Editor’s note: Author G. Hamlin O’Kelley , III (a.k.a. “GHO”) interviewed his dear friend, Laura Vinroot Poole (“LTVP”) on stage at the 2015 Summit in Charleston. LTVP is the founder of House Account, and owner of the Charlotte fashion boutiques Tabor, Poole Shop and Capitol.
Last weekend, Capitol celebrated its 20th anniversary, the same weekend as The Mint Museum Gala. LTVP invited GHO and his wife, “MP”, to attend both. What follows is a hilarious play-by-play of a weekend spent with a dear old friend (and making new friends) immersed in fashion (and the fashionable). Congratulations to LTVP on 20 amazing years in business. Your entrepreneurial journey is as inspirational as it is fabulous.
For more of the fun (and a solid dose of FOMO) search #xxcapitol on Instagram.
The weekend of April 27, 2018. Such as this can only happen once with the perfect mix of people, place, weather, cuisine, beauty.
For me and my bride, it all began months and months before when our dear pal Laura Vinroot Poole sent out her edict to us via text message; “BTW, yall are SO coming to the Capitol 20anniversary weekend. Xoxo”
Back in 1998, our dear pal and her husband, our other dear pal, Perry Poole founded Capitol in a store front in Phillips Place in the Southpark area of Charlotte, North Carolina.
I was in Law School in Columbia, South Carolina, at the time. I had one of those old answering machines with a tape.
I got home from classes one day and heard a familiar voice on the machine saying, “Dude, call me.”
Now, having known Laura for eleven years at the time due to our attending both Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I considered her a damned good friend, who’s an even better friend today.
I immediately called her in Wilmington, NC, where she and Perry were living.
Verbatim transcript follows
GHO: Heeey…what’s up, tender? (No identification needed)
LTVP: Um….nothing… but guess what?
GHO: Um….what? [So and so who went to Chapel Hill with us but wasn’t very smart] just got the Nobel prize in Physics?”
Then quietly, with a sense of trepidation as though someone were seeking parental approval
Ham, Perry and I are moving to Charlotte…he’s going to architecture school….and I’m going to open a store.
GHO: You are? A store in Charlotte? Dude, you said you were NEVER moving home.
LTVP: No, seriously. You should come see it. It’s gonna be great.
GHO What kind of store?
LTVP A women’s dress store.
GHO That’s waaaaaay tender, dude. I know your parents will be happy you’re home
LTVP Ugh…that’s not it. It’s going to be amazing.
GHO You’re serious. That’s awesome, dude. I can’t wait to see it.
We hung up and I thought, “Jesus, help her; she’s lost her damn mind.”
About that same time, Mary Perrin Johnson of Charleston agreed to be my bride. We were in Charlotte for a wedding and we popped into Capitol at Phillips Place. Then quietly, with a sense of trepidation as though someone were seeking parental approval, I introduced Mary Perrin and Laura.
At Phillips Place, Laura seemed to be in her natural element amid the beautiful clothes she chose to sell. At that time, we had our first edict from our friend, “Oh, by the way, I’m coming to your wedding. Whether or not I’m invited. I just am.” Of course she was invited. The only friend of mine from high school who was invited who actually showed up.
At that visit, Mary Perrin acquired the Lilly Pulitzer dress she wore to our rehearsal party. I still have the tie that Laura threw in my bag that day, which she refused to let me buy.
Several years later, we watched with sheer delight from afar as Laura and her team moved her store into a stand-alone building designed beautifully by Perry and built expertly by another friend, Reese Rencher. The lush verdant garden wall designed by Patric Blanc mutates seasonally, but, like our friendship with Laura, it remains awe inspiring. We saw her and her store in print and in the emerging world of digital media.
We watched with mouths agape as Laura and Perry and their whole team transformed the commerce and banking hub of Charlotte into the fashion capital of the South. No kidding. The effing capital….emphasis on capital…emphasis on Capitol.
Over the last twenty years, we have been infrequent clients of Capitol, of Poole Shop, the more casual store, and of Tabor, the men’s store opened in 2015. Laura says to us, “Oh, stop…y’all are old old clients and my faves.” Mary Perrin still wears the amazing blue shawl from India that I bought her, the fabulous Ethiopian inspired scarf, and the compliment creating cocktail dress that I took out that second mortgage to buy.
Over the last twenty years, the O’Kelleys and the Pooles have had babies, taken trips, loved our visits, joked and pictured and sparred through the advent of social media – we will get to that in a minute – watched Laura’s smiling, kind face on magazine covers, read biographies about her in the New York Times, listened to interviews with her, seen the inside of the house we know in all kinds of design magazines, and marveled at how they could pivot during the worst economy in recent decades and make it through.
We have all put our legs under each others’ tables. Gumbo anyone?
Laura and Perry have included me and Mary Perrin in openings, events, parties, barbecues, oyster roasts. We have shown up and marveled with only our friendship and cheese straws to offer.
Back in 2015, Laura asked me, of all people, to interview her for a key note presentation in Charleston for The Southern C, a collection of Southern women entrepreneurs, disrupters, and creative thinkers. People still discuss that interview. All the time.
It is only through the magic of social media that Mary Perrin and I have come to understand the impact of Capitol since 1998. Naturally, Laura, Mary Perrin, and I became friends on Facebook; we followed each other on Instagram.
Time and time again, women in Charleston and Beaufort would say to me, “Um, how do you and Mary Perrin know Laura Vinroot Poole?” “Do you really know them?” “She’s my idol” “I worship her” “I have a cousin in Charlotte who says she’s great” “You have her number? Like in your phone” “You really gave their daughter a baby present” “Is that a picture of Margaret (our eldest) with Laura Poole?”
I would receive text messages that would say, “Hamlin…is that the REAL Laura Vinroot Poole?” Mary Perrin would be in her hand made Indian shawl and jealous Charlestonians would ask, “Where did you get that?” MP would reply, “At Capitol in Charlotte..it’s our friend’s store?” The reply, “No way! Y’all know Laura Vinroot Poole”. How does one convince others of what is now a thirty year friendship when the others think we must be lying. Well, one posts a lot of pictures and writes summaries of crazy weekends like this. And one doesn’t give a shit, because one knows what one knows.
It is through Laura and Perry that MP and I have met a wonderful crew of folks in Charlotte.
It is through Laura and Perry that I have an appreciation of that town just above the border. Esse Quam Vederi. I love North Carolina. I went to Camp High Rocks in Cedar Mountain. I went to Chapel Hill. My cousins live there. My aunt and uncle live there, too. They have a house in Oriental. My daughters go to Camp Greystone in Tuxedo. Mary Perrin went to Davidson College. But, I still think of it as the Vale of Humility between the Mountains of Conceit.
The typical Charleston attitude toward the Queen’s City can be summed up by this statement by a disdainful Charleston native, “I used to live in Charlotte. Let’s face it. People in Charlotte have pictures of Charleston houses in their houses. No one in Charleston has pictures of Charlotte houses in their houses.” I know better now. It’s an amazing place. Even if I do require pluff mud and salt water to be within spitting distance, Charlotte’s got a lot.
We have obviously known the Vinroots forever. It was Laura’s mother, Judy, who introduced me and Laura over coffee one morning in Andover, MA, just because I said, “Yes, Ma’am” to her when she asked me a question. Not only do we consider the Pooles and Vinroots dear friends, but also, we consider MC, AWC, EE, CE, AP, SN, LBD, PQD, dear friends, too. You know who you are.
So, now with this background, you can understand that we were not surprised to receive our invitation to the weekend events, which, were the 20th Anniversary Party at the North Corner Haven outside of Lancaster, SC; the Hair of the Dog Party at Tabor on Providence; and, the Mint Museum Spring Gala at the Mint Museum on Randolph. We thought we were only going to the first two, until, a week before, I sent a text to Laura telling her we planned to go to Kindred in Davidson on Saturday night. After a flurry of texts with me trying to beg off:
Ring. Answer. No identification needed.
LTVP: Dude, you’re coming to the Gala with us
GHO No, that’s too much
LTVP I want y’all there
GHO No. Save those tickets for someone else
LTVP Ok…now that’s just bad manners. I have your tickets. I want you there. You’ll be in Charlotte. And don’t say MP has nothing to wear. I can dress her. You’re coming. Don’t say you have to do crap with the girls. You’re coming. It’s settled. Just stop. Stop. Really
LTVP Love you
GHO Love you
And, yet again, the edict worked. She has done that to us for 20 years now! 20!
Mary Perrin scrambled to find another outfit. She rented the runway from a friend’s closet. I had to wash and iron the crumpled tuxedo shirt that had been in the hamper since a party in January.
So, Friday the 27th arrived. Children off to school. Dog off to the kennel. House locked. Three garment bags and two suitcases in the car, and we’re off to the Old North State. Around Carowinds, I started to get excited.
We arrive in Charlotte. The rest is the blur that was the weekend. Prose fails, so my epic poem begins.
We love you Laura and Perry Poole.
We just absofukcinglutely love you.