Embracing The Eclectic

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Embracing The Eclectic


Susan "Suze" English stands in front of Couture Revival, her consignment shop on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

Susan "Suze" English stands in front of Couture Revival, her consignment shop on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

Susan "Suze" English stands in front of Couture Revival, her consignment shop on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

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Bark Bark Bark Bark

The same quiet, friendly dog that was introduced to me the moment I walked into Couture Revival was now barking relentlessly at a woman standing outside the front door. Suze English, the consignment shop owner, rushes up to silence the dog and to see what had caused the unrest. Shaking and scrambling, the woman noticed an apologetic Suze approaching and blurted, “I’m scared! I’ll just go…” eventually trailing off as she headed to the shop next door.

The first thing you see when you walk into Couture Revival is a display with many of Suze’s most interesting items.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” shouted Suze after her. Returning to where I was seated in the back of the store, “Okay, that was that first time,” she explained, “There’s a first time for everything, right?” Admittedly, it was difficult to suppress a small laugh after what I had just witnessed. Assuming the interruption would be a one-time thing, we carried on as if nothing ever happened.

Before the interruption, she was in the middle of telling me what inspired her to open up her own consignment shop almost eight years ago: “I’ve always been interested in alternative dressing, not just the norm, not just following trends.” This was evident by what she sported that Saturday. Suze wore a knee-length dress with what appeared to be pictures of fans all over it. Yes, those fans. The fans we plug in and use to cool down on a hot summer’s day, slightly ironic considering it was one of San Rafael’s cloudiest days of the season. Over it, she wore a black fuzzy cardigan as well as a chunky, beaded necklace and sparkly earrings to match.

Bark Bark Bark Bark

“Isn’t that cool? That’s a great skirt, that’s Escada. All suede with fringes.”

Having studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and gotten experience doing displays for Macy’s and the Emporium, Suze shows expertise when it comes to dressing to impress. However, the reason the Brooklyn native decided to move to California has nothing to do with what you would expect. She tells me her first job here, “was with a shipping company and, because I speak Italian, it was an Italian-run shipping company.”

From right behind me, I heard a voice go, “Parli Italiano?” It was a customer, obviously eavesdropping on our conversation.

“Si, un pochissimo,” affirmed Suze, “Hai studiato in Italia?”

“You’re saying…?” the woman, quickly realizing she couldn’t keep up, hesitated to continue the conversation.

Suze insisted, “You studied in Italy?”

One of Suze’s favorite items in the store is a beige Etro Milano blazer.

The woman goes on to explain that she has not studied in Italy and is only beginning to learn the language on Duolingo, a free language-learning platform, online. Amused by the conversation, and remembering my own experience attempting to learn Italian on the same website, I watched as the customer expressed her frustration at having no one around her to practice the language with.

Feeling empathetic for the woman, Suze offered some advice, “You know what? Go to the Italian film festivals. They have them once a year, usually between September, October, November, here and in San Francisco.”

To Suze, close relationships with her customers and exchanges like these are essential: “That’s what the foundation of the business is.”

Suze really appreciates when she meets customers who are just as upfront as she is. She referred to a woman who she had spoken to earlier during my time at her store, “I know what’s gonna be put out soon, it’s just too cold. But, I have a lot in her size of a certain designer. She knows the designer and she knows what size she probably will be taking.” She believes her and this customer are: “a match made in heaven.”

When clients come in it’s like “welcoming them to [her] home.” She continues, “‘Hi how are you doing? What have you done this week? What’s new?’ Saturday’s like old-home week. Everybody comes by.”

Bark Bark Bark Bark

No outfit is complete without jewelry, which is displayed next to the check-out counter for any last-minute grabs.

While Suze was living in Boston after finishing school, she got an opportunity to move to Rome and ended up living there for eight years. Across the pond, “Europeans are trendy,” she says, “a lot of the people rock the style that they decide they want to wear.” Suze no longer lives in Europe, but she’s been able to incorporate tips she picked up into the fashion advice she offers other people: “Can’t change the face, don’t change the hairstyle much, but if you can add something to that, a pin, jewelry, a funky sweater with texture, a jacket, I say try to go for that.” She looks down at the worn-out Converse on my feet and says, “Even if it’s just your tracksuit, you got great red sneakers on. Why not?” She takes a look at the frizzy hair around my face that has slipped out of my ponytail. Before I could get too self-conscious, she adds, “You’ve got fun hair, let it out!”

The shop contains many unexpected, unique items of clothing including this fleece bolero with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Bark Bark Bark Bark

We are once again interrupted by a loud dog bark. In a weird turn of events, I discover the bark is not coming from her dog. In fact, it’s coming from her phone. Her dog, not a fan of other dogs, also begins to bark. The competing sounds quickly overpower my voice as she gets up once again to answer a call from her son. Attempting to cope with the sensory overload, I decided to shift my focus to the soft sound of Fleetwood Mac and Elton John coming from the store’s overhead speakers while she’s away.

There is no doubt Suze English is determined and has a lot of self-assurance. From her unapologetic approach to fashion to the boldness of her barking ringtone, not just anyone could pull off eclectic like she can. Perhaps this is why we were always able to pick up the conversation right where we left off, no matter what interruptions or unexpected interactions came our way. Amid the chaos of a busy Saturday morning, Suze knows how to take control over her surroundings, multi-tasking in a way only the rest of us wish we knew how.   

“That’s fun too, it’s almost ragged. It’s a great amethyst color. And the texture, I think that’s really fun.”

By the time Suze returns and we resume our conversation, she confirms my assumptions. She reminds me that one doesn’t necessarily need to own the latest designer clothes or wear crazy colors to stand out: “I think you just have to exhibit the confidence and I think that’s what I depend on here.” This confidence has proven to be an effective way to keep her group of loyal customers and friends coming back for more.

Couture Revival prides itself on having one-of-a-kind pieces, but the consignment shop would not be nearly as successful without its one-of-a-kind owner.