- What pushed you to open your first store 45 years ago? What is the story behind it all?
I think it was a moment in time where opening a store, creating your own vision, making an environment that was personal was ripe. Carnaby Street in London, Soho in New York, and Crescent Street in Montreal were coming alive with boutiques. It was a new word, a new concept and it was happening in cities, people were ready for it – it was exciting. I had just traveled to the east- on a cheap ticket to Amsterdam, by land through Europe and Turkey and Iran to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the stark beauty of the country, contrasted with the exotic and colorful attire of the nomadic women. Carpets, carpet bags, Koochi dresses with heavily embroidered bodices and bell sleeves attracted me, entranced me, seduced me. They made me a retailer- a buyer! I wanted to share them with others. I thought they were amazing, and immediately felt the collector’s urge to touch, understand and possess. This really started a love and appreciation of textiles that is at the core of our business. Those beautiful pieces we bought and brought home to an upstairs shop on Montreal’s Greene Avenue. It was modest, and it took time to find customers, and for them to find us- but in the meantime we learned the art of retail, the respect for and of a customer, and how to creatively introduce new ideas and product continually. How to create an environment.
- Who and what inspire you when coming up with new design ideas?
Well in terms of practical ideas, finding vintage fabrics from 18th century prints, to old embroideries, a beautifully detailed collar, a well gathered flounce on a 100 year old dress, can all be rendered new in a garment that is wearable today.
In terms of colors, we have palettes that are truly signature that are woven throughout our history, always accenting to the new to add freshness. There is always a home for periwinkle, and it wouldn’t be fall without an olive and rose palette.
In color we are always influenced by seasons and by nature.
I work closely with my daughter in law and she loves historical period style. We travel, [normally] collecting influences from the capitals in Europe, from India – our second home, to the tropics. All of the special aspects of those places, and of how people live in those places influence our collections. We are always watching people and how they live. Jumpsuits in floral prints with shell buttons can be a casual way of being pretty today.
- I believe April Cornell is a family business. Can you tell us more about that? What the ups and downs are and what makes it all work?
I have three sons and two daughters-in-law who work in or with the company. One son describes the business as being like a sister to them, when they were growing up. So they have been surrounded by this world of fashion and retail and shows and travel their entire lives. Lee has his own line ‘One World Brothers’ men’s wear, Cameron and his wife Camille run our shop in Asheville, North Carolina as well and Camille designs the ladieswear with me for the past 20 years. Cameron writes excellent copy for our website as well as helping guide our stores.Kelly works in our Vermont office and manages our online business and marketing. Jessica, Lee’s wife is our buyer and in charge of our photo shoots.They all travel to our business in India frequently.
The challenges? Maybe that is something they could speak to. For me it’s a blessing.
- How has fashion changed since you first opened your store in 1975?
Sometimes I think it has come full circle!
- How do you keep up with trends while staying true to the brand and keeping it original?
We have always tried to be ourselves. A bit vintage, a bit bohemian, a bit natural, threaded with an arty touch. Sometimes one trend is stronger than another, but our understanding of who we are is pretty strong, so we can usually find our version of a current trend.
- What is the key to the longevity of the brand? What makes April Cornell special?
I think of our customers as artists, essentially. They know they have a choice of how they present themselves, and they choose to look beautiful. They paint their own story, with their lives, their clothes, their homes. And our clothes are comfortable, pretty and still practical. They have pockets, they last a long time, they are easy to wear. I think our pricing has always been fair. Something special, but attainable.
- What is the most important thing to you when it comes to fashion?
Beauty. A piece should be essentially beautiful and make the wearer feel wonderful. Her clothes should make her feel like herself.
- Do you have a favorite piece of clothing in the fall collection?
Hmm. Just one? I love the Posie Prairie dress in a vintage copper color, it has embroidered trails of posies, gathered pockets and hand crochet at the neckline. Paired with the Fair Briar Cardigan – which is a completely charming retro sweater in a dark espresso brown and some leather boots.
Thank you, April. That was so interesting! I believe that knowing and understanding a brand allows one to wear it even better. I hope you guys all feel inspired. I will leave you with a quote from their website:
“For over 40 years April’s signature designs have set the stage for countless memories – from holidays with the grandkids to dinners amongst family and friends – we are all truly honored to be woven into the fabric of so many wonderful peoples lives.”
April Cornell Canada website: aprilcornell.ca