I have a clear memory of walking through Dillard’s with my mom and looking at the designer handbags. I was in six or seventh grade and as we made our way into the mall, we would stop at each counter to check out the latest styles. Coach and DKNY were my favorite, they were brands all my friends were wearing, but my mom, quite the classy and stubborn woman that she was, always skirted towards Dooney and Bourke’s counter.
“Look at that wallet,” she said, her index finger pressed on the glass, “that’s the one I like.”
“Ewwww, moooommm!” The wallet was hideous. It had a duck on it. Moms were so uncool back then and so was Dooney and Bourke.
Then, about a year ago, the ducks started appearing again. It was sporadic but at work, on South Street, or while waiting in line for coffee, a woman would be wearing a Dooney and Bourke purse around her shoulder or wallet in her hand, vintage or new. I like to think that my eye and my taste level has matured since the seventh grade and I when I saw a woman wearing D&B, I didn’t mind the them. Actually, they were kind of classy, in a Ralph Lauren, Connecticut kind of way. Their resurgence came at a time when I started to shift my wardrobe away from trendy pieces and towards timeless looks (this is still an ongoing thing). Dooney & Bourke would be a fitting addition to this new closet of mine.
Dooney and Bourke is a brand that is and was neither this or that. It started in 1975 by Peter Dooney and Frederic Bourke in South Norwalk, Connecticut and initially sold two things – surcingle belts and classic suspenders. In 1981, D&B branched out into the handbag business and launched the Tack Case and Equestrian Bag, both made from bridle leather. Then, in 1983, the AWL (All Weather Leather) collection was released and it was at this time that the duck logo, which featured a duck whose head faces the right and body faces the left (weird?), was introduced. All weather leather was what Dooney and Bourke was known for. By shrinking the size of the pores during the tanning process, the leather was 100% waterproof and shed water off of it like it does off of a duck’s back. Functionally, it was a great bag – it stood up to wear and tear very well and it was easy to care for (just wiping the purse with a damp cloth would keep it clean and more difficult stains could be removed with water and a mild soap such as Ivory). Because of its performance and good looks, D&B should have taken off but it didn’t. It was popular but no superstar and I think I know why.
What bothered me about the brand was that it wasn’t low grade enough that I could call it crap (like a Nine West handbags) but it wasn’t high end enough that I could desire it (like a Botkier handbag). It was in the middle. Just okay. I don’t know if your closet is or was like this but mine used to be – it was full of either cheap clothes and accessories from Forever 21 or expensive garments, shoes, and handbags from Neiman Marcus. There was no middle of the road. I either bought $20 or $200 products. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that ordinary clothes made well and paired correctly look extraordinary (J. Crew). I also started to realize that it was the ordinary things, people, and events that I loved the most and continued to love. I don’t look up to the Tiger Wood’s or the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s of this world because they’re usually not what they are cracked up to be. In most cases, it’s just a mirage. I don’t like overloading weekends with things to do. I like putzing around Philadelphia during the day, running a few errands and then hanging out at night. I like the mundane.
My tastes have changed and so has my attitudes towards Dooney and Bourke. They’re nothing special and they certainly don’t sparkle but shining in this world doesn’t always require glitter. Just like my Ray-Bans, Gap Jeans, or statement necklaces, they’re extraordinary because they’re ordinary.
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