On Woolrich, nostalgia, Willie Nelson’s guitar, the new UP train, the Pennsylvania Tuxedo, Reese Witherspoon’s boots, and our trip to the new Canadian Woolrich store in Toronto
This is the struggle in every aspect of my life. I love vintage design, colours, fabrics, homes, furniture, machines of all sort and the tools to fix them, music, markets, antiques, and auctions. I love little towns that time forgot, places that have been caught out of time, and faded gem hotels… or motels. I love places and things that speak of a time, maybe a time that never was… but exists in my imagination from what I’ve read, seen and heard.
The vintage things around me tell a story, it takes me to a place, a time when quality, colour, design, beauty fit themselves into a world where repairing, reusing, mending worn items makes them better, with more character, more story, more usefulness.
I love the story of Willie Nelson’s guitar Trigger. I think of the worn down places in the dark wood between the strings of a vintage guitar. They fit the fingers and echo a thousand songs, nights on the road, voices in harmony, love, sweat and passion.
And yet… I love our HD TV, my Macbook, music downloads, our nest thermostat, my mobile phone, and of course our social media.
“its delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”
I was filled with a sense of nostalgia when I got the email that Woolrich was opening its first store in Canada. The company was founded in 1830 to produce fabrics for the wives of hunters, loggers, and trappers to make outdoor wear. They built a factory complex in Pennsylvania and outfitted civil war armies and even Robert Byrd’s first expedition to the South Pole establishing a reputation for great outdoor wear as well as a kind of mixed reputation for style. Their backwoods suits became known as a Pennsylvania Tuxedo.
Today Woolrich does over $200m a year in business with just 200 employees and with this new Canadian store they’re reimagining their brand, their history, and their future.
I was nervous. Vintage brands reimagined sometimes lose the Je Ne Sais Quoi… the I Don’t Know What… that made them special .
So Amanda and I went on a journey, a pilgrimage really, to see how the struggle between vintage and modern was going for this 8th generation family owned and managed American company. From Halifax to Toronto Pearson Airport, down the new UP line to Union Station, a crosswalk to the Royal York Hotel – which is surely the most beautiful faded gem hotel in Canada – then up the subway line to the Yorkdale Shopping Centre where the new Woolrich store just had its grand opening.
It really is a wonderful mall. The scale and lighting take it to another level and the curated stores are the world best and most interesting brands.
One special thing about this shop. The proprietor was there, Peter Lavalle. On hand and engaged. It was funny. As soon as I saw him I knew he didn’t just work there. He had an air that said EVERYTHING about this shop really matters. It was great to meet and talk with him.
Here’s their idea: A contemporary and metropolitan take on quality; one that never strays far from the DNA and values of the company: comfort, warmth, simplicity, and innovation.
It sounded like the perfect balance between vintage and modern.
As I stepped in the store I found the idea incarnated in their new Mountain Boot. As soon as saw them I felt like I could have been on Adm. Byrd’s 1930’s crew to the Antarctic. They’re reminiscent of 1950’s ski boots or leather skates. They echoed Danner’s timelessly iconic 1970’s hikers; you know the ones with red laces that gave Reese Witherspoon blisters so bad in the movie Wild that she threw them off a cliff. (Here’s a great story about someone FINDING the boot thrown from the movie!)
But the new Woolrich mountain boot was something else all together. I’ve rarely seen such authentic detail and vintage quality matched with modern… well… smartness. They’re light, form fitting, functional, new and old at the same time. The perfect example of the best of vintage and modern.
The pilgrimage was complete. I took off my Red Wings, a style of boot I’ve been wearing since I was a kid, and slipped into the Mountain Boot. Now the journey can really begin.