Fragile Democracies and Appreciation for America

 

 

Image courtesy of AP

Image courtesy of AP

Last month, I traveled to Bangkok to visit my daughter and her adorable family, as I have done many times. This trip Thailand was once again in a political struggle, but this time, the stakes are higher and the violence is escalating. Not good news for the world’s most visited city in 2013; Bangkok barely edged out London, number 1 in 2012.

Let me just say that I don’t like politics. I try to bury my head in the sand and run from any divisiveness, whether it is here in our own city, in Washington, or abroad. In the past my main observations about Thai politics were limited to a fashion standpoint, of all things. One political party is called the “red shirts” and another is called the “yellow shirts.”  To me, that pretty much meant a person should not wear red or yellow unless they wanted to make a political statement.

Before I arrived and during my visit, protesters rioted and demonstrated in the streets, calling for the resignation of the prime minister and threatening to shut down the city. Ten people have been killed. January’s violence is just the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between middle- and upper-class Thais in Bangkok and impoverished people in rural areas.

While I was there the prime minister declared a state of emergency. As an international traveler, I now did have to pay attention to politics.  In 2008, riots closed the Bangkok airport for two weeks.

It is all a bit perplexing and frightening. For starters, the violence seems so un-Thai like.  Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” because of its friendly, cheerful people.  You can smile at any Thai you pass on the street and you will always get a smile back.  There just seems to be no antagonism in their nature.

Secondly, Thailand is a democracy.  My frame of reference for democracy is, of course, the United States, and that mental framework does not include political coups or military takeovers. Boy, have I had my head in the sand!

One sunny morning I sat on my daughter and son-in-law’s balcony overlooking beautiful Bangkok. But I did not feel safe or peaceful. From a nearby intersection that had been blocked off from traffic came chants over a loudspeaker and stirring music. The “Shutdown Bangkok” protests were just around the corner from my grandchildren’s home!  I felt the anxiety creep into me.

On Sunday, February 2, the country is scheduled to hold an election for the next prime minister. However, that election may very well be postponed or boycotted. By the time this article is printed, the next scenario for Thailand could include a military coup. The king of Thailand, in power since 1950, has been ill for years; he was in a Bangkok hospital for four years until his release last summer. His uncertain future adds to the national turmoil.

Needless to say, I am watching the news about Thailand’s precarious situation with heightened awareness and worry. I can no longer find ways to avoid thinking about politics. And I won’t take so much that we have here – including a peaceful homefront — for granted.

 

 

Question of the season: What do women want?

Men ask me this all the time, Sigmund Freud asked it, and probably every great thinker since Socrates asked it. What do women want? What in the world can a guy give a girl that she will be sure to like?

Successful gift giving can be a challenge for men. Women don’t hide it well when they are less than thrilled with a gift.

At the Tres Mariposas Men’s Night this week, I decided to ask a few of the men there about this issue. Here’s what they say about gifts that have won the hearts of the women in their lives.

 

Dr. Bruce Applebaum_2

Dr. Bruce Applebaum:  “My most successful gift was a puppy when my wife and I got engaged — an adorable German Shepherd.  I haven’t been as successful in other categories of gifts!”

 

Jesus Canaba2Jesus Canaba:  “The best gift I’ve ever given was a watch.  Why did she love it so much?  Because of the little diamonds.  She was really into diamonds.”

 

Gene Carrejo2Gene Carrejo: “Jewelry from Ippolita.  She wears the earrings and necklaces all the time!”

Howard Smith2Howard Smith:   “Jewelry is always a winner.  Women just love bling.”

Michael Zimprich2Michael Zimprich:  “I’m planning for my most successful gift to be the one I’m going to give her next week.  I can’t divulge what it is of course, or it will spoil the surprise.  I try to get things she would not buy for herself – luxury and higher end items.  Christmas means a lot to her so I try to get her something nice she’s been wanting.  Guys sometimes forget until the last minute.  I try to watch and listen all year when I’m out shopping with her and then I go back.”

I like Michael’s perspective; sometimes I think women just want to be listened to! And there’s a message here for women here in our community – your men are trying hard to please you, so keep your smile on no matter what you receive Christmas morning. Remember, you can invariably exchange it if you need to!

 

‘These things we do that others may live’

People talk about life-changing experiences and I think I’ve had one of those recently. My son Creed received an incredible military honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, two weeks ago in California, and I still haven’t come off a cloud of pride. It’s been surreal!

For starters, I wasn’t prepared for the press. The Flying Cross is a major Air Force Award; it was first given to Charles Lindbergh, and very few pilots and crew members have received it since then. The award and the battle in Afghanistan that earned Creed and his flight companions the honor have been covered in both the military press and civilian press. Here KFOX-TV covered it (visit www.kfoxtv.com and search under “el paso native awarded rare honor”), El Paso Times put it on their front page last week, and three California TV stations aired stories on it. Even I have been interviewed about what it’s like to be the mother of a hero. 

Our family has been in a happy state of celebration and pride. I was so proud, I made “Superhero” T-shirts for all of the family members who went to California for the awards ceremony. You know me – always have to have a fashion tie-in. Creed joked that if I get any royalties from these T-shirts, he wants a cut!

His award, given for “heroism or extraordinary achievement,” has left me humbled and more than a little shook up. It’s hard to come face to face with the danger he has been in fighting in Afghanistan. Denial had been my friend during his three deployments, but now it is very sobering to know that he was yards from heavy enemy fire and rocket-powered grenades.

 It’s not an accident that Creed is a helicopter rescue pilot. The motto of the Pedros, as the U.S. Air Force Search and Rescue forces are called, is “These things we do that others may live.”  This is fitting with Creed’s past. As a student at the Air Force Academy, he once spent an entire night out in the frozen Colorado cold working to rescue a roommate in trouble. 

 The November 1 Air Force Times piece on him and his crew ( www.airforcetimes.com/article/20131101/NEWS/311010014/HH-60-pilot-awarded-Distinguished-Flying-Cross-December-rescue) had a powerful impact on me. The reporter wrote that during the high-risk mission to rescue critically wounded Coalition soldiers, Captain Napier and his team protected more than 25 soldiers on the battlefield while taking enemy fire. Another article noted that the crew acted with complete disregard for their own safety to maneuver the aircraft between the enemy and friendly forces.

Creed has been characteristically unassuming and modest during all of this. After all the publicity and interviews of the past few weeks, I had a few questions of my own. What did flying this particular mission mean to Creed? What did he do that another airman in his position might not have chosen to do?  What made him choose to go back into the anti-aircraft fire? 

Creed said that in one sense he is lucky that his job has something other jobs don’t have: a built-in special motivation on every flight that they are helping people in desperate need. He finds that highly rewarding. Creed said this was not the first time he was shot at during a mission, but it was the first time he was in combat as an aircraft commander responsible for weapons and shooting at the enemy. “After the fact, we realized we did something well despite all the odds.  I guess it’s true that another crew might have stood off more and not accepted as much risk.”

 It’s difficult to realize the extreme danger our military kids face on a regular basis. I’m amazed at the decisions that Creed’s had to make in the midst of an emergency and chaos. And I’m so proud that he grew up to be an amazing leader with such character, courage, and humility. I feel blessed.  I am in tears thinking about it, once again.

 Thank you so much to all who have extended their good wishes, expressions of pride, and congratulatory messages.

The Meaning of Jewelry

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Having a fine jewelry store inside Tres Mariposas has been an amazing experience. The pieces are so gorgeous and it’s been wonderful to see customers admiring them and studying their details. It’s interesting — as I become more involved in fine jewelry, I am also becoming more aware of the deep significance jewelry holds for people.

Archeologists have discovered jewelry pieces dating back 75,000 years; its appeal is universal through virtually all cultures and eras. Jewelry has been worn for decoration and fashion, but also for its perceived qualities of power, protection, and even magical effects.

Women seem innately attracted to the adornment factor of necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The right jewelry can bolster a woman’s confidence and bring out her beauty. It can pull together an outfit and make a special occasion absolutely dazzling. But women also love jewelry for its connections to others and for the stories behind the jewelry.

Flori Trudeau is a new Tres Mariposas associate and long-time jewelry industry veteran. We love to hear her talk about the jewelry – she is full of great stories about the gemstones and different designers.

“Every designer has his or her own story,” she says. “They all have different sources of inspiration and motivation. For instance, John Hardy was an American designer who moved to Bali for his inspiration. Now his pieces are made by Bali natives.”

Hardy_fall13_Naga

Hardy has one line called the Naga Collection which features a dragon motif. Flori says that the dragon plays an important role in the people’s folklore. The legend is that a dragon lives on the top of a mountain, but he is in love with a pearl at the bottom of a lake. He visits the pearl underwater and when he flies back up to the mountain top, the water on his wings drips down to water the rice fields.

For the natives, the dragon is a symbol of love, good luck, protection, and prosperity. For some women, it’s empowering and comforting to think that the beautiful dragon on their wrists can attract all these good things. In any case, it’s a lovely story – and all of us can do with more love and good luck in our lives!

Of course, certain pieces of jewelry carry their own stories. You remember where you were and the story behind the occasion when a loved one gave you a special bracelet, ring, or necklace. Each of those pieces carried a silent message of “you are so, so important to me” or “you really deserve this” or a clear and definitive message of everlasting love.

Jewelry treasures that are passed down from generation to generation carry stories of memorable women and moments in time. Jewelry pieces that women buy themselves come with their own stories: “I survived my first year of teaching,” “I passed the bar,” or “I got a raise!”

As valuable as these pieces are – with all their diamonds and colored gems, pearls and stones of all kinds, set in platinum, gold, or silver – part of their value comes from the stories behind them and what the pieces mean. Think about one of your favorite pieces of jewelry – what is its story?

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Fall Bestsellers: The Customers Have Spoken

As you probably know, the fashion cycle has a rhythm all its own. New style trends emerge each season, and retailers have to predict months in advance what they think will sell in their own stores. As buyers, we do our best to guess which items are going to be big winners for the season.  Which looks and outfits will our customers desire the most?

Right about now, mid-October, retailers are finally seeing what trends customers are responding to with the most enthusiasm. It’s interesting — bestsellers at Tres Mariposas invariably reflect the bestsellers emerging with other retailers across the country. Our tastes on the Border are in line with national trends.

Here are a few early winners for this fall:

Jacquard Pattern Jeans

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Why it works? Texture!

Fashion is all about texture – and everyone needs jeans in her wardrobe.  These are basically textured jeans! The term jacquard refers to fabric with a pattern woven into it.  Your interesting fact of the day: French inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the first loom for these intricate patterns in 1801.

Fit and Flare Dresses and Skirts

DSC03775-2Why it works?  Figure flattering!

Not all of us look fantastic in straight pencil skirts.  The fit and flare style is fitted at the waist and then flares out into flirty fullness at the hem.  It’s been a classic since the 1950s.  Every skirt and dress in this style that we’ve received at Tres Mariposas seems to fly out the door.  Women must be hungry for something feminine and flattering.

 

 

Motorcycle Jackets

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Why it works?  Instantly ups your cool factor.

Every girl needs a bit of racy biker machismo now and then. The motorcycle jacket in black leather and other fabrications has been cool since James Dean. Wear it over everything in your wardrobe.  Add boots and you are set for the season.

Fur Vests

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Why it works?  Makes the outfit.

New design techniques and technology have morphed furs into garments almost as lightweight as sweaters. These are not your grandmother’s mink coats. Friendly to El Paso’s climate, fur vests are great for casual lifestyles.

We may very well see other bestsellers emerge as the season goes on, but these four trends have already taken El Paso by storm. The customer has spoken!

 

Sneak Peek at Spring: New Trends Ahead

 

View of the big apple from the Michael Kors showroom.

View of the big apple from the Michael Kors showroom.

 

I was in New York recently for the major spring market that follows Fashion Week.  Fashion Week is a chaotic scene of runway shows attended by celebrities and socialites.  The purpose of Fashion Week runway shows is to present the creative vibe and essence of a designer’s new line for a season and to whip the fashion press into a frenzy.  Many of the looks are more extreme to make a point.  After the runway shows, fashion executives get to work modifying looks for real women, pricing the collection, and making the line ready for fashion buyers to shop in New York showrooms.

New York was glorious – as it can be when just a hint of fall is in the air.  Just being in the city when the air is crisp and people are in a cosmopolitan bustle is exhilarating.

Designers work to have their showroom in a “cool” part of town.  Some are in the Meatpacking District, some Soho, some in tony uptown showrooms with expansive views of the park.  Additionally the Coterie International Fashion Exhibition aka trade show was at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.  Our tongues were hanging out from dashing from one side of the city to the other.

Some new trend directions for next spring and on:

  • Easiest Trend to Wear Trend:  Back interest details such as envelope back openings, back cut-outs, and racer backs.  It is a look that is business in the front and party in the back.  Only a little cut-out or peek-a-boo is needed.
  • Worst New Trend:  overalls.  It’s cute on a freckle-faced ten year-old, and a super model can pull it off.  For the rest of us, forget it!
  • Best Trend for tall, beautiful, fit fashionistas:  Crop top with pencil skirt.  Tummy baring days are making an effort at a comeback.  And it really looks great on the right person.
  • Trend that makes the most sense:  Athletic details.  The practicality of athletic wear is translated into beautiful silk sweatshirts, mesh and perforated detailing, crepe de chine running shorts, and playful skorts.
  • Biggest Fashion Week Runway Hit:  Narcisco Rodriguez, the Cuban-American designer. Buyers were drooling over his creations in the showroom.  He is a master of draping.  I love the quote from Narciso in the October issue of InStyle magazine.  “When you wear something exceptional, it actually changes the way you feel about yourself.  That’s the value of quality pieces.”  Well said.

Dressing for the decades: What to wear at gala

Elegance in Navy

Elegance in Navy

It’s almost time for one of the major fixtures on our community’s fall social and philanthropic calendar: the Annual Friends of FEMAP Gala.

As many locals here know, FEMAP (Federacion Mexicana de Empresas y Asociaciones Privadas) is a nongovernmental nonprofit organization serving future and expectant mothers in Ciudad Juárez. FEMAP founder Guadalupe Arizpe De la Vega wanted to make family planning and prenatal care accessible to women living in poverty and has worked side-by-side with many El Pasoans, including longtime leaders Adair Margo, Mary Ann Dodson, and Dr. Jack Heydemann, to make this goal a reality.

What started out as a two-room clinic named Clinica de la Familia became the beloved Hospital de la Familia, where thousands of babies have been born since 1976. I have been a serious supporter of FEMAP since I visited that hospital in Juarez years ago. I was amazed at the medical services provided with such limited resources.

Today FEMAP has two full-service inpatient hospitals, a nursing school, community-based health programs helping children and teenagers develop emotionally and physically, and a micro-finance program. It’s a good cause and hundreds of people from both sides of the Border are expected to attend the benefit ball at the Judson Williams Civic Center this Friday, September 20.

Anna Aleman, executive director of the FEMAP Foundation, tells me that this year’s theme is “Decades: 1973-2013” to celebrate FEMAP’s four decades of service and the Foundation’s two decades of fundraising.

In 1973, when Guadalupe founded FEMAP, disco was king and everyone was doing the Hustle under mirror balls and strobe lights. So for this anniversary year, the gala’s entertainment will start with ‘70s disco tunes and work its way up through hits of the past to the present, while celebrating each decade of the organization’s milestones.

So, naturally, women are asking me how they should dress for this themed party but still be elegant and stylish. Good question! Here are some thoughts on the questions I’m hearing:

  •  Length? Either cocktail length or long ball gowns are appropriate. Both are in fashion. Choose the length that makes you feel the most fabulous.
  • Color? Navy blue is by far the most up-to-date color for evening wear this year. It is so trite to say it’s the new black.  Ok I won’t say it.  In addition to navy, burgundy and teal are great evening colors.
  • Details? One of this season’s top trends is the return of lace and illusion – sheer fabrics to cover a little but still tease.
  • Jewelry? Less jewels on the dress itself – not so much in sequins or beading.  More drama in colored stone necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Think sapphire or blue topaz

I hear that some tickets are still available for the gala! Call 544-4151 or visit www.femap.org

 

New season, new surroundings, new venture!

This coming week brings a special business milestone for me: a new store within our store. Any small-business owner – or large business owner, for that matter – can relate when I say it’s both exciting and a little un-nerving when you dream of something new and you watch it come to fruition.

To back up, earlier this year, after a lot of thought, I decided to move forward with a business expansion opportunity: a fine jewelry boutique. It was a natural progression for our mission to dress women on the Border in style from head to toe.

Tres Mariposas has been under construction much of this summer to build this new boutique within our store’s footprint and it’s finally coming together. We’ve torn up our store and are putting in designer display areas to create an amazing fine jewelry environment for customers.  We’ve debated about perfect lighting, about interesting wall textures, about just-right pieces to go in the cases.

However, as I write this, I confess I am a tad nervous about whether everything will be finished in time for our grand opening this Wednesday!  But hey, if you don’t plan a party or special event, you’ll never get finished, right?

The building project is only a part of the picture, though. The key components: people and product. My to-do list is long, but I can check these off with pleasure:

  • We hired Carmen and Flori, two fabulous associates with serious fine jewelry expertise and experience.  They have integrated seamlessly into our retail environment that emphasizes teamwork.
  • We went to the world’s largest jewelry market/show in Las Vegas in June, and carefully selected top designers to carry.  In every industry with designer lines, you can’t just pick what you want and buy it.  The vendor decides if you are      “worthy enough to carry their product.” You see all kinds of jockeying for different designers in the prestige jewelry world.  We are thrilled to be launching with some really gorgeous jewelry from Ivanka Trump, Yvel, Carrera & Carrera, and Cassis, in addition to best-selling lines from Ippolita, Jude Frances, and others that we already carry.

Needless to say I have robbed my “Retirement Piggy Bank” to invest dollars in personnel, boutique build-out and expensive inventory, but I’ve never been one to stick to the status quo when an exciting new opportunity presents itself.

We’re in the countdown now. We’ve got jewelry trunk shows for four days and lots of festivities from September 11 -14. Drop in and see what it can look like when you dream of new changes – and your dreams come true!

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Business Success and Philanthropy Go Together for Jeweler

Ethiopian immigrants are now employed in full time jobs in Israel, and with the launch of this beautiful and affordable new collection, they are helping to bring the same educational services to other new Ethiopian immigrant students.

Ethiopian immigrants are now employed in full time jobs in Israel, and with the launch of this beautiful and affordable new collection, they are helping to bring the same educational services to other new Ethiopian immigrant students.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “doing well by doing good” – a phrase describing a business that is financially successful at the same time it is working toward making the world a better place. Instead of the corporation’s generosity hurting its bottom line, the company reaps rewards.

“Well-known companies have already proven that they can differentiate their brands and reputations as well as their products and services if they take responsibility for the well-being of the societies and environments in which they operate,” write business consultants George Pohle and Jeff Hittner in a report from the IBM Institute for Business Value. “These companies are practicing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in a manner that generates significant returns to their businesses.”

Maybe it’s retention of top people who share in the values of giving back to society or maybe it’s better morale that incentivizes people to work harder for a company they respect. Maybe it’s just good karma. Whatever the explanation, a growing number of corporations contribute financially to charitable organizations, allow employees to volunteer for good causes on company time, and give back to their communities in many ways.

And then there are some companies that go beyond those generous gestures to make doing good an integral and transformative part of the way they do business. For instance, 3M has the 3P program — “Pollution Prevention Pays.” Employees get paid for ideas that reduce pollutants in 3M’s manufacturing processes and products.  Since it was launched in 1975, 10,000 projects have eliminated more than 1.9 million tons of pollutants – and saved the company $1.7 billion. Now that’s transformative!

I have gotten to know a jewelry company that, like 3M, goes beyond simple financial charity to make a major difference. The company, Yvel, is committed to help struggling immigrants in Israel have better lives.

Yvel (“Levy” backwards) was founded in 1986 by Orna Levy, a member of the Mousseueff family famous for importing fine pearls and designing exquisite pearl jewelry, and her husband Isaac Levy, who emigrated with his family from Buenos Aires. Isaac’s family faced poverty and hardships before succeeding in their new country, a childhood that he never forgot.

“My way of repairing the world is to give others what I didn’t have as a child,” he says, “and to help repair the weakest links in Israeli society – our immigrants and, in particular, Ethiopian immigrants.”

About 90 percent of the 100 employees working in Yvel’s design and production facility outside Jerusalem are immigrants; they come from more than 20 very different countries and cultures, including Iraq, Syria, Russia, and the United States.

Then, to take their corporate social responsibility mission even further, the Levys set up a company within their company: a new line of jewelry designed and produced by a group of Israeli immigrants who have faced particular challenges, Ethiopian Jews.

In 2010, the Levys founded the Megemeria School of Jewelry to train and employ Ethiopian-Isrealis whose people were expelled from their native Ethiopia in the 1970s and who now number more than 120,000 and who have high rates of poverty and unemployment.

Megemeria, which means “genesis” or beginnings, teaches students jewelry design, goldsmithing, gem setting and pearl-stringing, all artisanal skills that can earn them jobs at Yvel and other jewelry manufacturers. Training is free and the students receive monthly stipends; mentors also help them learn every day skills for success.

It sounds great. In addition, the designs coming out of this new venture look very intriguing. Their Africa-inspired pieces in brass and gold-plate are simple and creative and their sales bode well for the Megemeria business inside the Yvel business. The hope is for it to become self-sustaining in the future.

I am excited to see in person some of these pieces when Yvel representatives are here on September 12 for a trunk show during the grand opening of the new Tres Mariposas jewelry department. It’s a special boutique within a store!

 

I also can’t wait to see Orna and Isaac Levy’s award-winning cultured pearl necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings. These lustrous pearls come in beautiful colors and innovative settings and are unlike anything else we’ve ever had at the store. And when I buy a piece that I’ll like to wear, I know I’m helping to support a good cause on the other side of the world!

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Fall Fashion Trends, Part 2

As I wrote last week, we are all gearing up for fall. This week, we have a few more trends for you to watch for as you shop. Check out the big September issues of the leading fashion magazines and you will see some wonderful examples of what’s hot this season.

Sometimes people wonder what retail buyers do – when they’re not at market actually buying! Besides placing orders for what they project will sell well, our buyers at Tres Mariposas, are  also responsible for educating our staff about the clothing they saw at market and why they think our customers will be drawn to some of the new styles.

Our contemporary buyer, Gesuina Legaspy, identified some interesting directions that designers are taking this season:

Keep up with the latest trends.  Follow our Tres G.A.L. on Instagram. http://instagram.com/tres_gal#

Keep up with the latest trends. Follow our Tres G.A.L. on Instagram. http://instagram.com/tres_gal#

 

1. Leather Detailing: Leather is always big for fall but now you’re seeing it show up in new places. It’s about the details this year. Leather accents can be found on collars, sleeves, and even peplums. You’ll still find plenty of leather jackets and pants, but watch for some distinctive details.

2. Mini Statements:  After years of big handbags, the tide is turning. Purses are downsizing. Once oversized bags are giving way to minis that still can provide a big impact. Luxury handbag designers are having fun with these smaller accessories that can add a lot of personality and style to an outfit.

3. Popular Purple: Mulberry, plum, and dark saturated purple hues are a major trend color this fall. Stylists are mixing and matching purple with other colors, both neutral and bold. No matter what shade you favor, purple is a gorgeous jewel tone that conveys elegance, creativity, romance, and luxury.

4. Retro Flare: Call it fit and flare – it’s a lady-like silhouette with a close-fitting bodice and a softly flared-out skirt. Cinched at the waist, these dresses create a flattering fit for almost any size. This is one of those styles that accentuate the positive!

5. Mixed Media: You can see so many variations on this trend, which can include novel ways of combining fabrics, styles, and looks. For instance, mixed media can be a fun way to play with textiles, such as combining cashmere with chiffon, leather with ponte knit, or wool with silk. It could be a dress that looks prim and proper in front and sexy in the back or an outfit mixing a vintage look with cutting edge details. It’s all about versatility and individuality.

Enjoy shopping for fall – cooler weather is right around the corner!