Friday, 30 August 2013

Too Few Closets

Armoire in our French home. Photo by JoyD.
Armoires are big in France - big in size and big in popularity just because built-in closets as in the North American style are few and far between particularly in the old houses. Our house in the South-West of France is not so old by French standards. It was built in 1868 so when you consider that friends of ours near Macon live in an old farmhouse dating back to the 15th century, our house is modern comparatively speaking. However in Canada we talk of our house in France as being old.

Master bedroom closet doors. Photo by JoyD.
We have four bedrooms on the second level, premier étage by French definition, and only one bedroom has a configuration that would be considered "built-in". The doors you see are the built-in closet doors. All our clothing needs are housed behind those four doors. My stuff on the left and my husband's on the right. Although I must admit I have a few of my things on his side. Above the doors are sliding wooden doors but they don't slide very well so only that which is not often required is stored up there.

Guest bedroom faux closet doors. Photo by JoyD.
Another bedroom appears to have had the same construction but the space, behind those doors, that was once a closet was renovated and retrofitted by the previous owners into a "toilette"/water closet in the 1990s. Good plan. I'd rather have toilet facilities on the second floor than a clothes closet in a bedroom seldom used. The other two bedrooms have absolutely nothing for closets and so owing to guests who live out of suitcases for a week or two while visiting, we needed something to hang a few items of clothing. 

Ugly clothing rack in guest bedroom. Photo by JoyD.

For a couple of years, we made do with those brackets that fit over the door and provide a series of hooks but that was just inconvenient for closing doors and for hanging a shirt decently and ugly too.
Clothing rack and ledge in blue guest room. Photo by JoyD.

My friend, Shirley B, while visiting in 2012, suggested a simple bracketed clothes rack with a ledge/shelf on top. We brainstormed all kinds of possibilities to repurpose as the brackets and I even found a photo of a folding chair mounted on the wall to serve as a clothing hanger. I finally had to settle for that which I found at the "brico". I spent a few Euros on brackets at "vides greniers" AKA community boot sales (UK) or garage/yard sales (NoAm) that didn't work but perhaps I will find another use for them.

Blue guest room in Port Ste. Foy et Ponchapt. Photo by JoyD.

So with the help of Mr. Bricolage and my husband, this room is ready for guests and they will have a space to hang a few things. The  basket becomes a catch-all for toiletries and such, which need to be carted back and forth between bed and bath.
What to do in the bedroom that once had a closet with doors that are now simply decoration? I welcome your ideas . . . 

Ikea full length mirror in guest room. Photo by JoyD.
September 1, 2013 Update in Response to "Relaxing in Kelowna" comment: Here's the mirror we put in the blue guest room. After taking the wallpaper off, there were wooden beams indicating a doorway that had previously been "filled in". When you have a defect, make it a feature and so we stained the beams and hung a full length mirror in the space. Ikea's framed mirrors were the best price for mirror and frame. I put a lined-basket on the table beside the mirror for the "stuff" that needs to be toted back and forth between bed and bath.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Unsatisfied with Luxury Brand Merchandise?

When we are unsatisfied with merchandise we take it back in the case of face to face transactions, or we send it back if it was an online purchase. The big department stores and independently owned boutiques have become better at returns and faulted merchandise whereas online shopping is the most precarious insofar as questionable quality and more difficult contact, more so when an item has to be returned.

Most often when returning an item of clothing or shoes, there are factors that the company has to consider that lead to determining whether it is their problem or perhaps yours. It is your problem when you buy a luxury item online from an "unregistered source" or receive it as a gift and don't have a "gift receipt".

I am still amazed at the number of intelligent men and women who order a "luxury" name online at a "discounted price" and are disappointed when a fake is delivered. First off, the only way anyone can be guaranteed that they have purchased the "real deal" is to purchase luxury brands in the retail storefront, registered boutiques, high end department stores or at second best, in a designated outlet store. Online, anything other than the official website is a precarious undertaking. Louis Vuitton has an official website; any other website attempting to sell the product needs to be researched because "fly by night" websites can propose to sell Louis Vuitton but in fact, how can you be sure? In fact it is illegal to sell and to buy "fake" luxury brand products in Canada. And Louis Vuitton (or any other luxury designer) designates specific vendors so I would question the source when you find something online, especially if it is "bargain basement pricing".

I read about a person who claimed to have received a "luxury brand" (in this case, Tory Burch) product as a gift but the gift was defective. When she tried to get "service" from the official website she encountered all kinds of problems. She was asked for a receipt and of course did not have one. Here's your first clue - luxury brand stores will always give a "gift receipt" so that the receiver has a reference point. No "gift receipt", you have to question where the giver of the gift bought the article. I once was given a Gucci bag as a gift. Of course, I know what these bags are worth and I asked as diplomatically as possible where the person bought the purse. I was told and I knew immediately that it was "fake". I accepted the gift with appreciation but I am still surprised that people believe that they can buy "Gucci" or any other luxury name in an Asian country at a quarter of the price and believe that they are buying the "real thing". Now if I had a problem with the purse and tried to take it back or complain to the "official" luxury brand company, I can only imagine what they might say to me.

As far as luxury brands go, irrespective of how they were purchased or how we came to acquire them, we expect exemplary service while we are in the process of purchasing and particularly if something goes wrong. There are customers who take their issues online and I have read of many who are disappointed and frustrated with the customer service of luxury brands.

We expect more simply because of the price. If I pay €5. or $5. for a pair of shoes and they fall apart after the second or third wear, I shrug my shoulders and lament that I got what I paid for. Finished. They go in the garbage. However when I pay $600. for a pair of shoes, two years later, after limited wear and tear and something goes wrong, I still hold the company accountable. On the continuum there are hundreds of price points and hundreds of conditions that determine how we react to a product. I have a problem with a Jimmy Choo pair of shoes I own. Granted they are two years old but I still believe the heel should not have disintegrated to the point it did. I'll make a request about where and how I can get the heel fixed and propose that they fix it.  Problem is, I took it to a shoemaker and it was fixed by someone who was non-sanctioned and it is worse than before. I suppose, the worst that can happen is that they say "no". For me, the problem is: 2 years and $600.00 (Cdn) later, along with someone else trying to fix it, I don't have a beige pair of heels to wear.

I need a game plan. I bought them at Holt Renfrew in Calgary and so I may have to wait till I am there again which won't be until the end of November, beginning of December. Now if Holts won't give me any satisfaction, after all it is 2 years and they were attended to by an "unauthorized" shoemaker, I will have to research the Jimmy Choo company via the internet. If I find someone to actually share my story with, I need to tell the customer service agent exactly what I want and expect from the company. Very often we call or email customer service with our problem and expect them to give us a solution when we usually have an idea of what we want from them. I now believe if we have an issue we should start at what we want because "this" happened and not "this" happened so you tell me what the company will do. If you expect a new pair of boots because the zipper broke after the first try, say so. In fact, I don't believe the customer service agent really cares what happened at all, I now believe they are thinking - "you are calling because you want something resolved . . . what do you want?"

That being said, the agent must work within the parameters of the company's policies. And that usually means a sales receipt. The habit of keeping sales receipts is a good one.

We, as customers, need our "disappointments" and "annoyances" to be resolved. My most recent issue with being unsatisfied and with the relative customer service is with Renault, which of course has nothing to do with clothing. But I shall share my story anyway. My husband and I have had two phone conversations with Renault customer service for our leased vehicle in France, and the first was respectful, polite and very helpful. When my husband called the Renault customer service center the second time he was told that perhaps it is his problem and not the car's. Yikes! I was listening to my husband's side of the conversation and he was mild mannered albeit a tad frustrated as the conversation progressed. The customer service agent hung up on him! Now that is the epitome of poor customer service and I must work very hard at not letting that experience override the first we had with Renault. The second customer service agent should have simply said to my husband, "when the problem recurs I can only suggest that you take it to a Renault dealership and Renault will look after any of the expenses incurred." That is essentially what we wanted to hear. Perhaps we should have started with what we want from Renault instead of telling him our negative experiences with the vehicle. It is not over . . .

In conclusion, when dealing with customer service, tell them what you want and be prepared to fulfill their requirements. 

Good luck, for that is what you need, in addition to the receipt, when you are unsatisfied with a product.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Fabulous Customer Service

Are we expecting more than we should when it comes to customer service? Because we can buy most anything we want electronically and often with the promise of discounted prices, consumerism has shifted. Department stores and independent boutiques are much more service oriented than they have been in the past twenty years owing to this popular shift to purchase goods online. Historically luxury storefronts have always had relatively good reputations for customer service.

NICE: Brian Davis, who owns more Tory Burch flats, than anyone I know, has nothing but good things to say about the service he has received at Tory Burch boutiques in Calgary, Alberta and Scottsdale, Arizona. Brian has taken the time to develop a relationship with the sales associates at these stores and that is why he is successful and happy with the service. He related a recent request he made:
I emailed my contact sales girl at the Calgary TB boutique asking her if she had them (a pair of bright coloured Revas - see the former post on the bright yellow ballet flats) in my size. The reply was: sorry there are none your size in Canada.  Oh well, I snooze I lose. The next day I received an email from her again: was I going to Arizona soon because they have my size and she knows I shop at the TB in Scottsdale. No trips planned anytime soon. Again, no big deal. I could have them shipped here but that would cost approx $50. A short time later another email. The manager of the Calgary TB store was going to Scottsdale for a meeting and if I would pre-pay, she would bring them back. Now I called Seleen and we talked. I said, "that is way beyond the level of service I expect and that is too much to ask to have Stephanie, the manager, bring them back"  She said "Stephanie doesn't mind, she's standing right beside me and she insists on bringing them back for you." 
Now, obviously Brian is a good customer and that is the incentive for Seleen and Stephanie when making this particular proposal. A sale is a sale and they both look good. Really I'm not undermining their motivation. In fact, I imagine that if I was in the store at that moment, even if I was a first time customer, they might have done exactly the same for me, all things considered. Circumstances and timing can as easily determine a similar scenario for a "stranger".

It's because Seleen and Stephanie have the personality types and not because of TB customer service protocol. Policies are written, protocol is allegedly enforced but sales staff may or may not carry them out. However, they both sound like nice people who are considerate in all they do, not just because a particular protocol is required. Brian acknowledges that, although he loves the shoe, it is the sales personnel who keep him going back.

Brian too is a nice guy and he sent a thank-you note and a coffee card in appreciation for their efforts. Seleen responded in the following way, even though she didn't have to say thank-you for the thank-you . . . 
Thank you so much . . . that was really nice of you . . . There's no need to thank us on our end, that's just what we like to do for our clients . . . Can't wait to see you again in our store!

Salut to Seleen and Stephanie at the TB boutique in Calgary, Alberta, Canada! May we all have the opportunity to have similar customer service experiences.

Coming soon: I have much more to write about customer service, particularly when returning a substandard product . . . 

But of course, one more thing, here's Brian wearing his new Tory Burch bright yellow flats at the West Edmonton Mall - nice backdrop!

Brian Davis wearing the bright yellow TB flats at the West Edmonton Mall.
Photo source: Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta, August, 2013.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Yellow, Not So Mellow

Closet Content Analysis: Bright Colours

Choices: Yellow Ballet Flats


I like bold colors but usually wear black.
- Mayim Bialik

NO THANKS: I shy away from bright colours. And yes I do know about those women who have regretted not wearing red and purple more often. My aversion stems back to my first visit to France and in my travel choices, I had a patterned top that was bright yellow, hot pink, black and white. In Paris in 1992, I can only say that I felt like a clown and was most uncomfortable wearing the overwhelming pattern in yellow and pink. As I remember, I wore it only once. It has been a good while since I have had primary clothing pieces in bright colours in my closet. I remember a sunshine yellow suit at the beginning of my professional career - big shoulders, long in the body and a narrow below the knee skirt. I have since become more classic, or could that be more boring, in my clothing colour choices. 

NEED: Accessories now fulfill the bright colour NEED in my closet. However yellow is not on the radar at the moment for any accessory let alone a clothing item.

Our attitude is like a box of crayons that color your world. Constantly color your picture gray, and your picture will always be bleak. Try adding some bright colors to the picture . . . and your picture begins to lighten up.
- Allen Klein

NOTE-WORTHY: Brian Davis, my "men wearing ballet flats" specialist, sent me a photo of his latest purchase, presently enroute to him from Scottsdale, Arizona. Not only has Brian chosen a culturally unconventional shoe for himself but "yellow" - OMG! - they are bright. These yellow Tory Burch ballet flats can be added to the list of reasons I admire Brian D.

There are infinite shadings of light and shadows and colors . . . it's an extraordinarily subtle language. Figuring out how to speak that language is a lifetime job. 
- Conrad Hall

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Clothing Karma: Cleansing the Closet

Closet Content Analysis: Too Much Stuff

Choices: Buy 1, Give Away 1

Nice     Need     Necessary

Nice: I have this system where if I buy 3 or 4 new things, I give away 3 or 4 things. Sometimes, it's a very painful system, but shopping is even better when you know that someone else who needs it will be getting. Keep the clothing karma going, I say. 

- Sara Blakely

I haven't learned how to do this yet but I have reached the first step and that is acknowledging it's validity. While I was working in a 9 to 5 job, I often took my clothing to consignment shops and that worked for awhile. Then I began to question some of their practices - valid or not, I stopped doing that. I then began donating them to the Canadian Diabetic Association but was informed that they were selling clothing by the kilo to Value Village and I believed there was something inherently wrong with the profit made by Value Village in that process. Whoever I give my clothing to, I want them to benefit directly and to appreciate wearing them as much as I appreciated wearing those particular items. In addition to consignment and second hand shops there are clothing swaps among friends, simply giving them away, donating to organizations that help men and women, who are struggling, get back into the work force with appropriate clothing, and other organizations that help young women get the prom dress or wedding dress they can't afford and so the list goes. 

NECESSARY in a limited way: In other words, there are plenty of places to dispose of your clothing. So why is it that some of us hang on and find this process "painful"? As mentioned I have gone through a variety of phases and methods of getting rid of my clothing. I now am in a transition phase because I no longer need the "suits" on a regular basis; but I do need them occasionally. Still, not enough to warrant buying new suits every season. Therefore giving them up is "painful" because I know I will be able to "get by" if I need business wear. However, I don't want to look "so last year" and some of my suits do have dated features. My point is that presently it is more painful to pay for new suits which I have deemed only NECESSARY in a limited way.

NEED: to bridge back to my sales posts, follow my own advice and buy those suits or shoes or whatever when on sale; then come back to this post and give away. But then those clothes too would be dated because they are purchased at end-of-season sales. Hence, I NEED to stick to the classics, which I do already have in my closet. So why do I NEED a new suit?

And so I shall stop here because . . . 

The mere attempt to examine my own confusion would consume volumes. 
- James Agee

Sunday, 11 August 2013

End of July/August Summer Sales

Closet Content Analysis: Sale Shopping

Choices: Shoes, Bags & Summer Dresses

NICE         NO THANKS        NOTE-WORTHY        NEED         NEW      NECESSARY

Lancel "shopping bag" and Salamander Offwhite loafers. Photo by: JoyD.

Buy what you don't have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping. 
- Karl Lagerfeld

It's August and the fall and winter clothes are slowly making their way to the front of the stores while the few items leftover from the French July summer sales are languishing on a rack or two at the back.

NICE & NEW: There are times when you do not NEED to buy anything NEW for your closet yet when the sales have third generation markdowns and the €120. loafers are €20., how can you walk away from a NICE deal like that? I was on my annual shopping trip to Marques Avenue in Romans-sur-Isere, which is combined with visiting friends in Bourg de Péage, when I saw these Salamander loafers and could not resist. My husband was also successful at the Salamander Outlet store where he bought a pair of black sandals for €35. Next stop, the Lancel Outlet store, where I found a lightweight "roll-up" bag that is perfect as a summer catch-all and purse. This too was on its third markdown and I can't remember the original price, but I got it for €50. Certainly these two items were the NICE deals of the season for me.

NOTE-WORTHY that could have been a NO THANKS: We have had this discussion about the positives and negatives of outlet shopping before. Very often there is a reason an item or a group of items is in the outlet venue. Case in point: I bought a lightweight cotton nightgown and peignoir owing to the heat and to the good price in the Anne de Solene outlet. Of course when I washed it in 60 degree water, both shrank, even though I followed the washing instructions precisely. Then again I had purchased the size Large because that is all there was in the store - thank goodness. It now fits the way it should have in the first place.

Italian-made Manila Grace summer print dress. Photo by JoyD.
UN-NECESSARY but NICE: This stopover in Romans-sur-Isere was on the way to Germany where we were off to a wedding that was held on July 26th. I took an outfit that has become a NO THANKS in my closet; however, when considering the hot temperatures, I chose it because it was one of those Indian cotton skirt and top ensembles that would be cool enough to wear in 35plus temperatures. Although I knew I had something to wear, I kept my eye out for something summery and less Bohemian. I purchased an Italian-made Manila Grace print dress which I believe is more my style now. I haven't purchased a print in ages but there was something about the dress that was very appealing to me.

Once I tried it on . . . She shrugged. The dress claimed me.
- Isabel Wolff in a Vintage Affaire (Fiction, Harper Collins, 2009)

I've written about sales and shopping before:

Monday, 5 August 2013

Espadrilles or Loafers?

White leather shoes bought in France, 1998. Photo by Brian Davis, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
I love to debate. My husband claims I should have been a lawyer. He on the other hand shies away from anything that even suggests judgement or confrontation. So when my friend Brian from Calgary sent me a photo of his "espadrilles", I thought, "there's a post here because I think his pair are loafers not espadrilles". Does it matter? For those who think like my husband, not at all; but for those with a personality type like mine, why not, because it leads to discussion and more interaction - of the most innocent kind of course.

White espadrilles AKA loafers? Photo by Brian Davis.
These are Brian's shoes - very NICE: leather with vents on the upper vamp. Here is his story:

15 years ago while working in Dinard, France in 1998 for five months, I noticed this was a style of shoe worn by both women and men. It was a style I liked.

During this time, Brian spent some of his free time shopping for interesting and unique shoes. While in St. Malo, these white leather shoes with a slight wedge caught his eye.
I forget the name of the store I was in but I remember looking at several different pairs but one in particular caught my eye. The eye-popping bright white leather under the store's fluorescent lights made them stand out over the rest. The slight wedge heel with the gold thread woven through the jute added a nice touch which made them perfect for me. I left the store thinking I just bought myself a pair of white leather wedge heel espadrilles. I wore them in France with never as much as a second look. The few times I wore them back home in Calgary, I often remember hearing comments about my "loafers". I just thought, whatever, they're espadrilles. I shared my thoughts with JoyD in an email in response to her last post about espadrilles. I also mentioned we could be twins in our white pants and white espadrilles. I sent a photo and she kindly informed me that mine are loafers not espadrilles!
White espadrilles bought in Arcachon. Photo by JoyD. 
So the question still remains,  what makes an espadrille? The materials - cotton canvas and jute soles; the heel height - flat or slight wedge; the upper vamp - straight across with no vents and stitched over the side panel. Brian's shoes have vents and they are leather so they are loafers not espadrilles. Deductive reasoning, n'est-ce pas?

Brian, now on a mission to find out more about his loafers AKA espadrilles, began an internet search. He explains:
My first thought was a friendly bet . . . something like, on a warm sunny afternoon, we both wear our white pants, blue striped shirts and "espadrilles". The loser of the debate has to keep the winner's wine glass full for the remainder of the day and evening. Oh I could taste the wine getting better and better as the evening wore on. A quick internet search and I should have this debate wrapped up in no time. Here's what I learned from my on-line research. 15 years ago I bought myself a cute pair of loafers! My imaginary bet would have had me running back and forth from the wine cellar to JoyD, in my white leather loafers . . . as I managed to keep her wine glass full  . . . as she relaxed on the patio in her espadrilles.

Thank-you Brian for the imaginary bet; I assure you, it is not in my personality type to gloat. I appreciate you doing the research but even if you had found "evidence" to support your "espadrilles" I would have stuck by my definition.

In his email, Brian concludes:

Espadrilles are likely the most feminine yet still unisex shoe made without crossing the gender lines. That was 15 years ago and it's a nice reminder of my shoe desire journey. Today I prefer ballet flats but like you said in your previous post. Espadrilles are "chic" and acceptable for guys to wear. 
I would think that in the Basque area of Europe, where they originated, there was no gender specification. They were espadrilles, both males and females wore them and that was that.

Back to my husband's thoughts on this . . . "Are you kidding? Who cares what they're are called?" You know, I think he's right. And that is the way it should be for all clothing, who cares who they were "made for" . . .  who cares what they are called . . . ah, but in debate the "accepted definitions" and "identifiable features" tend to be the breaking points and the deciding factors.

Thanks, Brian for participating in the debate! 

Saturday, 3 August 2013


Closet Content Analysis: Summer Shoes

Choices: Espadrilles

Nice     Need     Necessary

NICE: A summer basic shoe in South-West France
White espadrilles with white linen trousers. Photo by JoyD, July, 2013.

La Classique or traditional espadrilles are worn by both men and women and although presently they may not be so popular, they are chic. Over the years, varying heights of wedge heels have been adapted for women but the debatable question would be, is it still an espadrille? My position would be no. In the same way for men, I have seen canvas loafers called espadrilles but essentially they are not espadrilles. The traditional loafer upper is quite different.

Several sources have identified Spain as the originating country but I was introduced to them in the Basque area of France, which of course adjoins the Basque area of Spain. And Basque is Basque with its own language irrespective of the national boundaries. Here espadrilles are a summer basic and there is no thought of "tendance" or trend. When I visit Arcachon, a seaside resort, I always buy myself a pair or two. Against my better judgement this year's purchase was a white pair.

In Arcachon or anywhere in the South-West, it is not a matter of in-fashion or out-of-fashion. In the same way as we in North America buy those cheap rubbery flip flops, the espadrille is a summer footwear option in Spain and France. Of course you can pay $5.00 for them or $500.00. These particular ones were made in France and cost me 18 Euro, about $24.25 Canadian; $25.05 Australian; $23.06 American and 15.48 British Pound Sterling.

NICE: Espadrilles are not so much a fashion item but a summer basic. Wearing an inexpensive pair, gives you the laissez-faire attitude required for hot summer days. Last week I was visiting in the south-east of France and saw a great pair of red espadrilles on a young woman. They were perfect for her foot, the heel fit well and did not look at all sloppy. In fact she looked rather polished and cool on a 40ish day in the Rhone.

NO THANKS: Many have abandoned wearing them because "they keep falling off my feet!" Bien sur. However this NO THANKS  can become an UN-NECESSARY. And of course the more expensive ones fit the heel better than the ones in the grocery store bins.

Espadrilles with "squashed heel". Photo by JoyD, France, 2013.
NECESSARY Evolution: The heel slips down off your foot, becomes smashed down, you continue walking on them, and essentially you now have a pair of quazi-flip-flops. In fact I like this look. Perhaps it further suggests the lay-back atmosphere of summer: "I can't be bothered to put on my shoes properly so I just slip into them and this is how it is." I have seen traditional ones, made in Spain and France, with laces or "ribbons" attached to the back of the heel so that you can wrap the ties around your ankles to keep the back from slipping down.

Striped Espadrilles in St. Emilion. Photo by JoyD.
All my guests want to visit St. Emilion when they are here. There is a shop where linens are sold that has become my favourite and I always stop by with my visitors and we often browse and buy while our partners go off buying wine. Not only does this shop have linens for the table, but also peignoir and espadrilles. How convenient and how perfect are these striped ones for €21.

Buying and Caring for Espadrilles

Visit Soludos for contemporary innovations of the espadrille.

One sales associate suggested to buy them really tight and they will loosen and mold around your foot. I received that information after buying a pair that was actually a size bigger than what I usually wear. I'll try that with the next pair I buy.

If they stretch out and are too big, someone online (I forgot to take the address down) advised to soak the top cotton upper in hot water - don't immerse the jute soles. I can't imagine doing this. You would have to hold them in that position for five minutes . . . hmm, I think I'll just wear them as "smashed down heel flip flops". I'm speculating that if the jute is secured with glue, it will come apart if they are submerged in water. I suppose it depends where they were made. The more traditionally made ones should stand up to a 5 minute soak. I don't think I am willing to take that chance.