These Vintage Collectors Are Putting Today’s Fast-Fashion Epidemic To Shame

These Vintage Collectors Are Putting

Today’s Fast-Fashion Epidemic To Shame

“Vintage.”

 

It’s a word now used as a phrase in its own right, or a qualifier for something done over and over again. Tom Brady winning Superbowls: vintage. The Kardashians bringing the world to a stand still with an Instagram post: vintage. The President tweeting about “crooked Hillary:” vintage. My use of popular culture to explain a word: vintage.

There are those however, for whom the word vintage means so much more. A vintage coat, owned by their great-grandmother in the 1900s and handed down because it was designed by John Redfern, or a Chanel bag, crafted in the same halls the illustrious designer once walked. Vintage, in these cases, is synonymous with special, unique, and means that whatever it is – earrings, a hat, or a coat – it has a story.

It’s the history of the pieces that’s fascinating. Knowing they weren’t manufactured in a warehouse in India and sold at 5,000 outlets throughout the world means a lot in 2018. Fast fashion – the Zaras, H&Ms and Primarks of the world – all contribute to a dulling of identity, and a veritable nullification of uniqueness. The vintage revolution is here to abate such a crisis.

We recently stopped by a vintage trunk show at the Javits Center here in New York and met some women who shared tales of their journeys in the world of vintage: from the lengths they had gone to get a piece, to the stories they had heard from miscellaneous worldly clients. Their determination to keep their collections inspired and relevant was flooring. Each woman had her own specialty, be it Victorian jewelry or army bomber jackets from WWII, each, of course, as different as the other. Below, we chatted with 5 women in the vintage industry about what differentiates them from the fashion of today, and how for many, what once started as a passion project, became a full-time job. 

Yardena Lulu of NY Lulu Vintage
Yardena Lulu

Yardena Lulu has been in the business of vintage for 17 years. Travelling city to city to collect and present at vintage trunk shows, she’s the longest running of the collectors here, and specializes in the “eclectic, wild and special.” Her collection spans all the way back to the 19th century, but it is fittingly the colorful, hippy 60’s that is her favorite era. “I love it all, but love the 60’s with all the colors and fun clothing,” Lulu explains. Given her years on the scene, she recounts meeting some incredible people, whether they were buying from, or selling to her.  She reminisces about the story of a woman she encountered on her hunts, who in 1964, personally brought a suit to Coco Chanel to get it tailored.

A worrying trend within the industry, Lulu recognizes however is the proclivity to buy cheap or inauthentic vintage from overseas. Given her experience in the industry, Yardena is quick to notice a fake vintage. “I have good instincts. When I see something that is fabulous, I know it’s fabulous. When I find something that’s a museum piece, I still get so excited.” As for the more nefarious copies from overseas, she had this to say; “I absolutely get upset when I see that, the workmanship is so poor and it takes away from our industry with this cheap approach.”

A Chanel suit from Lulu's collection
Vanessa Samet of Vanessa’s Vintage

Vanessa Samet first discovered her love for vintage while playing with her grandmother as a child. “She [Samet’s grandmother] would pull out her pieces and talk about each one – where she got it, who gave it to her, and where she would wear it,” Samet recalls fondly. “I’ve always loved the decorative arts, because form has to follow function. I guess vintage jewelry is just an extension of that. I love the history and stories behind each piece.”

Vanessa Samet

Since then, she has grown very fond of jewelry made in the 20’s and 30’s. “In the early 1920’s, after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, jewelry and fashion reflected Egypto-mania,” she explains. “I love old pieces that were designed in that style with the scarabs and turquoise, and then the revival in the 1960’s, after the movie Cleopatra came out with Elizabeth Taylor.”

And speaking of powerful women, we questioned Samet about female dominance in this niche industry. As we walked the aisles of the trunk show, it was eminently clear who the bosses were in this town, and it wasn’t men. Of the female heavy percentage in the field, Samet believed it was especially prevalent in jewelry, because it was originally purposed to adorn, or decorate women, and the majority of it was female-focused. She also offers the idea that women, by nature are the more nostalgic creatures. “Perhaps it has to do with the fact that vintage is fashion combined with nostalgia,” Samet comments. “I know when I was with my grandmother and we would talk about her jewelry, I felt like I was celebrating her life experiences as a woman.”

1960s French clip earrings from Samet's collection

“Vintage is fashion combined with nostalgia.”

-Vanessa Samet

Lindsay Risk of Risk Gallery & Boutique

Lindsay Risk’s journey into vintage collecting is incredibly moving. “Growing up as a child, my mom was a model and she was married four times,” says Risk, the owner of a 2-year-old vintage boutique in Brooklyn. “Sometimes we would shop at Bergdorf Goodman, sometimes it was Salvation Army. I learned how to dig for treasures on any budget.”

Risk’s proclivities for the colorful (as captured in the picture of her store below), are symbiotic with her passion for the 1960’s ‘Peacock Era.’ “Men were also able to show off their interest in fashion,” she remarks of the time that became synonymous with psychedelic suits and bold male fashion statements, setting the tone for the next decade in menswear. 

Lindsay Risk's boutique in Brooklyn

Risk’s aesthetic, she summarizes, aims to be “an adult playground – a whimsical, unique, vintage experience as well as an art gallery.” Through her store you have access to both her curation of vintage pieces, and her impressive artwork, so inevitably, if you have the time, stopping by the boutique is well worth a trip. 

Lindsay Risk
Muneca Mullins of Muneca Mullins Studios

For this young vintage collector, what began as emotional hoarding, ended up creating a lifestyle and business for herself that surpassed her expectations. Mullins, whose passion for vintage arose out of a culmination of creativity and being self-professedly broke, also believes women become involved with vintage because of nostalgia. “They’ll hold onto certain pieces that are from certain highlights of their life,” she says. “Think about it, how many women do you know that kept their wedding dresses? How many dudes do you know kept their tux?

Mullins, who operates out of a studio in New Jersey, began spreading the word of her business through Instagram. She quickly discovered that inviting this new wave of influencers to her shop for a shoot adorned in vintage clothing, would create a buzz, and indeed it did. “I believe my success comes with being able to combine multiple time periods with a modern flare,” says Mullins. “I take the time to help the customer to understand how to style vintage pieces in their everyday world.”

Muneca Mullins

Mullins’s collection is more modern leaning than the rest of the ladies here, with bashful 90s gear adorning her clothes rails, coupled with some older pieces she really had to work to acquire. Speaking to us at the show, she recounts an incident whereby she had tracked down a WWII fighter pilot’s bomber jacket, only to find the owner quite reluctant to give it away without a struggle. Mullins however persisted and the jacket hangs in her collection now, a cool $600. She explains that while the price tags might deter some folks from buying, it’s these struggles for acquisition and the uniqueness of the pieces that make its worth. “It’s really my job to explain the history and the great quality of my vintage,” she says. “I make sure they understand the investment they are making.”

Lara Kornbluh of Icon Style
Lara Kornbluh

Kornbluh’s background in metalsmithing makes her eye for vintage delicacies an enviable one. She is currently the owner of Icon style, a boutique on the Upper West Side.

“As a teen in the 80’s, I didn’t see things I liked in regular stores,” remarks the collector. “I felt much more connected to things from the past – their craftsmanship, design, and fabrics seemed so much more interesting to me than anything I would find at the mall. I felt they were little pieces of history.” And that they were. Upon meeting her, she introduced us to some of the pieces captured below. The Victorian brooch dates back to the 1860s, during which time, as a symbol of mourning, one would capture a piece of their loved ones hair in a locket or brooch.

Victorian mourning jewelry from Lara Kornbluh's collection

“As an adult, one of my favorite parts of vintage is the green aspect.  In truth, we do not need to produce anything. It already exists, and we just need to reclaim, preserve, and enjoy it.”

-Lara Kornbluh

Kornbluh, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years, is positively enamored by this type of jewelry. “Loaded with fascinating symbolism and unique techniques and materials, I could write for days about this topic,” she says. “I have always loved and collected hair work jewelry (it should be noted it is not always mourning jewelry, it can also commemorate an occasion with a loved one). When I think of these memorial pieces, I think of a time where photographs of loved ones were not readily available and these beautifully braided and woven pieces, were a way to have a piece of your loved one with you…in remembrance.”

Can a relationship ‘gram really equate to this level of intimacy? I think not.

Amy Corcoran

Head of Content at SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women's writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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