthur and learn more about his past, present and future – and here’s what he told her…

ARTHUR JORDAN

Arthur Jordan has been a part of the Louis family since September 1967. He grew up in Dorchester, and went to Dorchester High School. If you ask him where he went to college he’ll tell you, “U of MP,” the University of Murray Pearlstein.

Jamie:

Tell me about the “U of MP:”

Arthur:

Well, I say that I went to U of MP, because Murray Pearlstein was the one who really gave me my education – in business and in life. My first job in retail was at a local Dorchester shop called Mike’s. Then I headed into Boston proper to work for the National Pant Company. It was in Chinatown, on Boylston Street – right in the middle of what used to be known as The Combat Zone. During that time there were really only two great places to shop in Boston – Martini Carl…and Louis. I had been working at Martini Carl for a couple of years and one afternoon, Bob Itri (who had been at Louis for 45 years during his career) came in one day and told me Louis, Murray’s cousin, had heard about me and wanted to meet me. Now, Louis was just the best store in Boston, and I have to admit I was pretty intimidated. Bob arranged for Murray to take me around the store, and before we were finished he offered me a job. I was shaking – but I took it.

I started to work in the Berkley shop – on the third floor. It was like an upscale Brooks Brothers, but much cooler with the fit and the prices. I worked under a gentleman names Frank Nunuez who ran the shop until the early 70’s. At that time Murray was doing all of the buying, except the street level, which was Wally Horn’s haberdashery shop. Eventually Louis and Murray bought Wally out, and Murray started to buy everything.

After two to three years in the Berkley shop, Murray asked me if I would join him on his buying trips. I figured I must be doing something right. This was around the time he started traveling overseas to the European market. We started meeting with the Italians, marveling at their tailoring and fine lines, and began to bring the look to Louis. Every year, for about 20 years, we would travel to New York City, London, Paris, Milan, and Florence. Went to the shows, and showrooms, and met with every famous designer you can think of: Pierre Cardin, Gianfranco Ferré, Gianni Versace, etc., etc. We were hooked up with the best of the best.

It was fascinating, and quite a ride to be with Murray. He was a fiery man who knew what he wanted. He had a vision, and he had a passion that was just incredible. It was contagious, and I captured all I knew from him.

I traveled and bought with Murray for a very long time before Debi came into the business and continued to evolve the store. I was happy to become the Vice President of Sales and Merchandising, and my passion for the business never changed. There is no place like Louis. I never looked back.

From the concept shop “DOWN with Louis,” to the two locations we had at one time in Faneuil Hall, to the shops in Cambridge and Chestnut Hill, to our home of 20 years at the old Bonwit Teller building, which is now only known as “the old Louis building,” it’s been an incredible life in fashion.

Jamie:

What did you think of our move to the Fan Pier?

Arthur:

The move was characteristic of the Pearlstein family. Murray had tremendous strength and insight, and Debi is the same way. I think that’s been the bottom line of the success of Louis. She and her father took all the heat this town could throw at them, but they were both leaders and always made dynamic choices. I traveled with Murray for many years and got to know him very well. I feel like I know Debi well too, and understand her choices because she wouldn’t have it any other way. She is direct and I will always have an incredible respect for her and all that she has accomplished. I know a lot of people gave her a hard time for moving, but she hung in there – she changed the way she was buying and kept thing moving forward. It was interesting, and quite rewarding, to see the people who doubted the move eventually come out of their comfort zone of Newbury Street to see what we were doing on the waterfront. One after the other, people would walk into the store and it was as if a lightbulb went on over their head, and they finally got what this evolution was all about. The evolution of Louis is what’s kept it alive. Business has been great to this very day, and it will be good to go out on a very high note.

It’s been a great run of 85 years, and I have 47 in.

Not bad.

Jamie:

Looking back, what really made Louis special for you?

Arthur:

Special? Louis has always been special in so many ways, but the thing that stands out to me the most is the dedication both Debi and her father had for always wanting to have the best store in the world – and to merchandise it the way no others do. Instead of trying to have what everyone else has, Louis has always had what Louis had – its own looks and styles. And to this day, the same holds true, and it’s why so many customers continue to love this place I’ve called home for so long. I enjoy having customers from all over the country and all over the world, and I appreciate that while they come to Boston for so many things (education, banking, etc.) they continually patronize the store. Over the years we’ve collected an incredible amount of people who are regular clients. Simply put, I know they love and appreciate this store.

Jamie:

Besides the respect from your clients and colleagues, what do you attribute to your longevity at Louis to?

Arthur:

Well, I didn’t really have a goal to get into retail, but I was young, and liked the clothing, and enjoyed myself. Getting to Louis and meeting Murray was inspiring and led to wonderful things. I don’t know what he saw in me, but I’m still here, so that’s something. But I have to say, he probably fired me at least a dozen times. One day we were walking down the street and I said, “Murray, you’ve fired me at least a dozen times – and I’m still here.” I paused and said, “What does that say about you?” He just chuckled and walked away. I was here to stay and we both knew it.

Jamie: …and once Louis closes?

Well, Our customers are asking where they can shop. There’s no other place like Louis, and quite honestly I’m not sure where to direct them. There is no good answer. Louis has always been the whole package, and we have merchandise you just can’t buy in other stores. You have been hand picking every item in the store, and creating fabrication and cut. You can find Kiton at Neiman’s but it will look nothing like the Kiton you would find at Louis.

Jamie:

If you could leave your customers with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Arthur:

There are no experts, only people with opinions.

I want people to know that they can’t dress for other people. I’m no expert, but I’ve helped a lot of people and seen some amazing things, and it’s a wonderful feeling to help someone and give them confidence.

The “Louis Look” puts checks and plaids and stripes together – but some men shied away because they lacked the confidence to go for it. I encourage you all to go for it, and when someone shakes their head don’t let them shake your confidence.

Jamie:

What’s next for you Arthur?

Arthur:

Customers are asking, “Where are you going?” But I honestly don’t know. I’m listening to offers and thinking about things. I could, but certainly don’t plan to retire. I still have gas in the tank and want to be in action.

This is what I do, so stay tuned for the next chapter of Arthur Jordan.

Arthur Jordan and Joseph Abboud

Arthur Jordan and Joseph Abboud

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Arthur Jordan, Featured in Esquire Magazine

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Arthur’s Original Business Card From “DOWN with Louis”

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Recognition from Esquire Magazine

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Arthur’s Mentor – Murray Pearlstein

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Arthur Jordan / Model

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Arthur Jordan on the left, Modeling for Louis

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Arthur Jordan – Modeling for Louis

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Arthur Jordan – Modeling for Louis

THIS Is Appreciation

From the time I was a young girl, growing up with all things Louis, I was taught many things. But the one thing that always stood out above the others was:

Don’t forget your customer.

Last week I was reading another piece by Cathy Horyn, a fashion writer for New York Magazine, and her message was the same. In the midst of all the business and frenzy – we can’t forget about who is wearing and buying the clothes.

At Louis, things begin and end with our customers. We never want to dictate what they should be wearing, we want to understand what they want, and create an atmosphere and curate collections of clothing that will make them feel they can be exactly who they want to be, but maybe a little bit better. We introduce change and newness and technology in fabric that they might not even know they need in their wardrobe. But once they incorporate it into their lives, they know they do. Retail has, and always will be the reason people go out to buy something NEW.

**

While the weather and other insanity around the world have been taxing on the retail business, you wouldn’t know it if you walked into my tailor shop. Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed that it’s practically overflowing, and that tells me that what I have been doing all these years really did make a difference in our city. And it tells me that our customers are making sure they take advantage of an experience like Louis, before we close our doors.

And I’m honored because of it.

It shows me that our customers understand what it means to walk into a store and have someone anticipate their needs and wants. They know that we know what’s in their closet and how to update their look… one last time.

It has been immensely rewarding to see our customers come in and buy with appreciation, knowing that the experience will soon be gone. I may not say it often enough, but it’s truly rewarding to me to know that they understood. And it means everything to me that they have developed relationships with all of the talented, exceptional sales consultants who have shown such a steadfast commitment to what they do.

A lot of customers have begun to ask, “Where will we go now?” To be honest, it makes me feel a little badly about closing, because I don’t really know how to answer them adequately knowing that, right now, there is not another experience in Boston quite like Louis.

However, I am deeply appreciative of the fact that they appreciate THIS. While press and awards are nice, nothing compares to the rewarding feeling I have lately, knowing people really do get it.

I talk a lot about the changing landscape of retail and fashion, but I hope there are things that find their way back to the authentic place they used to be. Ecommerce may take it down for a while, but once people realize they’re missing the human touch, they might appreciate it once again. I’m hopeful.

I just wanted to say that because of you I feel appreciated for what I did and what Louis stood for, and what it will stand for until we close our doors.

Thank you for making me feel appreciated!

 

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Inspire. Appreciate. Evolve. On Cue @ The ICA

Last Tuesday I had the honor of being part of one of the most inspiring events of the year when Cue Ball managing partner Tony Tjan welcomed a few hundred brilliant people to the ICA to share and discover inspiration.

From Hugh Herr who helped Boston Marathon victim Adrianne Haslet-Davis dance again, to Steve Callahan who survived 76 days adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in a life raft and lived to tell us about it, to renowned attorney Ken Feinberg who has handled some of the highest profile cases in the country- the overarching themes were purpose and integrity, and how imperative it is that we continue to live by those principals and teach those virtues again and again…and again.

Another group of speakers included best-selling author and art historian Sarah Lewis, Artichoke Co-Founder and Director Helen Marriage, Chineasy Project Creator and Founder ShaoLan Hsueh, and accomplished architect, urban designer, educator and theorist Moshe Safdie. They all spoke passionately about the importance of creativity, authenticity, and the greater, overarching purpose of contributing to and appreciating a strong community.

When I wasn’t introducing brilliant mind after brilliant mind, or speaking to the audience myself, I sat rapt throughout the day as I listened to them talk about who they were, where they came from, and what they did – and how important it has been for each of them to maintain an elevated level of integrity, creativity, and authenticity while they doing it.

Toward the end of the evening as the event came to a close, it became obvious to me why all of the themes that were woven into the day continued to resonate with and inspire me…

It seems to me that purpose and integrity, creativity and authenticity, and a strong sense of community are really the soul of all of our collective existence and should be honored as such. However, being the proprietor of a clothing store that has been in the same family for generations, I have seen throughout the years how those principals have changed and how big business is essentially trying to push them off the track.

These days, people, places and companies like mine, who continue to operate with those principals, can find themselves overlooked, no matter what their contribution is to their community. Unfortunately, the attention often shifts to things that seem to be “bigger” and “better,” even if they’re not. And it’s important to recognize that one “big” thing is usually trying to put everyone else out of business and is slowly eroding the very fiber of our existence.

I understand as well as anyone that our society is geared toward speed and accessibility, but technological advances don’t necessarily move things forward or truly help us evolve. All good things don’t necessarily come easy – they take time, energy, commitment, purpose and appreciation.

All of this made me think of  Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, and his presentation at Cue last year where he shared his desire to make Las Vegas the most community-focused large city in the world. Staying aligned with his idea to make the original Zappos headquarters a place where local business could thrive and employees could stay connected, Tony created the “Downtown Project” which has allocated $350 million to aid in the revitalization of the Downtown Las Vegas. He is inspiring people to follow their passions and create a “vibrant, connected urban core.” Sure, he could just start businesses of his own, but of the $350 million allocated, $50 million is being used to invest in small businesses that he knows are the very things that keep a community alive. Ironically, it’s not the internet, and community is not clickable. As a matter of fact, if we’re not all careful, the internet is going to be the very thing that takes it all away.

Sadly, there will be a generation who won’t experience having their feet measured before buying new shoes, or the smell of fresh bread baking at the bakery, or the controlled chaos of the butcher shop with people standing in line clutching their numbers and waiting their turn in line. It’s these experiences that help people learn and grown and evolve, because you have to actually put forth effort, not just click a button, to get the things you desire. When you go online for everything you begin to lose your senses – you can’t see or touch or feel anymore. I’m fearful that the current and younger generations will never experience – they will only know how to consume.

But I found faith again last week while sitting among these like-minded people who were also thirsting to spend a day celebrating the principles that have laid the foundation of what we all do as individuals. We came to one place to celebrate our collective purpose so we can continue to contribute to the evolution of humanity.

Do me a favor – don’t consume something if you don’t appreciate it. Take the time to look at how things have evolved, and are evolving, and appreciate them.

It’s not the history or heritage of Louis that makes us who we are today, it’s our continuing evolution. If we don’t move forward, we’ll lose it. And losing it is not an option.

 

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Welcome to the Evolution

It was brought to my attention lately that my blog “What Is…” was not.  And for a woman who has spent many years curating stories that come alive within the walls of Louis, I stopped telling them to you long ago.

I blog because I always have something to say, but I stopped because I kept getting the uneasy feeling that my words were falling on deaf ears…in what can be a very ignorant industry anyway. My tone was becoming angry, I know I sounded whiny, and it was time to stop tapping the keyboard and start tapping into evolution.

It was no longer interesting to me, and surely not to you, to continue to regurgitate the mantras I so loathed of markdowns and selling out. Everything felt like it was standing still.

Fashion has been, and always will be, a socioeconomic illustration of society. And as such should always be evolving. And that’s where the industry is fumbling. Stories have become about conforming when they should really be about evolving.

And all roads lead me here.

Is fashion evolving, and more importantly, are we evolving with it?

Let’s just say I’m hopeful.

With the advancement of smartphones and the alarming rate of digital creation and consumption, things have been moving at warped speed…except when it comes to fashion. I get that this digital movement is highly instrumental in “sharing” fashion, but what’s being shared has been stalling out.

I can’t understand why, when for the duration of my lifetime anyway, I have found the history of fashion to be somewhat fascinating.

Bare with me…

The 1950’s were, unquestionably, the decade of the dress. The silhouette was often the same, but fabrics and patterns would change so there could be a dress for every occasion a girl could dream of. And in the 50’s they were all dreamers, weren’t they?

1950's Fashion

In the 1960’s fashion started to see some much desired change. Women were finally ready to wake up. They were ready to break out of their Jello molds, and their attitudes began to instead mirror the social movements of the time. Highlights (and there were many) included Mary Quant inventing the mini-skirt and Jackie O introducing the world to the Pillbox hat. Dresses were still in fashion, but the silhouettes were changing. Women were turning away from the conventional and toward a sense of timeless freedom. Shift dresses, pants and skirt suits made their way to the mainstream, but all were still high on “matching” and low on adventure.

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Dior

Dior

Fortunately, fashion underwent a full-blown change from uniformity to individuality in the 1970’s. “Separates” made their way into the department stores and women breathed a collective sigh of relief, as they were now able to connect with who they were…or who they thought they were…or more likely, who they wanted to be. Women’s Liberation helped them wake up to the notion of expressing themselves, and fashion was beginning to let them. Platform shoes, Mini and Maxi dresses, hot pants, tube tops, fitted blazers, the ubiquitous DVF Wrap Dress, and last, but certainly not least, the leotard. From dance class to the dance floor with a trip to the supermarket in between, the leotard crossed over to streetwear and had an impact on the world that I still can’t believe!

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By the 1980’s things began to really shift from the home to the office, and women were now the standard in the boardroom. They weren’t working because they had to, they were working because they wanted to, and they needed to create an identity that spoke to who they were, and they needed to own it. Shoulder-padded blazers lined the racks to help women display how fierce they were, and short, fitted skirts made sure they weren’t forced to abandon their sexuality. Now they had an identity, but individual personalities got lost in the commute.

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As things shifted from the 80’s to the 90’s women did begin to take ownership of who they were. The non-descript stood up and said, “No, I’m not (non-descript)” and they began to demand more than suits and separates. They didn’t want to have to worry about fitting in anymore. To the contrary, they were finally ready to stand out.

A reflection of the times, the Armani power suit dominated for those who were “getting ahead,” while deconstruction began to condemn the glitz and glamour of the 80’s. When the recession engulfed the economy in 1991 designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and the “Antwerp 6” already had a strong hold on Europe and “Grunge” had infiltrated the United States.

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The "Antwerp 6"

The “Antwerp 6”

"Grunge" by Steven Meisel for Vogue

“Grunge” by Steven Meisel for Vogue

But then, somewhere in the middle of the 2000’s, things hit a wall. Hard. The items that men and women wanted to make themselves standout suddenly became “trends,” and the “top 5” were born. Websites and fashion blogs began to overflow with information (content) and the pages of glossy fashion magazines began to tell people what they had to wear to really show their individuality. However, unbeknownst to them, women really found themselves negotiating their individuality, and then individuality became the trend.

It kept getting worse from there.

Two words: Colored Denim

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If you’ve been following along, all of this begs the question, how can we evolve and stay innovative if we’re simply going to follow the trend? Who are you if you dress exactly like Kim Kardashian?

That’s not a trick question.

The answer is you…only now, you’re dressed like Kim Kardashian.

It’s time to dress like you.

We made it through dresses and separates, pants suits and shoulder pads, bell-bottoms and tie-dye,  geometric prints and all things Mod. Why stop now?

It’s 2014 and if you’re paying close attention you know that fashion is absolutely evolving again. If you’re not, you should know that your options are abundant…but you have to stop looking to the current “It” girl, or in the pages of glossy “fashion” magazines. Trust yourself, find your passion, and make your mark.

What does evolution look like?

Get ready, because here it comes…

 

Thomas Tait

Thomas Tait

Thomas Tait

Thomas Tait