You first opened your vintage boutique The Way We Wore in San Francisco, and then later in Hollywood. How did The Way We Wore begin? Was it a personal collection that had got out of control?
That’s hysterical because that’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that question and is actually the reason I opened in Los Angeles. The original boutique, which opened in 1981, was opened after selling about 7 years at a flea market and just feeling it was time to have a storefront. The loading and unloading, the weather and the bartering nature of selling at flea markets were no longer relevant.
When did you realise you had a love for vintage clothing?
My first year of college, when I was going to Boston University. It was an inexpensive and fun way to dress and not look like everyone else.
What most intrigues you about it?
In so many cases, it reflects a time when ROI [return on investment] was not the operative word but pride in what you made was the focus â€“ which is so apparent in the quality of detail and design.
How would you describe your boutique to someone who has never visited it?
It’s one of the few vintage boutiques that covers almost the entire 20th century. We specialise in curating a selection of pieces that evoke a “WOW” reaction. We carry only women’s clothing and accessories, everything from bathing suits to red carpet evening gowns.
What would be one of your most memorable/fascinating vintage finds and why?
I would say the most memorable experience I have had to date was a close to the Holy Grail of vintage finds as I might experience in my lifetime. I was called to an estate in the Carmel/Monterey area and the woman was an organised hoarder. She started buying beautiful dresses, bathing suits, hats, etc and NEVER WORE 95 per cent of them. The range was from the late 1940’s to the mid-1980’s. In the earlier pieces, she had really important pieces from Claire McCardell and Ceil Chapman and they were fabulous sizes for Los Angeles. She and her husband were travelers to Hawaii so there were about 100 never worn bathing suit ensembles. There were 17 closets! One of them was triple racked and the size of a medium size apartment. Totally an abundance of riches.
Where do you find clothing for your boutique?
I travel about 20 per cent of the year and twice a year I have an official buying season where I attend auctions in the mid-west and east coast. Two of the auctions are featured in LA Frock Stars.
What is your selection criteria?
The main criteria is, is this piece relevant today, and what makes it special? If it’s not relevant, but so outrageous that I have a visceral reaction â€“ I want it. If it’s classic without being boring, it’s good for the boutique. But I like pieces that are unusual and cannot be found anywhere else.
Is it hard to part with the pieces? If yes, what would be an example of a piece you have kept and why?
Everything is for sale but the reality is I am a collector first and a retailer second. I have held back my Sonia Delaunay cloche and scarf because it is so rare and expensive. I am waiting for a museum or collector to acquire this one.
Do you have a style or life mantra that you live by?
Be brave and don’t be a weenie. Your body is a canvas and have fun with what you put on it.
What brings you the most joy?
Inspiring people, especially the next generation of designers.
If you had to describe your personal style in a couple of sentences what would you say?
Relaxed and casual most of the time. I work long hours and actually have to do a lot of physical work so my choices are based on what I am doing that day.
If someone else described your personal style, what do you think they’d say?
What would be a common piece of style advice that you give your customers?
If you buy any piece of clothing, invest a little in having it tailored to your body. It makes that piece look like a million dollars.
Over the years you have worked with a number of designers from Tom Ford to Michael Kors, Joan Galliano and Tamara Mellon. Can you explain in what capacity?
Every designer had their particular method of selecting vintage clothing for inspiration. All of the designers you have mentioned â€“ with the exception of Galliano â€“ are designers that come in to shop and discover what’s in the store. Designers like Galliano or Nikki Zimmerman, may have a hint of the type of direction their next collection would be going. I like to get visual references like a storyboard or a photo of an actual installation called a “rig”. Or just simple buzz words that can give me a sense of what to select before a designer comes in. Designers can be inspired by the print, pocket detail, silhouette, beading or whatever element that exists on an already existing garment. Intellectual property issues are not as common with items that are at least 30 years old. The simple answer is designers come in for elements of inspiration to infuse into their next collections.
What would be one of your career highlights/magical moments to date, and why?
Hands down the ultimate highlight was/is being honoured by having a docu-series on Smithsonian Channel. It elevates the medium of so-called “reality” shows and is educational without being pedantic. The black carpet premiere for Season One was an amazing experience.
You’ve also supplied clothing for many films. Are you able to list some of these films, and any particular favourites or film style fashion moments where one of your pieces was worn by a particular actor or actress?
I would say there are quite a few but I have a few pieces that Penny Lane in Almost Famous wore. Also a dress that Nicole Kidman wore in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus that was a pivotal moment in the film. Right now we’ve shipped several hundred items out for the new Scorsese/Mick Jagger HBO rock and roll series that is in pre-production. I would say we had a lot of pieces in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and I love the style of the Cate Blanchett character. Too many to mention!
Dunedin has a number of vintage stores. Will you be making time for some shopping while in Dunedin for iD Dunedin Fashion Week?
I would love to visit at least a couple of vintage stores in Dunedin but am not sure if my schedule will permit that.
As the international judge for the iD International Emerging Designer Awards, what qualities will you be looking for from the finalist designers?
Innovation, how well a piece is made, and marketability.
You will be showing a collection of gowns from The Way We Wore on the catwalk at the iD Dunedin Fashion Shows. How many gowns will you be bringing, and what can we expect to see?
I will have 15 gowns on the catwalk and pieces from the 1920’s to the 1990’s. The theme is what might be worn on the red carpet in Hollywood.
Doris Raymond is international guest judge of the iD International Emerging Designer Awards during iD Dunedin Fashion Week 2015 alongside MiNDFOOD STYLE associate editor Carolyn Enting, New Zealand Fashion Museum founder Doris De Pont, NOM*d designer Margi Robertson and Carlson designer Tanya Carlson.