portraits of style: cheryl, 46
A friend once said "style is personal and political," and I love that concept: dressing for your expression of self, what you stand for, and not for the pleasure of others. Portraits of Style is a new feature, sharing the portraits and interviews of people who are over 40, and who define what it means to be stylish: focusing what happens when they throw away the fashion magazines, and instead choose what they wear based on what makes them feel great and what they want to express. This is style -- on their terms.
This week, I'm featuring my friend, designer and leather goods-maker Cheryl Schulke. I met Cheryl several years ago, because of a friend who was carrying one of her bags -- I had to find out more about this local designer of such beautiful handmade goods. She and her husband Paul have created this gorgeous business, and over the years, we've become friends. I've bought several of her gorgeous, indestructible bags, her camera straps are on two of my cameras, and I wear some of her jewelry every day. We've even attended events at their factory. And every time I see Cheryl, I'm struck by her sense of style: she's always wearing handmade goods, as if each piece has its own soul. So I was so happy when she agreed to be interviewed for Portraits of Style.
Here's what she had to say.
You've got to commit to style. When you purchase an item of clothing, it should be something that you want to commit to maintaining -- patching it, or repairing it, or otherwise taking good care of it. I hate disposability. I try to commit to pieces I can keep for a long time, and pass down to my girls.
~ Cheryl Schulke
KW: I'm so thrilled that you agreed to let me ask you about your style, Cheryl! I've loved your look for years now.
CS: Thanks! I'm looking forward to it.
KW: Well, let's start with the most obvious thing: your hair. Why did you cut it?
CS (laughing): Ah yes! Well, honestly, I cut it because I want people to think I'm not your average everybody. Also, I did it because it made me feel strong. A couple of years ago, I had a tough year, when I had three surgeries in a 12-month period. I was feeling really vulnerable, and I wanted to feel strong again. So I cut it. As I approach 50, I realize that strong is beautiful. And if I feel strong, I feel powerful. Luckily, my husband loves and values strong. Also, in some sense, my hair is a political statement as well. I'm not a person who enjoys confronting people verbally, but I do still want to express myself in a productive, influential way that's not pushy. I want to contribute imagery. Contribute to diversity of imagery.
KW: I love this. Does this carry over into your clothing as well?
CS: Sort of. You know, my wardrobe is like an art canvas for me. When I was young, and in school -- whatever everyone else was doing, we couldn't afford to do. So there was no fashion in my life. I would get something inexpensive from Ross, and I'd try to alter it and make what I wanted to make. I made this pair of skinny jeans once -- I was 10 or 11, I think -- and they were bright yellow. I loved those jeans.
KW: Wait ... you made yourself yellow skinny jeans when you were ten?! That seems pretty fashionable to me!
CS: Oh, but I wasn't -- I mean, they were yellow. They probably looked horrible on me. But I loved them.
KW: That's awesome. So, if your wardrobe is an art canvas, what's your philosophy around your style?
CS: Well, I think style is something you have to commit to. It's not about spending a lot of money, necessarily -- you know I'm not a person who's into brand names -- but it's about looking and choosing items that are going to last you the longest. The items that you love so much that you'll commit to maintaining it ... to patching it, or repairing it, or really caring for it ... because you want to keep it for a long time. I like to commit to pieces that I can keep for a long time, and pass down to my girls.
KW: Sort of like your bags -- I always tell people that because they're so well-constructed, and because leather ages so beautifully, I can imagine my granddaughter using them one day.
CS: I hope so! But yes, like that, or other designers I love -- Miranda Bennett, out of Austin, for example. Or these pants I'm wearing by Fortune Goods, also out of Austin -- I love that they're unisex, and they're just built so well.
KW: You mentioned two Texas designers -- is it because a Texan aesthetic is important to you?
CS: No, it's not that -- it's more about supporting the people around me who do good work. And supporting makers who put their heart and soul into their work, and care for their workers, instead of supporting a product that is mass-produced, where the company don't compensate their workers fairly. It's sort of aspirational, by supporting local.
KW: That makes sense. So do you have a favourite style icon -- someone who inspires you, when it comes to style?
CS: Huh ... I don't think ... well, I mean, my great aunt wore linen all the time, and she had this minimalist style that was unusual in our small town. She owned a fabric store, and made all of her clothes ... I suppose she would be one of my style icons.
KW: What about colour -- do you have a signature colour?
CS: I wear olive green every possibility I can ... and denim. Blue. Blues and olive green.
KW: And how about an item of clothing that you know you can throw on, and feel awesome?
CS: Black skinny jeans, for sure! And boots. Boots with a heel that I can stomp in.
KW: Ha! There's that strength and power again.
KW: Is that what you hope your style says about you? Strength and power?
CS: Actually, I hope that when I walk into a room, people see openness. I want people to see that I want to know them, understand them, and connect with them. There isn't a rigidity about my style, and I hope that shows that there isn't a rigidity to me, either. I was a psychology major, and I like to go deep, fast -- I want to connect and know people.
KW: That's perfect. Okay, final question: if someone was trying to develop their own style, and didn't know where to begin, what advice would you give them.
CS: Hmmm ... well, I'm a researcher. And back in the day, when I still worked in corporate America, I was embarrassingly preppy. But once I got free from the constraints of the corporate world, I looked around. I looked for people who do things I didn't do, for inspiration. I think you're looking to develop your own style, you have to do that -- look around, see what inspires you, and see what's comfortable for you. And then own it. Commit.
It's always so great to spend time with you, Cheryl. To learn more about her soulful leather work, be sure to check out her online store, Stash.