Once upon a time shabby chic was ‘the’ buzz word in interior design. Creative, unique, and most importantly beautiful. Better still it was (or could be) economical, re-cycling (or what we fashionably like to call ‘upcycling’ nowadays) old items and giving them a new lease of life over purchasing a brand new, mass produced item from the high street.
Vintage never went away but ‘shabby chic’ gave it a new lease of life. Outside of areas renowned for their flea markets or brocante hotspots, rummaging through car boot sales and charity shops became all the rage again, socially acceptable to one and all, particularly to fashionistas and interior design followers. Everything old and tatty was instantly labelled shabby chic or vintage. It mattered not what it was, an old chest of drawers or a dusty old book, now it was a ‘shabby chic project’ or a vintage objet d’art. As the movement gathered pace, those wily old retailers were quick to spot a trend and added an extra 100% to what they would have happily previously sold for a few pounds!
Very quickly what was a quirky and cool idea by an English born American expat became a worldwide phenomenon. From a single store in Malibu California back in 1989 through to Oprah Winfrey declaring on national television that “Rachel Ashwell has single-handedly turned shabby into chic and it’s caught on like wildfire.”
That quote was made back in 2006, since then the journey of shabby chic’s Godmother has not been entirely plain sailing. In 2009 she filed for bankruptcy, had the shabby chic bubble finally burst after 20 years? Had she been ‘found out’, a charlatan who had hood winked the world into believing any old tat could grace the pages of the glossiest interior design magazines alongside the bespoke and the expensive? Manufacturers and designers of brand new, contemporary or vintage styled furniture breathed a collection sigh of relief in the firm belief everyone would return to buying good ol’ new things again!
Well here we are in 2013 and if you look around shabby chic seems to be in rude health. The fortunes of Rachel Ashwell and the ‘shabby chic brand’ may have floundered, and as others have suggested sold out by licensing a massed produced branded range with a department store, but the concept at large is thriving. We now perhaps know it under other guises, perhaps you are familiar with the label Nordic Chic, perhaps rustic luxe, or how about vintage inspired? All have the shabby chic principles at heart, something once beautiful, now a little care worn, re-discovered, perhaps cleaned up or re-engineered slightly to produce something once more beautiful in a new old way. Bars, restaurants and even high street fashion stores are styled with shabby chic inspiration; rustic apple crates are the default way in which to display items nowadays and old scaffolding planks are the only shelving worth having.
Of course we can’t all scour the brocantes of Paris or the vintage boutiques of Shoreditch. Fewer of us still are prepared to pay over the odds for vintage chic from emporiums that are more museums of style than consumer friendly retail outlets. Thankfully the world of manufacturing has finally caught on that new and shiny is no longer king. Micro producers and even larger scale manufacturers have overhauled their design thinking and their ranges alike. Techniques have also now evolved and we can produce items with a vintage look and feel on a larger scale that still have a hand made touch, or at worst an element of hand finishing. Better still such pieces can be made with an eye on sustainability, recycling and with a budget in mind. As coveted as a coffee table manufactured with old railway timbers with original castors from a 1950’s industrial cart is, the price tag is only for a select few.
Shabby chic therefore has undoubtedly evolved, the phrase may be a bit tired, perhaps a tad overused or even regarded by the cognoscenti as old hat but the ethos remains strong. Retro will always be cool, vintage will always be beautiful and invariably the old ways will always be the best way. We now might have more vintage inspired product on the market than actual vintage but it is at least available to all. Well designed, beautifully made and with much of the character of a genuine antique. So lets be thankful, lets celebrate the old school, shabby chic is not dead it just evolved, moved on, as it has done for generations. The guiding principle…, have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Thanks Mr Morris.