Turning Heads for 30 Years and Counting
We opened our doors in 1989, which we’d argue was a rather forgettable time in women’s fashion. It was dominated by baggy clothes, involved patterns, an appropriation of the men’s sport coat and very bad hair.
Somewhere along the way, elegance gave way to, well, silliness. Our mission was to reintroduce the timeless European look and a simpler style. Our vision was a place where women who knew enough to know what “classic’ meant had a place to find it. And for 30 years, they have.
Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning. Some of their kids now come to us, which is great fun, especially if they used to come in with their moms when they were youngsters.
And for 30 years, Dorothea’s been the one constant. Her vision for fashion is what’s kept our doors open and our fabulous brands returning.
We sat down with Dorothea for a look back and a look ahead.
Petra’s Closet (PC)
First of all, happy anniversary. Three decades is quite an accomplishment, especially given the ebbs and flows of the fashion business. To what do you attribute your success and longevity?
Dorothea Merritt (DM):
Being in the “luxury goods” category of fashion has sheltered us from the volatility in mid and fast fashion categories. No matter what’s going on around us, there will always be people who know what quality is. And Yorkville is where they come to find it, so we couldn’t have picked a better spot.
Who were your early influences?
Well, my father was traditional and the headmaster of a large boarding school. I learned a lot of common sense from him, although I didn’t realize it at the time. He was very good at communicating (I hope I got some of his communications skills). I definitely inherited his ability to remember names, and that’s a real asset in retail.
Another early influence was , which is where I got my first job in the industry and was exposed to everything from fabric quality to design to production to retail. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of today’s Jil Sander minimalist look. But at that time, Jil Sander was about simple unadorned garments made of high-quality material, exquisitely tailored and crafted. Some of that still exists. For example, I love this cashmere blend sweater from our Naples Collection.
And what’s your secret for keeping pace for 30 years?
Well, as my husband reminds me: building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself. I make a lot of time for me. When I go on buying trips, I make sure to hit a park or a river bank for a stroll. I try new restaurants. I see things. If time permits, I’ll go horseback riding. It’s very relaxing. I’m proud of my work/life balance.
What else are you proud of?
I’m proud of our perseverance. We’ve made mistakes (too many to count), but we stuck to the vision. I’m proud of our character. We’re honest. We’re fair. And we’re not afraid to tell a customer that something’s not right for them. It’s not about the sale here. It’s about the way our customers feel. And I’m very proud of how well-liked we are by our customers. I love meeting them and working with them and finding the right looks for them, their lives and their budgets.
Speaking of your clothes, what’s exciting you these days?
Italy is really on my radar right now. They’re hitting winner after winner.
This new cashmere knitwear collection from Naples is a great example. It’s gorgeous fabric. We’re visiting with the designer team and the production people again in January 2020.
And Italian jewellery is exciting me too. Our supplier is a two-man team out of Milan and they’re really surprising us. We’ll see them in January too.
That’s good timing, given that Eataly is opening up shortly in the Manulife Centre where you are.
Yes! And we had new pop art commissioned for the store for the occasion. I can’t wait to see it.
Do you see yourself retiring any time soon?
This is what I like to do with my life. My husband and I never say we’re looking forward to a nice weekend. Our weekends are no different from the rest of the week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m blessed that every day is great.
Any tips for those young fashionistas?
This is a creative business so don’t separate work and play. If you do it right, work is play. It’s supposed to be fun. Great ideas come from a place of positivity.
Also, manners matter. We thank our customers for coming to the store and we say, “We look forward to seeing you again.” We want them to feel comfortable to “drop by.” When we hire someone I like to say, “You’re hired, but just so you know we say please and thank you, we open doors for people and we don’t gossip.”
Perfect place to stop. Congratulations again. And thank you. : )
No, thank you. : )
Some highlights from Petra Karthaus on Instagram