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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stop trying to make this happen

Rachel Ashwell, the woman who gave emotionally-crippled cat ladies the tools to decoratively express themselves, is (still) trying to resurrect Shabby Chic. Like so many other overextended once-relevant brands, the tattered linen empire quickly unraveled during the early days of the Great Recession. In January 2008, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and liquidated most of its stores. 18 months later, Ashwell convinced the investment company behind Bravo’s “Real Housewives” merchandising to give Shabby Chic a second chance.

Over a year and a half after a New York Times article trumpeting the return of the label, Shabby Chic is sold mostly in small locally-owned furniture stores in the South. Three company-owned "Couture" stores operate in New York, London and Santa Monica. Her big box collabo still lines Target shelves, although it is usually positioned next to little girls' bedding.

Ashwell was forced to sell her oft-photographed house in tony Malibu Colony and now rents a glorified beach shack in nearby Paradise Cove. She recently invited the Los Angeles Times out for a look. The chippy-white mismatched aesthetic is still in full-force with rosebuds and ruffles everywhere.

Family Circle's director of home design [really?!] commented on the viability of the zombie brand: "Judy Prouty, pointed out that although Shabby Chic isn't likely to be embraced by the fans of the clean-lined, pathologically uncluttered homes that dominate modern design blogs today [...] Shabby Chic actually dovetails with the current frenzy for crafting, DIY and 'anyone who wants to express their personal/artistic vision with a paintbrush, wallpaper, bits of lace and fabric.'" Except that today's DIYers have moved on to a mid-century modern look. Twee now manifests itself in WASP cutesy rather than ditsy florals.

In a sad commentary on the state of Ashwell's renovation attempts both personal and professional, the lower floor of her new home's exterior was given a coat of the Shabby Chic cure-all, matte white paint. Ashwell couldn't afford the scaffolding necessary to paint the second story and left it beige.

*knock, knock*

Rachel, reality is at the door and has a message for you.

God Bless America [ITLSF]
Making Shabby Chic, Again [The New York Times]
Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture [official site]
Rachel Ashwell, founder of Shabby Chic, finds a soft landing in the sands of Malibu [Los Angeles Times]


Bri@Meyouandawiener said...

I don't like shabby chic but damn, I've seen it done better than this crap.

Eileen said...

Twenty or so years ago, my mom cut out an article from LA Times Magazine and sent it to me via snail mail because email as we now know it didn't actually exist. It was an article on Rachel Ashwell's first shop, and it inspired the decoration of my first post-college apartment. It's still in my box of tear sheets today and I still believe it could be a relevant genre. But I've moved on, my style has evolved considerably, and Rachel Ashwell's hasn't. She's still hawking the same products she was when eye candy had to be shared via snail mail. And one big squishy slipcovered sofa does not a business model make. Whether or not I'm their target customer, there is a potential market here, if only Rachel Ashwell would allow her style to evolve, and of course, if she would get some sound business advice.

Peeke said...

"the woman who gave emotionally-crippled cat ladies the tools to decoratively express themselves"

Best line in Blog Land ever! Have you ever seen the "Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure"?

(My mom is a recovering crazy cat lady - she definately looked like this at one point in her life)

sanctuaryhome said...

I was going to say the same thing as Eileen. Rachel's look hasn't evolved. She need to shake things up with her brand a' la Restoration Hardware. When she started to get stale, rather than beat that dead horse she needed to do something that made a strong color statement, introduce interesting graphic pattern or a new ethnic influence. Poor Rachel.

Modern Country Lady said...

Judging from the plethora of Shabby Chic blogs out in blogland , there MUST still be a market out there...hence also a crust to earn .. so I guess as long as there is a market, be it crazy cat ladies... there is someone trying to make a living off it ......
* secretly hoping you don't see me as a crazy cat lady * ( I do have ermmm 3 cats .... o dear!!)

Robin said...

If I she was a contestant on an HGTV design show she would be sent packing!

She should take a clue from her one-time top competitor Laura Ashley, who has definitely moved on and found a way to mix floral and flowy with sleek and modern (and I don't mean contemporary, I mean "not grandma") in a way that better appeals to today's homeowner.

Julie @ Chapman Interiors said...

hahhha omg Raina. you are so good.

tenderleaf said...

Yes, this taste survives; in the Land That Taste Forgot, the American South. (as Ms. Raina pointed out, stores still sell this down there) :D

Eileen said...

Sanctuary Home: Great comparison to Restoration Hardware, but now that they've "shaken things up" a bit, do you think they are letting themselves get stale already? Their product line hasn't changed much since they introduced it, and I feel like they could also use some pattern and color to freshen it up. For months after they re-did their stores, I kept waiting for them to finish them...and then I realized they were done.

Any thoughts, anyone?

Margaret said...

Ashwell's house is 'merchandised' IMHO.

Joni, "Cote de Texas" recently did a post on Ashwell's Shabby Chic Texas farmhouse inn. On the barb wire fence here; some I like, but wonder how the males mated with SC women endure such frilly decor?

SHERRY HART said... is like she was put to sleep for 10 years...for real?????

Karena said...

As mentioned by several, shabby, chippy chic,is still big in blogland. I personally think it is good for folks to branch out and move on forward.

I don't want my home to look like my relatives places did down at the farm. I had lots of that as a child.


Art by Karena

Interior Design Musings said...

One question for all those in other areas of the country who still think shabby chic is alive and well in the South - if it's still so big, why did she file for bankruptcy. I can speak for one Southern - it is not flourishing at my address. M.

Raina Cox said...

Topaz - Your comments, which I will not publish, are becoming increasingly irrational. I remember you mentioning living in the Denver area and would suggest you give the University of Denver's mental health line a call. The number is 303-698-0999.

Raina Cox said...

Peeke - That figure is awesome and what I imagine the typical Shabby Chic customer to look like.

Eileen - I agree about RH. They jumped on some trends that died out quickly (bus rolls and Belgian) and haven't updated since. I thought the same thing about the Denver "gallery" store. I would walk by wondering when they were going to finish and then realized they truly were going for a gallery look.

Margaret - I've often wondered about married men who live in very frilly decor. That must explain man caves.

SHERRY HART - Rip van Rosebuds.

Luna said...

I do not understand how someone who built so much personal wealth ever has to sell their house??? Living beyond her means?
Yes, those pics of the new make do abode are just awful. Check out latest post on The Selby at for genuine shabby awesomeness. (That's shabby with a lower case s I'm talking about).

Madam Pince said...

Rachel, answer the door and accept the message that Shabby Chic is over and done. Stick a fork in it and move on.

Interior Design Musings said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, Raina, but wouldn't this be a similar example of failure to evolve and stay current:

as compared to Pierre Frey who has managed to do this (their new collection is spot on yummy for me). M.

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

I feel like you have exposed the Emperor's Clothes!
I never got her look from the beginning but bringing it
back again is like beating a dead horse.

Terrific post Raina!

Ceci said...

yuk! I never liked shabby chic. Too little girly for me & my men! (haha just kidding) but, no, I don't like it. My best friend does, however, and insists on IRONING it. Doesn't that defete the shabby?

Take me to the islands or Morocco. I'll find my design there.

You're fabulous!

Modern Country Lady said...

In honour of you, and your place of residence, a post just for you today on my blog :-)
If not broke- so much the better!!!!!!!!!

Shabby chique rocks hahahaha ( only joking ) .

I need my dose of Jonathan Adler related design eye candy now so I am off to his site to have a break from ANEAEMIA .Maybe Rachel should have a few of Adler's cushions to brighten up!! See yooooooo XX

Naomi@DesignManifest said...

"Ashwell couldn't afford the scaffolding necessary to paint the second story and left it beige."

HA! Love it.

Don't love her style. But at least she is timeless... in her own mind.

Margaret said...

Raina, oooooo! Man caves! Post! Post! Gotta wash that shabby right outta our hair!

rexkellymidcentury said...

Never cared for shabby chic. What's chic about shabby? Nothing. Buuut...I do feel a tinge of pity for her.

Eileen said...

If you're wondering why the Shabby Chic stores went under, the stores were poorly merchandised, the sales staff were rude, everything was obscenely expensive--it was ill conceived all the way around. Most importantly, though, the look could be had--and still can be--everywhere and for a whole lot less. Even RH knows better than to try to sell a sofa in a mall for $5,000. Plus, they undercut their own brand with their Target merchandise. If you want the SC look, you could buy the book for inspiration, and go to the htrift store, antique mall, flea market, whatever, for the furniture.

Lausi said...

Goodness.... is that for real?!?!?

This looks just awful. To mention the word chic in the same context with THAT is a mystery to me.

That is definitely one "trend" that I am glad I must have missed back when it WAS trendy (that is IF it ever reached us here in Europe at all ;)

LOL about your reference to "emotionally-crippled cat ladies". Raina you're BRILIANT with your choice of words. So spot on with your characterization here ;)

PS: I have changed my blog address. So if you're still following my blog , you'd need to correct your bookmarks/feeds to the new address I guess. Not sure blogger does it automatically *mind boggles*

The new blog address is "" (just in case you still want to follow it :)

Raina Cox said...

Interior Design Musings - You're right about that one. I had held out hope Pierre Deux would evolve and was sad to see it go.

rexkellymidcentury - I almost felt sorry for Rachel until I remembered the email I received from a small independent high-end bedding vendor who had several designs completely ripped off by Miz Shabby Chic.

Lausi - Thanks for letting me know! I've updated my reader and blogroll.

Cathy Wall said...

Maybe an infusion of some "salty," edgy "pales" would help update her look! But she must ditch the ruffles.

Cathy @ Room Rx

Larry Ruhl said...

Raina-I just got turned on to your blog. Thank You for your incredible and humorous insight. So refreshing.

@Eileen. As a small Home Furnishings retailer, it is so important to keep your look evolving. When RH first launched their "Belgian Look Book" catalog, so many of us found ourselves in a bind as RH starting knocking off so many classic forms and produced them in China at insanely low prices. We launched into action and cleared away any RH lookalikes. I have found our business in a much stronger and healthier place and don't think that RH can survive without once again trying to redefine itself.

Eileen, thank you too for your insight.

Alexis L. said...

One has to admire Ashwell's tenacity, certainly. There are many fans of her aesthetic but I think her core constituency is either (a) buying their romantic whatnots from Anthro and the like, pairing them with more structured pieces that make for a varied home or (b) a much more downscale customer who embraces shabby chic because it allows them to tap into romance at low cost, not luxury prices.

As a sort of every(wo)man aesthetic gesture, I love shabby chic. I think the idea that chipped plates, worn fabrics, dinged furniture have a legitimate place in the home is fundamentally very empowering for people who don't have a lot of money. But to what extent does one buy a *high-end* piece that looks like it was upholstered in rags? I don't know.