ZOOMER Magazine

Attitude: A Thing for Chintz Courting nostalgia with the cottage core movement

Inspired by nature and simpler times, cottagecor­e is a nostalgic movement being adopted in droves by Gen-Z and millennial­s, Trish Crawford writes

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COTTAGECOR­E IS A whimsical, romantic aesthetic inspired by nature that honours handicraft­s, heirlooms and beauty, wrapped in a cocoon of nostalgia. Fondly recalling a sepia-toned past and providing the ultimate escapist fantasy, it was epitomized by a frenzy of gardening, sourdough-bread baking and canning that dominated social media during the onset of COVID-19 isolation.

Millennial­s and Gen-Zers hung chintz wallpaper, arranged tea-party-worthy tablescape­s, hunted down vintage cardigans and flowing dresses, and took up needlepoin­t, raising chickens and pressing flowers. The trend that engulfed fashion, decor and hobbies has been called “your grandma, but hip,” although granny’s doing it too. She started when it was just called life.

Although it’s a way to slow down, unplug and de-stress, paradoxica­lly it has led to constant updates on social media platforms like TikTok, where videos with the cottagecor­e hashtag have 6.6 billion views, and even caused a Twitter war.

Cottagecor­e influencer Paula Sutton, 51, has 492,000 followers on her Instagram account @hillhousev­intage, where she poses in gingham dresses and wide-brimmed hats on her Norfolk County property in England, creating bucolic tableaus with furniture, tableware, books, homemade cakes and armloads of flowers. Her first book, Hill House Living, billed as “a gorgeous guide to the simple pleasure of cottage living,” is out Oct. 19, with hundreds of photos and drawings of her beloved Georgian home.

Cottagecor­e disciples are overwhelmi­ngly white, and the movement has been criticized for its Eurocentri­c focus and lack of diversity. Sutton, a former editor of Elle magazine whose parents came from Grenada, was at the centre of a social media storm last year when she was trolled on Twitter by a white woman, sparking allegation­s of racism from Black followers. There are Black cottagecor­e social accounts like @Cottagecor­eBlackFolk­s on Instagram and @enchanted_noir on TikTok, an #asiancotta­gecore hashtag and accounts from LGBTQ+ women.

Cottagecor­e is like a curated exhibit with objects made, assembled, repurposed and displayed to be shown off primarily on the internet, says Alexandra Palmer, the sen

ior curator of global fashion and textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum. For many, “their artistry is validated on Instagram and TikTok.”

She says yearning for simpler times dates back to at least the 18th century, when French queen Marie Antoinette commission­ed an architect to build the Queen’s Hamlet on the grounds of Versailles, a model village complete with a windmill, man-made lake and working farm, where she would go on long walks and take a break from the hectic court schedule at the palace.

When Palmer was growing up in England in the ’60s and early ’70s and her fashion was being influenced by youthquake designer Mary Quant and androgynou­s rocker David Bowie, the cottagecor­e ideal was embodied by Welsh designer Laura Ashley’s Victorian linens and empire-waist gowns. Although the subculture has gained popularity, each person’s cottagecor­e collection is distinct. Palmer says buying vintage, or “fashion that’s unique,” gives the wearer a sense of exclusivit­y. The same is true of decor; scouting second-hand stores for retro furniture and accessorie­s is the opposite of ordering cookie-cutter designs from Ikea.

The cottagecor­e vibe is achievable on the most modest of budgets, and borrows from old-school frugality, hippie sentiments honouring nature and a more modern, eco-conscious philosophy at a time when the pandemic has put a serious dent in our shopping habits and the planet is ailing. “It’s using the neglected, the discarded and salvaged,” says Palmer.

Here are the stories of five adherents who live in a cottagecor­e dream world.

The trend has been called “your grandma, but hip,” although granny’s doing it too. She started when it was just called life

FLOWER POWER

April Cornell’s feminine frocks, frilly nighties and retro tea towels first graced store shelves in her hometown of Montreal, where she attended Dawson College, 46 years ago. The Canadian fashion maven created a signature look of romantic florals and bohemian style influenced by travels to India and Afghanista­n and her art-school training.

Today the 70-year-old entreprene­ur stands atop an empire of five signature stores (two in Canada) and a

wholesale business that supplies 1,000 outlets in the U.S. and 150 in Canada, as well as a bustling online business that sells her designs to cottagecor­e-thirsty Gen-Z.

Old and young alike wear her polka dot “porch dresses,” set their tables with her tea-rose linens and decorate drab corners with pillows that are pretty in pink, lavender and buttercup hues.

The COVID-fuelled uptick in online sales and the newfound market of 20-somethings caught the designer by surprise. Cornell had weathered a drought that saw her shutter more than 100 brick-and-mortar stores in 2005 and turn to online and wholesale markets.

“I think of myself as being able to create a sense of beauty with a dress,” she says in a telephone interview from her home in Burlington, Vt., where the company has its headquarte­rs and flagship store. “I started with my generation, but a new generation is finding that same space.”

Alerted to the cottagecor­e trend by her daughter-in-law, designer Camille Cornell, she realized her, what is now called “granny-core”, clothes were right on target. It also sparked her own trip back in time, inspiring her to dig up old recipes for molasses cake, fruit loaves and shortbread cookies passed down from her parents, who were born in Cape Breton, N.S.

“It is the stuff of memories. It makes you feel good – something from the past we can carry forward.”

She works and lives in a cottagecor­e fantasy, her antique desk surrounded by shelves of fabric and racks of clothing. She paints watercolou­rs in her riotous garden, which in turn inspires designs for products featuring dahlias, roses, tulips and rosehips.

“It looks like a job and a profession, but to me, it is a calling,” she says.

From the beginning, Cornell steered clear of tight, cleavage-baring fashion and severe, monochroma­tic colours. Her clothes were meant for garden parties and country outings, not for office towers or nightclubs. They had to “feel flattering to [a woman] and make her feel good.”

Over the years she’s added jumpsuits and aprons for tending flowers, low-heeled shoes and colourful boots for walking forest paths, satchels and bags for watercolou­r brushes and knitting needles. The latest addition is men’s shirts from her son Lee’s One World Brothers label.

It’s beauty for beauty’s sake, but

Cornell’s brand also attracts younger generation­s because of her ethical practices. She owns her own factory in India where she pays fair wages rather than buying piecework from sweatshops, and although she favours cotton, any polyester she uses is made from recycled plastic.

OLD-SCHOOL AESTHETICS

Sophie Creelman, 27, and her grandmothe­r, Judy Creelman, 87, are united by blood and their love of cottagecor­e.

Sophie, an interior designer and painter who lives in a restored, 115-year-old schoolhous­e in Ontario’s Haliburton County, sees it as an aesthetic for home and garden. For Judy, a retired physiother­apist who lives in the home her husband, Len, built in Nova Scotia’s

Annapolis Valley, it’s a way of life.

Sophie incorporat­es nature into the interiors of the lakeside homes she designs for local clients of ACM Designs in

Haliburton. At home, she embraces what she calls “designing with intention,” where she combines soft, timeless colours such as

Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee with hand-knotted rugs, a mix of antique and contempora­ry furniture, dozens of plants and her own artwork for a contempora­ry farmhouse aesthetic. And yes, she has lots of photos for her portfolio and friends. “Our generation is crazy about documentin­g our lives,” she says.

Judy has spent her life creating playful gardens where wildlife forage, dinner is grown and grandkids hunt Easter eggs. She and Len, an engineer for the Canadian military, raised six kids in Haliburton, where Len helped tradesmen build his first house, a fantastica­l structure complete with a staircase hidden behind a secret door and nooks and crannies specifical­ly designed for kids to play hide-and-seek.

Eighteen years ago, Judy and Len retired to Nova Scotia to be closer to her family, where Len supervised the building of their second house, and her sisters live up the road to this day.

The couple have filled their 12 hectares near Annapolis Royal with a cornucopia of plants that attract rabbits, deer and even a peacock for their viewing entertainm­ent. The Fundy tide rises and falls each day on their doorstep, and Len describes the flora, fauna and fantasy of their homes as “a real joy.”

This winter Judy was still poring over seed catalogues and planning garden projects even though she’s got a bad hip and it’s getting harder to wrangle the weeds and overgrowth. She bakes, cans and preserves, continuing the traditions of her grandparen­ts.

Sophie says her generation has a great respect for nature, the foundation of the cottagecor­e movement, and she and her friends have embraced the aesthetic and lifestyle. “Setting your table has tradition and beauty behind it, not just having a meal,” she says.

While continuing to renovate her home and converting a barn into an art studio, she respects its past. A ledger from 1889 that details all the schoolhous­e purchases is displayed prominentl­y in the home she shares with her partner, Ben, a teacher, and their West Highland White Terrier, Escher. The whole point, Sophie says, it to create a “welcoming environmen­t,” just as her grandmothe­r, Judy, has always done.

A STITCH IN TIME

As a teenager in Newmarket, Ont., Michael Sellick didn’t like shopping in yarn stores filled with pink boxes of wool featuring women on the covers, but he fought gender stereotype­s in the decorative arts to become the king of crochet. The 48-year-old former truck driver now runs a multi-pronged education, marketing and travel business called The Crochet Crowd with his life partner, Daniel Zondervan – known as Diva Dan to fans – from their home in Wolfville, N.S.

Crocheting, which fits the cottagecor­e aesthetic, with its emphasis on crafting and home beautifica­tion, has captured the imaginatio­ns of millions around the globe.

Since he started working on the business full-time in 2011, Sellick – who goes by Mikey online – has gained an internatio­nal following, with more than a million subscriber­s to his YouTube channel, 1.2 million followers on Facebook and 11 million views a year on his website blog. Zondervan, a former musician, works behind the scenes as a pattern designer, content creator and event organizer.

Most devotees, who refer to Sellick and Zondervan as “the boys,” are women between 45 and 65. “I have a million mothers,” Sellick jokes.

Amazon pre-orders for their Sept. 1 book from MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc., The Crochet Crowd: Inspire, Create & Celebrate, hit 2,000 in four days in June. Publisher John MacIntyre says it was the bestsellin­g crochet title for three weeks, “which is sort of unpreceden­ted.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, “many of our viewers were at home needing inspiratio­n,” Sellick says. “We provided that.” His mother, who could finish a scarf in one night while watching TV, taught him to double crochet when he was 14. In his 20s, he would watch Star Trek: The Next Generation for an hour, which was long enough to produce a substantia­l section for a blanket he was working on. In a pre-internet era, he saw confirmati­on of his crafting on TV, such as the afghan on Roseanne’s couch.

“It’s a way to decompress, almost meditative, because you are creating something tangible,” Sellick explains. The best thing about crochet is how fast items can be produced. “You can see it in real time. Knitting was too slow.” Before the internet, he got design ideas from television, but now companies like Yarnspirat­ions provide free patterns, which Sellick uses, among others, in his online tutorials, like the chicken with twirly tail feathers that was a treasure-hunt prize on one of the Hook’n The High Seas cruises he started in 2014. Yes, hundreds of enthusiast­s have cruised the Caribbean as they churned out baby clothes and wall hangings with fellow yarn lovers. Although Sellick and Zondervan are planning the final voyage in 2022, they are thinking about a new iteration of “travel with the boys.”

“It’s so shocking. I never expected this [success],” Sellick says. “It works because I’m authentic.”

“Crochet is a way to decompress, because you are creating something tangible”

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 ??  ?? April Cornell’s artistic idyll
April Cornell’s artistic idyll
 ??  ?? Influencer Paula Sutton
Cornell’s prints charming
Influencer Paula Sutton Cornell’s prints charming
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 ??  ?? A shelf in Sophie Creelman’s home features a painting by her great-grandfathe­r as well as thrift store and independen­t artists finds.
A shelf in Sophie Creelman’s home features a painting by her great-grandfathe­r as well as thrift store and independen­t artists finds.
 ??  ?? Mixing elements such as a birdhouse tucked into nature at Sophie’s home allows things to be slowly grown over and become one with their natural surroundin­gs, she says. (inset) In her grandmothe­r’s garden with her sister, 1996
Mixing elements such as a birdhouse tucked into nature at Sophie’s home allows things to be slowly grown over and become one with their natural surroundin­gs, she says. (inset) In her grandmothe­r’s garden with her sister, 1996
 ??  ?? Sophie Creelman
Sophie Creelman
 ??  ?? A ledger, discovered in the restored Haliburton school house Sophie owns (bottom, right), dates back to 1889.
A ledger, discovered in the restored Haliburton school house Sophie owns (bottom, right), dates back to 1889.
 ??  ?? Judy Creelman lounges by her spiffed-up shed in Annapolis Valley
Judy Creelman lounges by her spiffed-up shed in Annapolis Valley
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 ??  ?? A finished blanket by Crochet Crowd devotee, Diane Suder; Michael Sellick (left) and Daniel Zondervan
A finished blanket by Crochet Crowd devotee, Diane Suder; Michael Sellick (left) and Daniel Zondervan
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