The faster life moves, the more I crave connections to the past — something with roots to ground me as today’s way of life whips me between shiny objects. To me, when things are designed with timeless style it helps provide that connection. I don’t care for trends that come and go, creating piles of low-quality, discarded possessions in their wake because we’re sick of them.
Timeless design is something to be counted because it endures through the years, comforting us with stability and permanence.
I haven’t always felt this way, or at least I haven’t always understood that I felt this way. Growing up, I’d decorate my room all kinds of different ways, and my personal style was based on magazine trends translated into mall trends. I guess this is just a way of exploring what I liked and didn’t like. But it resulted in many, many never-worn mall purchases that eventually ended up in the Goodwill pile.
Several years ago, I read the book I Love Your Style: How to Define and Refine Your Personal Style by Amanda Brooks. It was a revelation. It hadn’t occurred to me before that I could choose a style and stick with it, despite the fashion trends changing every season. That transience is so embedded in our culture that I never questioned it. Until I did. And then I started noticing how we cycle through trends constantly. Since the United States is a relatively young country, that’s just part of our progression as a society. We’re all doing what I did as a kid — exploring what we like and rotating in new styles all the time. (And the rise of Pinterest only contributes to this behavior.)
Brooks’ book is split into six basic style approaches and after reading the sections I identified most with Classic style. But I definitely saw how I had dabbled in the other styles throughout the years. There was my “Sex and the City I want a Fendi bag High Fashion” phase, my “college art department move to a ceramics colony blue corduroy overalls Bohemian” phase. And my experimentation usually left me slightly unsure whether it really worked for me. Once I understood that my style preference is Classic, I was able to enthusiastically clear out my closet and introduce a few key basics that have lasted (and will continue to last) for years, providing me with more ease and confidence. From basic black pants to ballet slippers to my beloved trench coat, I know I can count on these timeless designs to meet my daily clothing needs.
To me, classic and timeless are virtually interchangeable as terms. I define timeless design as something with long term relevance, created mindfully and with integrity of materials.
Timeless design is:
- thoughtful and nuanced rather than exciting, typically with minimal ornament
- a building block that is restrained, not loud or attention-grabbing, leaving room for the “you-ness” that your life will add to the design when your own experiences and personal style are layered on
- integrity of materials, such as using natural fibers like wool and cotton, gold and silver, wood, and other high-quality, long-lasting materials
- not stuck in a particular year or trend
- balanced, perhaps symmetrical, with a rhythm or consistent pattern
So why do these qualities appeal to me? Together they result in a thing that we want to keep around for a long time, want to keep in our lives for many years. When we can depend on something for that long, it nestles into our lives and makes us feel comforted and connected. By using something for many years, it becomes part of our rituals, tradition, and heritage — which helps us enjoy experiences more. Because it’s high quality, we’re actually able to depend on it for a long time. And because the design isn’t trendy, we won’t tire of it quickly, resulting in less waste.
Timeless design shows up in all kinds of places, and one that I find particularly delightful and inspiring is the work of Wes Anderson. When watching his films, you can see yourself in them no matter when you were born. They don’t feel of-the-moment, but rather of some unspecified era when people connected to each other in person not on smartphones or social media. They’re richly layered with wardrobes (the charming clothes in Moonrise Kingdom!), props (that luggage in The Darjeeling Limited!), and sets (that house in The Royal Tenenbaums!) that suggest they’ve been in the lives of the characters for…forever. He also appears to share my nostalgic tendencies.
My goal with the things I design and make is to create something that gets used, is loved, and just fits into people’s lives. It’s not to be provocative, flashy, or cutting-edge. As I learned in college, sometimes blue corduroy overalls (and burgundy hair coloring) have their moment, but eventually you want something that sticks.