May 19th, 2015

Wonderland: a 4-Part Series

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ARTISTS FACEBOOK CHALLENGE. DAY 5.

Well, like the Scarecrow to Dorothy, this one seems like the hardest one yet. Maybe that’s because this was my biggest creation, built to last yet gone nonetheless. Or maybe it’s because this week marked the anniversary of losing our little spark, Lauren. Whatever the reason, it is with a heavy but hopeful heart that I wrap up this Facebook Artists Challenge with a journey back down the rabbit hole.

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Let me first borrow some other people’s words before I try to find my own. Cameron Connerty called 12South a “magic little house.” Nancy Perla Michaelis remarked about the 360-degree nature of my brand (I wore it, I decorated it, I built it, I employed it, I spoke it, I wrote it, I played its music, I represented it within the community).

The Guardian wrote this: “a cosy store established in a grey clapboard house set back from the street, is the most cutting edge, stocking affordable designer clothes sourced from across the US alongside vintage sunglasses, jewellery and chocolate. It specialises in the informal but chic look favoured by those too hip for Urban Outfitters, and its liberal credentials were confirmed by a 10% discount for anyone registering to vote in last year’s presidential election while at the store.”

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Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene called it “playfully chic,” and then later he wrote about me: “the brainiac in high school who walked around with Marx in her backpack, with a head full of Broadway show tunes, with a snappy comeback at the ready for any sorority girl who dared look crosswise at her combat boots…three parts Amelie to two parts Juno, the pixieish proprietor of the 12 South boutique Two Elle. A petite almond-eyed wisecracker who runs the only fashion shop in town—maybe in the world—where you can get a copy of Kafka’s The Trial to go with your Converse high-tops, Lowe presides over a four-room enchanted kingdom of hip couture and a glamorous staff of well-read, culturally aware (and endearingly attitude-free) hotties. But it’s her personality that comes through in the store’s mix of geek-chic ’90s retro, high-style jeans and distressed college T’s, and slim silver pendants that depict girl-power superheroes.” And I’m sorry, world, I will never stop quoting him, because his words brought me unparalleled joy and honor….until Stephen Gilbert called me an “all-weather-whatever’s-clever-now-and-forever- tougher-than-leather woman.”

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So, those are their words, but I still struggle to find my own. I was just looking at photos of 12South, ones that I had never used for anything, ones that weren’t glossed over by stories I’ve already told. I said aloud, “I can’t do it,” and closed them up. I can’t say goodbye. It’s been many years. But somehow I just can’t do it.

Maybe I’m just not ready to be cute and clever about it. Maybe I’d like to think that the story is still being written. And really I don’t need to say much at all, because so much of it is already documented here or on twoelle.com. And so many of you were there! You wrote on those chalkboard walls I put up for you. You sat with me on the porch swing. You plastered graffiti, and you ripped it down at the end. You posed with me in the ads that lined local bathroom stalls. You sat on the couch I selected. You played on the pool table. Or the piano. Or the drums. Or the stage. Or the pinball machine that ONE DAY before it started smoking. You hung up your clothes on hangers that had bunnies on them. You walked out the doors I had shipped in from New York. You wondered why the exterior window frames on a structure that was built in 2008 looked like they had been there for hundreds of years (Me! I did that!). You wondered why there was a sign on the door that said, “Went for Paletas. Be back soon.” (Me! I did that!) You talked to me while I stood behind a bar, the last place I stood that felt as safe to me as a stage. And you bought things that I designed, and they still show up every now and then in your photos, bringing a deeper smile to my heart than you can imagine.

You were there. So, I won’t tell the whole story. I’ll just show you some photos of that thing I made. {I broke them down into 4 groups. I know. I’m far outside the scope of this Challenge. But here’s what: I don’t care. Join me down here in wonderland if you like. And Amanda Paytas Stevens: my deepest thanks for nominating me for this opportunity to share, waking me up, and reminding me to do what I do best.}

Regarding nominations, I started this Challenge in childhood and nominated in Nashville. I’ll now end it in Nashville and nominate in childhood with my family. I’m nominating Ninfa Lowe, Michael Lowe, Daniel Lowe, and Adam Lowe, creatives each in their own way.

OK, kids.

PART 1: THE MAGIC LITTLE HOUSE

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PART 2: BUILDING WONDERLAND

The day after the Hill Center Grand Opening, I felt an overwhelming sadness; the building phase was over. If we’re being honest, I think I liked building wonderland more than I liked living in it. Maybe that’s my truth: nothing ever felt as good as waking up too early, drinking too much coffee, getting my hands too dirty, and building a dream.

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PART 3: LIFE IN WONDERLAND

As mad as a hatter’s tea party and as confusing as a Caterpillar’s question, this was life.

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PART 4: GOODNIGHT, WONDERLAND

There’s something particularly poetic about building a dream and then having to break it down with your own hands. These were difficult yet liberating days, when I began deconstructing my world into manageable pieces that I could discard or pack away. That empty space still haunts me, but I always find something inspiring about the darkness.

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February 9th, 2014

Where I Wear My Heart

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When I announced to my New York friends in 2005 that I was leaving for law school in Nashville, TN, everyone had wisdom to offer. A fellow traveler who spent high school musing on Nietzsche with me said that some Southern gentleman would likely sweep me off my feet. That’s not what this love letter is about.

My female friends encouraged me to be more guarded. “Don’t lead with the crazy,” they said. They feared the South wouldn’t embrace neuroses the way Manhattan had. While in the South, I should smile, keep my head down, and hide the eccentricities. I complained to them that hiding didn’t suit me. I felt, as always, that ultimately I wanted to reach out and find all the other misfits. I told my friend about how I wanted to one day create a place where teenagers could go to feel welcome and empowered. “But Rachel,” she said, “not everyone hurts the way you do. Those teenagers are fine. They don’t need your help.”

And for some reason I believed her.

So, I settled. I hid my discomfort, gave up that notion of helping the flawed and wounded, and kept moving through the paces of law school. Eventually, I saw a movie called The Devil Wears Prada and realized that smart people could do fashion. (OK, everything is obviously more complicated than that, and I had actually worked in the fashion industry for 6 years before going to law school, but that is also another story. The point is: that summer I left law school and chose fashion.)

I began dreaming up my store and never for a moment thought back to those kids I wanted to save. I just kept building. And I built what was later lovingly referred to as a magic little house on 12South. (I’m not bragging; people called it that!) I lined the inside with dark wood and leather-bound books, because I wanted it to look like the small libraries at Yale, the first home I had ever chosen for myself where once upon a time I felt safe. It was a house masquerading as a retail establishment where we sold lemonade on the porch, hula-hooped on the lawn, and held high school days where fashion-minded teens could “intern” for a day. It was a home more than it ever was a store.

And then we grew up, moved to something bigger, and dreamed accordingly. It was a playground where you could stay all day and chat. I’d serve up college counsel or resume editing from behind my bar, as if those were the services rendered. We’d sing or play pool or laugh or cry. You’d stay all day even though you had only popped in on your way to Whole Foods. It was home for us. The hatters were always slightly mad, the rabbits were always late, and no one ever lost their heads.

It’s not that I set out to build a haven for the wonder-minded, but let’s be honest: I put a giant wall of graffiti in the middle of the Hill Center where a Vera Bradley now sits. Surely, I was announcing something. So, it seems that somewhere along the way I lost sight of my mission. I just kept building what felt natural, but it seems I built the very thing I was supposed to let go of. I built a place for us to feel safe and welcome and empowered. I built us a home. I built us a wonderland.

My friend might have been wrong. You do hurt, sometimes like me, sometimes like you. And you do laugh. And you live, and you love, and you wear clothes. We all do.

So, thank you. All of you. I built for you and with you, and somewhere along the way I wove my heart back onto my sleeve.

Or I wear it on a chain, courtesy of Tarina Tarantino, hanging in the middle of my chest:

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Or, thanks to the current Kate Spade collection, I wear it where my money goes:

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Happy love month, bunnies. Let’s wear our hearts wherever we can!

Posted at 3:25 am by rachel in: After Wonderland, Bunny Love

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December 18th, 2011

The Last Sunday

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For years now, we’ve been telling you our stories, drafting our graphic novel with our home-grown ad campaigns. And now, on our last Sunday, we offer our history for your own homes. Not only can you buy the furniture that has graced our space or the books that have lined our shelves, but you can now buy our images and truly own a piece of the story. Surely, the stories will continue, and we will keep telling them. You have one week, though, to bring the real thing home.

xoxo

Posted at 4:29 pm by rachel in: Ad Campaigns, Bunny Love, Closing the Store

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December 1st, 2011

What’s Yours?

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With one month left, it seems only appropriate that we begin a little two elle retrospective, but this time we want your help.

Our Good & Fair t-shirts (still great holiday gifts and now on sale. just sayin.) beg us to remember that there’s a story behind every wardrobe, and we couldn’t agree more. My story plucked me out of Manhattan and set me here in Nashville. It plunged me down a rabbit hole and began the journey that you’ve all been a part of with me. This journey, while thrilling, took me away from the worlds I knew and asked me to create a new one. I’ve missed a best friend’s wedding, and I’ll miss another in a week. I’ve sold clothes for 10 out of my last 15 Christmas Eves, and I’ll do so one last time for you. With the sacrifices, however, came great joys. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to dream. I’ve turned a white box into a wonderland. I’ve found a staff that makes it so that I can’t take a day off, because I don’t want to miss a day of their company. And, of course, I’ve created the bunny and Nashville shirts that are now filling my closet.

So, here’s what, bunny lovers: SHOW US YOUR TWO ELLE! Send pics of your faves to info@twoelle.com with perhaps a couple choice words, and your story will be added to ours.

You’ve been listening to ours for all these years, but now we want to share yours! TELL US YOUR STORY!

Posted at 11:21 am by rachel in: Bunny Love, Clothes, The Family

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November 18th, 2011

No Place Like Home

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Friends, we’ve filled your closets, but have you ever wished that your home looked a little more like our rabbit hole? Well, we’re making that dream a reality by selling every piece of this little bunny bunker. Seriously, every non-living thing you see can go home with you for a small fee (aka, Frank is not for sale). Some items have already sold, so come by soon or email info@twoelle.com. We’ll miss you, Nashville, but this way you can take a piece of us home!

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Posted at 4:02 pm by rachel in: Bunny Love

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