A far cry from many of my local high street stores, there's always been an aspirational confidence that radiated from the River Island shops. Through the eyes of my late-teenage self, their particular brand of the 'cool girl' aesthetic was my goal; the transition into conscious adult dressing that my inexperienced wardrobe cried out for.
To achieve big dreams you have to start small. At least that's what I'd tell myself as I'd march straight through the deceptively well organised River Island sale rails and to the shiny shoes and accessories hub at the very back of yes, pretty much every store.
You see, River Island bags were A Thing. In the early (and more affordable) phase of adolescent logo mania, your Jane Norman shopping bag and too-small-for-school JD Sports backpack was big currency. And at the top of the coveted 'look at where I bought this thing I'm wearing' list was the River Island bag.
Bold as they are recognisable, their bags have something to say. The fact that most River Island accessories have the brand name written prominently upon them, be it on a very reflective clasp, statement lock or metallic logo tab, remains smart marketing for the retailer and, needless to say, I desperately wanted to be part of the RI gang.
If the River Island handbag were a person, it would be that friendly face in the intimidating crowd. Well structured, immediately identifiable and unassumingly vibrant against the gloomiest of backdrops. You know, the one who totally has her life together in a way that we scatty folk could only dream of, but is also actually very good fun to be around. She parties as hard as she cares about complex societal issues and there's a very big bit of you really wants to be her. The Blake Lively of high street retailers. Clean and shiny but surprisingly accessible.
As both River Island and I seem to have learned as we've grown in parallel over the years, the RI woman is purposely carefree. There's intention behind that winning smile and it knows very well that the bright colours clashed with a noisy print and topped with something sequined she's wearing didn't pull itself together. And it's that secure knowledge of her enviable style that puts a jubilant skip her step as she 'candidly' walks past a complimentarily hued wall for that effortless Instagram post.
We've graduated from desperate River Island student discount searches to purposeful browsing this Caroline Flack-endorsed label. We all know that there's power in celebrity endorsement. Need I remind you of the Rihanna for River Island collection of 2013 that certified the brand as being more enduringly cool than my young heart could have anticipated? Rihanna was into it, and it's always fitting to take a leaf out of her book.
It's been a journey that has spanned more than a decade and my quest to become a River Island woman remains unresolved. Not for lack of trying - I've braved the bags to my hearts content and am yet to nail the effortless colour blocking that their spring/summer lines encourage. Shoppers with magpie eyes and a penchant for patterns are drawn in by even the most subdued of RI shop windows, but my apprehension towards just buying the damn things for fear of not pulling off that incidentally fabulous, savvy high-street 'it' girl aesthetic is probably getting in the way. But whenever I scroll passed a well dressed Instragrammer with that self-assured je ne sais quoi that only a River Island woman would recognise, I'll happily double tap in solidarity at her mastering the vibe I've been grasping for since I was about 15.
MORE: Here's Our Complete Holiday Wardrobe Wishlist For Summer 2018
De La Vali, Juliette Dress Polka Dot, £625buy
Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha