Sunday, February 17, 2013

Miss Chatelaine

On 16 August 2002, I opened a dress shop in my hometown of Bristol, RI. This was 6 weeks after I decided not to move back to DC at that time as I had planned to. I had been living in RI for 4 years at that point, and had completely intended to return to DC. This was right after 9/11, and although I had a job waiting, and a signed lease for an apartment share in the city, something just didn't feel right. It was then I was inspired to do this instead. I did move back to DC 6 and 1/2 years later, less than a month after President Obama was elected.

Looking back, I have never been so sure of something in my life. I have always dressed people, I have a great aesthetic (not a humble brag, I came with it) and there was no other store in RI filling this void I saw in the way I saw it existing. Mostly dresses, skirts, tops and pants, no jeans. I also had the money to start it, as my parents had passed away and I was watching their hard earned money disappear in the market. I believed I could take $70K and double it. I was wrong there. I tripled it that first year.

On opening day, a dear friend gave me a CD. It was K.D. Lang, Miss Chatelaine. I had never heard it before and couldn't quite believe it existed. Chatelaine is my word. When I was a little girl, I used to get grounded a lot, and my mom would make me look up words in the dictionary. One day she said to look up the French word for cat (chat) which I knew bc I loved kitties. Then she asked me my name, and I looked at her like she had 3 heads and said Elaine (the Y wasn't there yet). She then said that was the word I was to look up. Chat Elaine. Ok, I STILL remember how excited I was that there was a word that existed that was my name with cat! So I did, and this is what it is...

chat·e·laine noun \ˈsha-tə-ˌlān\
   a: the wife of a castellan: the mistress of a château
   b : the mistress of a household or of a large establishment
    a clasp or hook for a watch, purse, or bunch of keys

French châtelaine, feminine of châtelain
First Known Use: 1845

Good word, right? My response upon learning the definition was to decide that if I ever had a shop it would be called chatelaine. When my shop's inspiration came to me, it was already named. I brought the sign with me to DC.

Someone asked me early on with the shop, what my goals were with it. I said easily that my goals were to have fun helping women look their best, and that I would be there until a hurricane blew me out (the entire area where I was located, had been obliterated in 1954) or until there was a Democrat back in the White House. I was completely serious. When I closed as suddenly as I had opened in November 2008, folks were surprised for some reason. :)

I am thankful I trusted my instincts, and seized the opportunity to do something I always wanted to do. I loved my shop, the people I met and dressed, and the opportunities to have a voice as a stylist in print and on tv. But I always knew it wasn't forever. My passion for civil rights and my desire to return to DC were always right there. As it happens, my civil rights education and my dress shop collided in a way I couldn't have predicted because I didn't at that time know the deep connection between the slave trade and Bristol, RI ran. As it turns out, the land my shop stands on was at one time part of the port where the Triangle Trade of moving African slaves from Ghana to the Cuba to Bristol. But that's another story...

Dressing people is one of my true passions, I find it exhilarating to help people see their beauty, and I will always do that. Having chatelaine as a specific place to focus on that had its time and place, and I learned so much and shared so much. But before chatelaine and since I have done the same but on an individual basis, through personal shopping, closet makeovers, and stylist consulting.  I see this setting as a place to share some of what I know, I'll be talking about style much more than fashion, for as my dressing icon Coco Chanel said so well, "Fashion is transient, but style endures." Fashion is fun, fashion is what brought me to Manhattan 4 times a year to buy, but the things I bought still had my style aesthetic and it always worked. Call it rules, guidelines, simple things that you probably know, but need a reminder, it's fun to figure it all out. Something really great happens when you know you look your best, it makes you feel good, too. And when you feel good, well, the possibilities are endless and fabulous. I promise, it will be fun.

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