I was beyond thrilled when Rachell Ashwell, founder of the slipcovered empire that is Shabby Chic, agreed to meet with me to discuss her life, her company, and her inspirations. I met Rachel at a tent sale in L.A. a few years back, but was so star stuck that I didn’t get to ask her all the questions that this interview allowed me to do. I did walk away with a bag of poplin bedding and a book she signed for me that I have in my library. And since most of you know Shabby Chic, I assume not much of an intro here is needed, so let’s get right into the interview and meet the pioneer of muted California cottage bohemian, Rachel Ashwell.
decor8: Hi Rachel, it’s such an honor to talk to you today, especially since Shabby Chic has a huge future ahead and we’re about to see a lot of great things from you in ’08. Before we chat about the future, let’s discuss the past. Seems like around ’04 you vanished – very few magazine appearances, little mention of Shabby Chic, you quickly went from the it girl in design to, well, missing in action. Can you tell us what happened around that time?
Rachel: Sure. After filming my TV series, a total of 54 shows, writing five books over 10 years and launching The Simply Shabby Chic Line for Target, I felt it was a good time to redirect my focus. I have been busy expanding my infrastructure and focusing on design and product development to get ready for a major expansion of the Shabby Chic brand through new retail stores and an online store.
decor8: Makes sense now. Thank you for answering that as I know it may be a sensitive question to ask at the start of an interview, but I’m a cut to the chase kind of girl. You talk about the future of Shabby Chic, why did you decide to expand now?
Rachel: With both of my children in college I was excited to take on new challenges. I felt it was time to expand and maintain the integrity and authenticity of the brand, while keeping my personal touch on everything. 2009 will be the 20th anniversary and so I feel it’s the right time.
decor8: What are you working on to increase exposure to your brand again?
Rachel: Hmmm…Where do I start? We just opened our ninth store in Atlanta and are planning to have 50 stores across the country in the next few years. Our goal is to open ten or more new stores each year in cities across the country. We’re also introducing new bedding and furniture collections every season which will be distributed in our stores and wholesale accounts nation wide.
decor8: I recently visited your new store over at the Natick Collection in Boston, it was heavenly and I loved all the mercury glass candle holders and patchwork ethnic cubes. It’s great to see Shabby Chic here in New England. Anything planned for television?
Rachel: In January 08, we are releasing three DVD’s. Each will feature three of my shows that aired on the E! and Style Network. They will be available for purchase at book stores selling DVD’s, in Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic stores as well as online at shabbychic.com.
decor8: That’s great, I’ll be purchasing those for sure to replace my old VHS tapes from recording it back in the day. I don’t even have a VCR anymore so they’re pretty much useless. You mentioned something about shopping online…
Rachel: Oh yes! In Spring 08 we are launching our e-commerce site at shabbychic.com. This will provide an opportunity to reach an even broader market.
decor8: Yes, for sure. Let’s talk about your current collection. I can’t help but notice a Asian/Moroccan vibe going on, but using the soft color palette that Shabby Chic is known best for. Ethnic prints and patterns are a bit of a detour from your typical English coastal cottage look that you’re famous for. I mean Kilim rugs and huge leather poufs? What piqued your interest in ethnic design?
Rachel: To keep up with the growth, it was imperative that I speak to a larger audience. I spend a lot of time in Europe, Asia and India for inspiration and for sourcing product. While it may seem very different it really isn’t. I’ve introduced darker woods and vintage rugs but the woods are distressed, the colors are washed out but the styles are still comfortable and functional. I want to remain true to my customers and appeal to new ones as well.
decor8: One thing that always impressed me is your attention to detail. You always wrote about how you’d include precious things in your children’s lunch box, handwritten notes and little toys that held special meaning. Showing your children how to appreciate little things is important and I think you really do that so well. It must have influenced how they look at the world as young adults to have a mom like you.
Rachel: Yes it has. My son Jake is 18 and daughter Lily is now 20 and they both are studying creative fields in New York. Without even realizing it, they pay attention to detail in their everyday lives.
decor8: As a single mother with grown children living out of the house, what things does Rachel Ashwell do in her spare time?
Rachel: Work! Because I love my work it is a big part of my lifestyle and it is hard to separate the two. I love to be with my children. I like to knit, go to the movies and the ocean.
decor8: What inspires you lately anyway, what are you digging?
Rachel: I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with my British heritage. It has inspired me to introduce items like the Union Jack pillow. I like collecting vintage items like prom gowns too. Lately I have been inspired by the color and design layout of Balenciaga advertising, too.
decor8: Back to the business side, can you explain a little bit the creative process involved?
Rachel: My designers and I are constantly open to ideas and inspiration. We brain storm in our design studio and from that point new patterns are created on CAD. Then in time these designs become new bedding collections or home accessories.
decor8: Can you describe your work studio and show us a few photos?
Rachel: Yes, of course, it is located near LAX Airport in California. The office encompasses many departments from wholesale, purchasing, accounting and warehousing vintage furniture. I also have a big whimsical design studio. There are six on staff including my creative director, buyers and designers.
decor8: It looks beautiful there, thank you for sharing. I could spend hours looking through all your things, especially those mood boards. And you mentioned vintage furniture, so you’re still hitting the fleas are you?
Rachel: Oh of course, I go about four times a year. My favorites are in Texas and on the East coast.
decor8: I’ve never been to a Texan flea, but I love Brimfield down in Massachusetts, it’s amazing. I can really spot trends when I visit them, I’m sure you do the same. What current trend would you like to see more of and what others would you like to bury?
Rachel: Even though fashion is ever changing, I like to think my aesthetic evolves but stays true to my values which are beauty, comfort and function. To me this has eternal life, it’s timeless, embracing the philosophy of recycling while creating heirlooms. For me minimalism is not so inviting and long lasting. I would not be sad to see that style go.
decor8: I have a love hate relationship with minimalism, so I understand what you mean. And finally, what ten things do you adore?
Rachel: 1. My children 2. Chrome Hearts diamond cross 3. Enya 4. Tresor perfume 5. Fresh cut garden roses 6. A vintage rose oil painting that hangs in my home 7. Marmite spread for toast 8. ?Forever To Keep? chest of drawers that contain old love letters, heirlooms items from my parents and handmade gifts from my kids 9. Shabby Chic white poplin bedding and a 10. Shabby Chic Plump chair.
Thank you so much for meeting with me today Rachel and for letting decor8 readers know about the exciting expansion of your company. We wish you the best of luck and happiness.
(images from shabby chic)