The Elegance of Refusal


“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common – this is my symphony.” — William Ellery Channing, 1906

I love this quote and feel that Dr. Channing’s idea is as relevant now as it was a hundred years ago. Elegance is, as Coco Chanel says, “refusal”. It is the act of saying no, of pulling back. And whether we are talking fashion or we are talking about how to carry oneself, it is all the same. Elegance is a natural state that all of us often forget as we try to fill our insatiable need for things to define ourselves.

In the design process, I often find myself guilty of “gilding the lily” and adding design details that become superfluous. My aim these days is to simplify the process and in doing so, maintain an elegance (and integrity) of design. This is not as easy as it sounds when many search for over-designed, over-logo driven items with which to adorn their image. Simple, elegant design is still as expensive, if not more, than something that has “bells and whistles” and yet many customers will balk at a higher price for a simple elegant piece. But thankfully not everyone equates high price with overly decorated fashion.

Recently, I met a customer who was shopping for his wedding day. The wedding was to take place in Malibu on the beach and he wanted to be elegant and understated. He ended up buying a very simple white linen vest and matching pair of shorts, to wear with a green oxford shirt and paisley tie. I was thrilled that he chose such a great look for his wedding day and was honored to be a part of his quest for an elegant but very stylish look. The fact that he chose a wedding ensemble that didn’t include a jacket was his own statement in the elegant act of “refusal”, refusal to go for the status quo, refusal to not let his special day go by in a rented, impersonal tux.

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