A Life Spent with Colors: Interview with Ria Schulten
"A good haircut, quality shoes, and a handbag; that's what you need to look stylish. And a good coat. Always wool, a light one.” Ria Schulten
Every month I will introduce a previously unknown face on my pages, someone whom I admire and look up to as a style icon. And this, the first article in my series of interviews, will feature Ria Schulten.
Ria was born in the Netherlands and comes from a business family that goes back two hundred years. Very early, Ria realized that to be successful in the business world you must look good and stylish. With her husband, she owned a clothing company which produced high-quality children's clothing that was sold to other reputable companies in the fashion industry.
I remember meeting Ria the first time. It was seven years ago; she was 76 and looked like a shining gemstone in the crowd. She was wearing a white cotton pencil skirt with a printed top and a pair of white and silver patent leather modern oxford shoes with a little platform. Her hairstyle looked particularly European among the American women around her: crisp and freshly cut short with blond, golden and beige highlights. She was wearing bright red lipstick and a Mona Lisa smile on her face.
ANNA HAEVEN: Good morning, Ria. Would you like to introduce yourself and talk about your life, and the role of color in it? RIA SCHULTEN: We were working with children’s and baby clothes. We were based in Holland and designed our items there, although the things were made in Italy, France, and Belgium. I was always working with the best quality. We were exceptionally strong in pullovers, pullovers with stripes. Early in my career, I met children who were not well-fed. They were pale, and their eyes looked shiny. I was touched by them, and learned that I could balance that look by merely playing around with colors. It's always good to know what can be done with colors. So, starting with some color advice: those with good eyes will immediately see what colors can do for people. Unfortunately, most people are blind to that.
AH: Ria, what is your style advice to those who wish to look stylish? RS: Buy a good trench coat. When you are young, you can get along with a down coat, but as you get older, you need to invest in a beautiful, quality coat.
AH: But not everyone has money to do that. After all, who doesn't want to own a Burberry trench?! RS: Right, money is not everything. Fashion is for upper-middle class people. Money is an item. What is more important is to have a vision of your style, and then build your wardrobe piece by piece. You need to start at the beginning. One year, quality shoes: a year later, a perfect handbag. Then, a luxury coat. Dresses can always be bought at a second-hand store. I often see that people buy many clothes, but then don't know how to combine the pieces. If you are on a tight budget, all you need is two dresses, even pre-owned but higher quality; they will serve you for five to six years. For the rest, two or three outfits of simple things. You can then mix and match them. Remember, with good quality you are always well-dressed. Good shape is still classic. Try to get a cute scarf as well, in addition to what you already have. As for the shoes, two pairs: a black pair (can be heels or flat, you decide) and a more casual pair of color. High heels are very helpful for the evening, but they are designed to attract men's attention, so be careful about wearing them all the time. (A big smile). A man always looks at a woman from her shoes up. As for my choice, I always had a black pair and blue one. And a handbag. You can spot a high-quality bag from a distance. And a wool coat, not those heavy kinds, but a high-end light wool coat. You see, in the fashion industry where I was involved, you automatically see well-dressed people.
AH: Is this enough, dressing-up to be stylish? RS: No, in the world of fashion they look first at how you speak and how you dress. After that, they look at your manners.
AH: How do you give advice to others? RS: Always remember that women are very sensitive. You need to be careful. It's not always intelligent to throw your opinion about style on other people because we are not always in our highest parts to receive advice. The most important thing is to give reassurance, and to gain self-assurance. Try to be happy; even if you have only one proper dress, try to recall the feeling you felt in it the first time. Try to remember that special feeling. Or try to remember how you felt when a man opened the door for you. The accumulation of these little moments build your self-esteem.
AH: Let's talk about makeup. What is your relationship to that? RS: First of all, I want to clarify that by makeup I mean how you maintain your skin, your face. Although most men have no clue about it, it's not only for women. I remember my husband. We lived at the beach in Holland, and he had very sensitive skin, and I was so mad at him because he refused to do anything about it. Finally, I gave him a very nice product that I was using. He tried it once, and his face cleared in a very short time. Then he did not mind using it later. For women, it's better to save money and wait until you can get a more delicate product. With a good quality product, you need to use less. It's the same with lipstick. A good lipstick lasts longer; a cheaper one is gone very quickly. It's straightforward. To cost cheap, they need to make it from cheap ingredients. That's why quality requires more. There is a difference in the main components, material.
AH: It seems like you have a definite idea of what quality means to you. Can you explain it to us? RS: Everything starts with quality. People need to understand why certain things cost more. Quality is the same in all areas in life. We just need to see the connection. Why are some apples better than others? The same water, the same soil, but then what's the difference? Seeing quality is like tasting. It's a particular feeling. Maybe it's in the genes–in your background, in the connection with your roots. In France and Spain, you can still see this. Educating our children about quality is very important. I remember a time in the 60's when I was at the beach in Holland with my husband, and I saw a child running in one of our pullovers. And that was ten years after we gave up our business! Because quality stays. People don't see this anymore. They need to be taught basic quality lessons. And we need early education about quality; otherwise, it doesn't work. Quality sometimes means wearing a designer piece, but brands are always subject to time; they change. When I talk about designers, I talk about old-fashion factories. My sister was making stockings for our business in the same factory where Dior was making their products. A brand is not always a guarantee though. Price is a more reliable hint about quality. People always tell me how much they like my shoes (AH: I do too!), but when I tell them how much they cost, they are shocked. But I have had that pair for five years now! It's the same with your face cream. It's the same with everything. With higher quality items you pay for the time that was spent producing them. You cannot sell something which was produced in a limited quantity of a hundred for the same price as something that was made ten thousand at a time.
AH: You moved to California and now live in the Sierra Foothills. How did you work with this cultural shock? RS: Coming to California was a big shock indeed, but also a good learning process. For instance with jeans. Jeans are much more refined in Europe. I meet with many people here – and not everyone has the same relation to taste and quality as I do – but I learned to be patient with people. I am learning to listen to my emotions even more and to follow that inner voice which has led me through my entire life. To let this ultimate quality calling guide me with everything, with people around me.
AH: Thank you, dear Ria. I am confident that you are succeeding in that.