When I decided to write my first book review for checkout, I thought it would be a more abbreviated review—the kind I'm used to giving when I have to sum up an inspiring design book in roughly a column-inch.
But this book is inspiring for different reasons. Uncommon Thread: A Woman, A Brand, A Legacy: the Story of Peacock Alley Fine Linens is the autobiography of Mary Ella Gabler, founder and chairman of Peacock Alley, an affordable luxury bedding and bath linens company. The framework of the story, in many ways, is not unfamiliar:
A young woman moves with her husband for his career, starts a family, contends with advancement and career change in male-dominated fields (looking to create something for herself but still have the freedom to care for her children), follows her dreams to see success come and go and come again, and builds something that endures.
The more remarkable part is that the story begins in the late 60s/early 70s when it was much harder for women to be equals and decision makers in the work environment.
Mary Ella operates on a "little black dress" theory in fashion and in her business: Invest in well-made neutral basics and work in texture, color, and pattern thoughtfully. Trusting her instinct to keep it classic has served her well, even when peers and competitors were following fleeting trends.
Timeless lessons for business and life emerge organically; they are not written in any organized list. You see them as her story unfolds chronologically, serving as excellent guideposts for those forging their own paths, especially those thinking of starting their own business. I've included some after the jump.
Beginning with her childhood, you see how Mary Ella developed her work ethic, outlook on life, and value of family, but also of handmade luxury and comfort.
She tells of her time in New York where she worked in several fields, ultimately becoming a registered stockbroker, rare for a woman in the 1960s. She also bought and sold quilts with a friend with whom she ultimately started her company. I loved her comment about trading in quilts (during Pop Art's emergence) being so uncool, it was cool.
After meeting her first husband, moving, marrying, and finding the financial world of Dallas much harder to break into than New York's, Mary Ella took a brief seasonal position at Neiman Marcus, which would reset her course.
After a Neiman Marcus merchandising manager spotted her patchwork boudoir pillows (right) during a dinner party in 1971, he ordered 250 of them for an annual promotional event. From the pillows' hugely successful turn, the story of building relationships, hard work, inspiration, luck and determination takes off; the company incorporated in 1973.
Mary Ella shares the origin of the company's name, development of their trademark classic aesthetic, and openly discusses the serendipitous moments and extreme challenges of building a business while raising a family, divorcing, becoming a single mother, remarrying, weathering financial problems and recessions, and trying to remain positive throughout it all.
I found it very interesting to learn about several times over the course of 40 years when Peacock Alley was at the forefront of trends and business models in both the bedding and retail spaces.
The book also includes a family cocktail recipe, instructions on caring for quilts, and more in-depth looks at her family history, personal style philosophy, and business relationships. Images of products, her homes, and her family are interspersed, presenting a clear picture of a live well- and thoroughly-lived. With retirement still far off, she remains humble about who she is and how she got there.
Some of Peacock Alley's new introductions for fall (below).
Uncommon Threads is available through Peacock Alley's website.
images via peacock alley
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© 2014 | mrkt