Behind the Seams with Tammy Twinkletoes

This week Deco doyenne Tamsin Smith, aka Tammy Twinkletoes, tells Natasha Francois about her penchant for swing dancing, why she loves natural fibres and how there’s nothing like the exhilaration of creating a dress from scratch!

[Photography by Stuart Attword]

Photo Cred Jacinda Brehmer 1930's Beach Pyjamas 2015

1930s dress commission

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m an Art Deco-loving seamstress, Fashion Designer and swing dancing teacher based in Napier ‘the Art Deco capital’.

Since moving here in 2017 we have set up the Hi-De-Ho Swing Dancing School where we teach Charleston and Lindy Hop, plus my art deco repro label Tammy Twinkletoes has been able to come off the back burner and take centre stage! I now sew for delightful vintage lovers the world over, primarily creating made to measure pieces.

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Napier provides a fabulous backdrop and inspiration for my designs, and this year I’m getting even more involved in the Napier Art Deco Festival; teaching dance, speaking about making your own outfits and with the focus on fashion this year, I am also busy planning a collection for the catwalk! 

Photo Cred Clmintiepix dressing gown
 
How long have you been making things? Were you always creative/ crafty as a youngster?

I’ve been sewing since before I could read! I started out making felt animals – my kindy teacher was fabulously patient and taught me enormous amounts. She used to call me her little sewing machine. I was always sewing instead of doing other kindy activities.

It was my mum who taught me to use a sewing machine; in fact it was my fault she had been forced to learn to sew in the first place – nothing off the rack ever fitted me as a child.

1930's bias cut dress 2016

Did you study fashion design?

I studied fashion at AUT and majored in Costume. The absolute highlight of my studies was spending a semester in Rochester, England where the tutors were incredible. The focus that semester was on tailoring and they brought in a guest teacher for the duration who had been a Saville row tailor. I wish I had been even more of a sponge during that time! We spent hours learning pattern drafting and hand tailoring techniques, and would go on day trips to London where we snuck into places like Harrods and tried to sketch the clothing on their racks without being caught! 
 

Charleston Chic runway

Where did the fascination with Art Deco design come from and why did you decide to make it the focus of your label?

Art Deco was not something on my radar until I started Swing Dancing and got invited at the last minute to go to the Napier Art Deco Festival in 2013. I had three days to put together my wardrobe for the extended weekend. I had finally found a style designed for my body shape, that was fun and carefree and I spent that first festival flitting about with no shoes, no bra and no cares.

Photo cred Stuart Attwood 1925 dress

Each February the Napier Art Deco Festival celebrates the city’s heritage. For a week the city is an idealised version of the 1920s/30s where every day is sunny, every night is filled with music and dancing, the drinks flow, and a small NZ city is completely transformed. The streets fill with vintage cars, vintage planes perform overhead, jazz bands set up on street corners and to dress in modern fashion puts you in a minority.

From that weekend I started researching and sewing, falling more in love with the architecture and deco motifs. The following year I had a wardrobe sorted and won best dressed at the Fashion competition.   

Photo cred Stuart Attwood finished kimono showing handmade detail
 
How did the idea for your own label come about?

It was a natural progression from sewing for myself, to sewing for my friends, to sewing for anyone anywhere in the world! The name itself, Tammy Twinkletoes was a nickname growing up. 

Photo Cred John Ireland swing dance
 
How would you describe your aesthetic?

Recently I’ve been doing more 1930s styles, and with summer on the way I’m loving fresh, joyful colours – greens, yellows, whites etc. The seasons certainly influence me, but my style is always driven by the challenge of finding an original fashion plate with some interesting seaming – I get the overwhelming desire to work out how on earth the garment works! How do you get a zig zag panel seam sewn? If that piece is on the bias, then is the other one? How would the back look, and how does it close – there must be hooks there or else your head wouldn’t fit through the neckline! Those are the sorts of questions that get me going.  

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What are your creative inspirations?

Mainly fashion plates from the era, I love the 1920s and 1930s source books and have these on just about permanent loan from the library. I also love studying original garments; there is so much to learn.

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What’s the first piece you remember making?

I remember making a pencil skirt for my intermediate school graduation. I had never sewn a zip before but somehow fudged it and I wore that skirt until I grew a bottom and it no longer fitted.

The first Art Deco dress I made was for the 2014 festival, I still wear it at every opportunity! Made from offcuts of silk, the design was hugely decided by what shapes I could cut from the scraps! This dress won me the dubious title of ‘best ladies reproduction’ in the Costumes and Coiffure Competition at the festival, and was really the dress that started it all! 

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Do you mainly make dresses or do you make other pieces as well?

Dresses are certainly what I do most as they were the predominant garment of the 20s and 30s, but I do sew other items too. Waistcoats are popular with the gents and I often sew skirts, trousers, and one-off headpieces.   

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Are the majority of orders custom made/ one offs?

Yes, I dream of having more stock in my Etsy shop, but at the moment it’s all I can do to keep up with custom orders. I also have selected pieces for sale at local shop Charleston Chic. Lee-Anne there has been so welcoming and supportive, so please if you are in town pop in and marvel at her gorgeous collection. It’s a treasure trove of Art Deco original fashion, items handmade in Napier and all things 1920s and 30s.  

Vintage Car rides at Deco (I'm the hat on the left)
 
Tell me about the process involved in making Tammy Twinkletoes pieces. What materials do you use? And how long does each piece take to make? 

The process starts with an inspiration image, the customer may have found a fashion plate or an outfit from a period TV show that they want recreated. Sometimes I am copying exactly, each pleat and button replicated. Other times it’s the sleeves from one image and bodice from another and skirt from my imagination. Once the design is agreed on I’m ready to make the pattern.

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First off, I pad the mannequin out to the client’s measurements and drape and pin the design in calico. From the pieces of fabric I then create a paper pattern. If it’s a complex piece, I will test the pattern by sewing a mock-up before cutting into the real fabric. Most of my customers are now off shore (thanks all you Aussie and American Ladies!) so I ask for a comprehensive list of measurements for them to take and am able to complete the garment without a fitting.

emma commission 2016

I like to use all natural fibres of a high quality; linen, silk, cotton and viscose are all popular. Some customers choose to supply their own material, but I also offer the service of sourcing beautiful fabrics.

I have a couple of ancient industrial machines (my overlocker dates just about to the era of the clothing I create – it’s from the late 40s) on which I sew up the garments. A complex piece can take up to 30 hours from pattern to completion. I don’t shy away from handsewing hems and adding handstitched beading, so it can be very labour intensive. But the making is what I love.  

Photo Cred Stuart Atwood. Breeches and waistcoat (not a dress!)
 
What do you enjoy most about what you do?

The process! There is nothing like the exhilaration of creating a stunning dress from scratch and there’s always a thrill in sending it off to the other side of the world and getting pictures back of it being worn and looking even better on its intended than it did on the mannequin! 

1930's dress
 
Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces? 

The website: 

https://tammytwinkletoes.com/ 
The Shop: 
https://www.etsy.com/nz/shop/TammyTwinkletoes 
And selected ready-made items at 
Charleston Chic, Shop 1 Upper Tennyson Street, Masonic Hotel Building, Napier  
Instagram: 
https://www.instagram.com/tammytwinkletoesnz/ 
Facebook 
https://www.facebook.com/TammyTwinkletoesNZ 
Hi De Ho Swing 
https://hi-de-ho-swing.com/ 
Napier Art Deco Festival 
https://www.artdeconapier.com/ 

Photo Cred Jacinda Brehmer 1930's Beach Pyjamas 2015

In the closet with Tannia Lee

This week Natasha enters the psychedelic wardrobe of vintage queen Tannia Lee.

Tannia Lee is making Dunedin more colourful, one outfit at a time.

The 36-year-old style chameleon, fashion blogger, stylist and market organiser might don an outrageous day-glo knitted sweater dress one day, a Hawaiian maxi teamed with a giant tropical headpiece, the next.

Her sartorial style is bold, bright and definitely not demure. She loves to take risks and is always coming up with unique ensembles which demonstrate her love for decade on decade and print on print.

“It’s all about the overall vibe when the outfit comes together, so I’m not fussed if they are of the same era, originals, repro, or revamped,” she says.

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Tannia’s wardrobe is so gargantuan that it’s completely taken over the spare bedroom in her house and has morphed into her own ‘walk-in’ wardrobe.
It also encroaches on her ‘shared’ bedroom wardrobe.
“You’d laugh to see how much room I’ve left for the hubby!” she quips.

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Novavogue [her fashion blog] was born because she wanted a way of showcasing the fun she has injecting colour into peoples’ lives.

Her daughter and ‘mini me’ Nova soon became the star of the show. Every week the pair hit the op shops, play dress ups and then shoot the crazy confections for the blog.

Tannia is also the founder of the Vintage Roundup– Dunedin’s only dedicated vintage clothing and craft market, runs the Facebook page Seen in Secondhand Land and draws on her extensive vintage collection for her work as a personal and interiors stylist.

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Dressing up has been a lifelong obsession for her. She has happy memories of accompanying her mother to op shops as a child and remembers growing up with a huge dress-up box full of the family’s old 70s and 80s clothing.
“When friends and family came around, we’d raid the box and play around the farm dressed all crazy.”
This also sparked her fascination with everything vintage. Today she continues to embrace the fun into her everyday life, experimenting with fashion and as always, dressing outside the box.

Wanna find out more about Tannia? Read on!

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?

My closet takes over a spare bedroom in our house (which is my dedicated my walk in wardrobe). It also spills into our ‘shared’ bedroom wardrobe and you’d laugh to see how much room I’ve left for the hubby.

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You’ll find a lot of stand out feature pieces, dating from the 1960s – 1990s. Bright, colourful, eclectic, interesting prints, shapes and cuts.
We took the doors off all our wardrobes, to create the feel for more space but also to see everything. I don’t like to hide clothes away , just like the saying ‘out of sight out of mind’. I like to see all my options when putting together an outfit. The space is like a mini shop, with free standing industrial racks – a place I can play dress ups, style and display all my gems.
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Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?

I love to mix it up, decade on decade, print on print and powerclash my way through my wardrobe. It’s all about the overall vibe when the outfit comes together, so i’m not fussed if they are of the same era, originals, repro, or revamped. I also love to design my own dresses, from retro fabrics, but I always pay a seamstress as I have lost my sewing skills!
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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection?

I love my ceramic bolo tie collection, they are like nothing i’ve seen before. As well as my bold bright and 80s / 90s knitwear (dresses and coats). A lot of work has gone into these pieces and I appreciate the time and skills used to create them.
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Any noteworthy recent purchases?

Yes, I love my retro Diane Freis bedazzled knit that I bought from Proctors Auction. She is one of my favourite designers, I especially love her original 90s designs because they are quite over the top, full of patchwork prints, frills, layers, pleats all within one dress. I didn’t know she also did knitwear, so that was a cool surprise!
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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

I discovered op shopping (for fashion) during my rebellious teen phase. I was quite influenced by Kurt Cobain grunge style which was pretty easy to achieve second hand. I think I was sick of trying to fit in by wearing all the surf and skate labels and just wanted to do my own thing.
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Once I started op shopping I saw that there was another whole world of fashion out there, where I could put together my own ‘look’ myself. There were no rules and this became an exciting new way to channel my creativity.
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Growing up we also had a dress up box, which we raided when our cousins and friends came around. This had a lot of our family’s pieces from the 80s and my best memories were dressing up like ‘crazies’ to go explore around the farm. I got a taste for the freedom of styling and started to realise I didn’t have to listen to what mainstream fashion was telling me to wear.
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What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?

The fact that these pieces we find are the last of their kind. Some are rare, handmade one off’s and existed in a decade that I missed out on.
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I also love the way we shop for vintage. It’s not handed to us easily in a department store, with every size and colour available. It’s a challenge and we get to refine our skills hunting for these treasures. Every piece is different to the next, it’s exciting and creatively fulfilling way to shop.
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How does it make you feel when you wear it?

I feel like ME. I vividly remember the shift of consciousness, from dressing ‘normal’ to discovering the world of vintage and pre-loved clothing. It was a lightbulb moment where I realised ‘This is who I am’. I felt more comfortable and confident dressing how I wanted to and not how society thought I should.
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What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?

60s | flower power + hawaiian + tiki + peggy square + kimono
70s | psychedelic + western + oriental + embroidery + kaftan
80s | Bedazzled + tassels + patches + patchwork + high waist + big earrings
90s | fluro + floral + sequins + badges + Fresh Prince + logo tees + high tops + bomber jackets
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Where are your favourite shopping haunts?

I love The Vintage Roundup, clothing and craft market. Not just because I run it, but because it’s bought together such a friendly bunch of vintage and craft lovers. There is such a variety of ‘mini shops’, as we all have a different skills, style and fashion era or genre that we are drawn to.
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Even tho I’ve created the ultimate shopping experience for our scene, I also look forward to the social aspect, catching up with stallholders and customers. Some people stay for the whole 4 hours, carefully looking through each of the 20+ stalls and trying on lots of fab pieces. We encourage customers to come out and show us what they have tried on, we love having these impromptu fashion shows.
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What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

I think I will address the op shop V’s vintage clothing shop debacle. I always appreciate a good vintage clothing shop. I get upset when people complain that they are expensive, because they are comparing them to op shops.
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It takes a lot of time and skill to curate a great vintage and retro collection. Vintage shop owners have done all the hard work for you, offering you the very best. They have travelled (sometimes afar) to spend hours or days trawling many op shops, garage sales, online shops, and personal collections to carefully hand pick their stock. They have a great eye and years of experience and knowledge to spot pieces that are rare, well made, collectable, designer and on trend.
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You are not just paying for the garment, but this exceptional service. Most vintage shops have put much thought into their shop layout, styling and merchandising, where they display items like they actually matter, with love. They also create amazing window displays and have positive customer service to achieve a fab shopping experience. Their business is their baby, literally created from blood sweat and tears. So please don’t compare this to your local op shop!

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What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?

Retro knitted dresses or peggy square coats (longer the better) I can’t resist retro Coogi knit!
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Cheongsams or high neck dresses from the 60s / 70s (anything from Hawaii is fab!)
80s / 90s kids bomber jackets branded with classic cartoon, movies or tv shows (memorabilia)
Sequin jackets coats or dresses pretty much everything from Braxae on Etsy
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Whose closet do you envy and why?

Basically any eccentric, vintage shopper from Texas or just America in general. I freakin’ love American vintage, probably cause not much of it shows up in New Zealand op shops. It’s hard to find here in Dunedin!
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Who are some of your style icons and influences?

Firstly please google ‘Advanced Style’ and scroll. I’m a very visual person so get very influenced by street fashion, movies and cool designers & fashion bloggers in my insta feed. Too many to name and wouldn’t want to miss anyone out.
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I’ve also recently discovered Jenny Kee, an artist and designer who creates amazing knitwear (Since the 1970s) She has recently launched a new limited edition capsule collection of knitwear called ‘New Beginnings’ teamed up with woolmark. Check out her insta @jennykeeoz
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Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?
Yes, this gorgeous 1960s floral cheongsam from Remains to be Scene in Hamilton.
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How do members of the public react to your getups?
I mostly get a positive comments and reactions, people love to see more colour down here in Dunedin. I have also found that people often smile at me on the street when I wear flowers in my hair (try it and see!). I’ve had a few conservative elderly ask me “don’t you worry about what people think?” I’m happy to let them know that i’m not dressing for others, I’m dressing for myself.
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Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?
Absolutely! My home is very much an extension of my wardrobe, filled with cool retro collectables and art in bright colours and bold prints. Almost my entire home decor is purchased second hand from op shops, vintage shops, trademe and the Auctions houses. Mixed up with prints and paintings by my fave Wellington artists and street artists. My obsession also extends to clothing my daughter, i’ve basically turned her into a mini me.
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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?
Black puffer jacket and tracksuit pants, which seems to be the Dunedin uniform and crocs.

Want to channel some of Tannia’s unique vintage style? Head to the Vintage Roundup this weekend. Check out the poster below!

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In the Closet with Miss Hero Holliday

Welcome to the nineth installment of our In the Closet with series! This week Miss Hero Holliday takes Natasha for a stroll in her colourful closet.

With her overflowing wardrobe packed with sought-after mid-century novelty print skirts and dresses, her perfectly coiffed scarlet hair, and carefully curated Instagram feed, Amy MacLaine is not your average accountant.

The 26-year-old Aucklander, who goes by the monniker Miss Hero Holliday, is a Instagram sensation, a fashion plate, an actress by night….and a financial accountant for the country’s major magazine publisher by day.

You might have even spotted her on the telly a few years back when kooky reporter Tim Wilson from Seven Sharp featured her on his ‘Take me home’.. segment.

A regular performer in the annual Summer Shakespeare festival, Amy borrowed the name ‘Hero’ the character in Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ which she played a few years ago.

The ‘Holliday’ part comes from Audrey Hepburn’s character in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Her name is Holly Golightly, but in the book her full name is actually ‘Holliday Golightly’. So I thought since I really love Audrey Hepburn that would be a good fit, and something different as I didn’t want to use Audrey.

“I think she’s very classic and very glamourous and so really wanted a name that alluded to her as those are things I strive for,” she says.

Want a glimpse into Miss Hero Holliday’s closet? Step this way..

The Undefined Photography

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within? 

Thank you! In my closet you’ll find a mixture of day dresses, party dresses, florals, and novelty prints, plus a rainbow of petticoats, cardigans, and heels. And a couple of bodies, but please don’t tell anyone about those. 

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Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too? 

A large part of my wardrobe is vintage, though I do love well-made repro pieces too. Most of my tops and cardigans and all of my shoes are repro as I’ve found those are harder to find at a good price and/or in good condition when they’re vintage. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a vintage purist but I do gravitate more towards it when shopping.  

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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why? 

My giant rose prints and novelty prints, especially on panel skirts, are all so precious to me. They are the ones so dreamy that I’m almost scared to wear them. I love the big prints most, probably because I’m really short-sighted and if I can’t make out what a print is easily then I’m not so keen on it haha! 

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Any noteworthy recent purchases? 

Love letters, Si & Am, and all three colourways of the giraffe skirt from Back to the Future. Also a gorgeous Juli Lynne Charlot velvet appliqué skirt. Ooh and an out of this world space print which I can’t show off yet as my hubby has bought it off me to give as my birthday present. I’ve been very lucky lately – sadly for my bank balance all the good stuff comes at once! 

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How did you first become interested in vintage style? 

I started op-shopping over a decade ago, but I’d just for random things I liked rather than sticking to a particular era. A few years ago I discovered that 1950s clothing suited me best, which was already a silhouette I was gravitating too, and from there I looked for more true vintage online to build up my collection. 

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What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most? 

The quality and construction is so good; when pieces have stood the test of time for 60+ years then they must be something special! Feeling like I’m wearing a piece of history and/or artwork makes planning my outfits an adventure and finding new gems is such a thrill. Some of my favourite pieces are those I’ve got from people who’ve had them a long time, when they’ve already been so well-loved and looked after and it’s an honour to get to continue that. 

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What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes? 

Definitely the 1950s! It’s what I feel most comfortable in and I love the elegance and extravagance of the styles. Everything was so colourful and fun, which is how I love to dress. And I can’t go past a big poofy skirt; I feel naked without a petticoat these days! 

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Where are your favourite shopping haunts? 

I used to buy a lot from Sarah at BellaVintage before she closed her store, and I’d trawl through Savemart for hours but with their recent bad press and crazy pricing I’m not keen on them anymore. So I mostly shop online now, although I always seek out vintage when I’m away, like at the Portobello Road markets on vintage Fridays or Koenji in Japan. 

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Do you have any general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand? 

I’ve resigned myself to not finding anything ‘in the wild’ in NZ anymore, though it’s been a nice surprise when I have. It’s sad that not a lot pre-1960s can be found anymore without it coming from overseas. I do admire the vintage sellers still in business who have gorgeous and carefully curated collections and stores, those are the best places to visit! 

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What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types? 

Currently my ultimate holy grail is the gold love letters skirt, of which there is only one known to be in existence and it’s all letters, no roses. Otherwise I’m always hunting for the panel skirts, novelty prints, and large floral prints that always seem to be in short supply – but if they were easy to find they wouldn’t be worth hunting for! In terms of labels I would love to have more Horrockses and Jonathan Logan pieces in my wardrobe, both labels churned out some exquisite stuff.  

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Who are some of your style icons and influences? 

Audrey Hepburn is a longtime style icon of mine (the ‘Holliday’ in my pinup name is from her character’s full name in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), and before her it was Gwen Stefani. Otherwise I get most of my inspo from the fabulous vintage ladies on IG, seeing their gorgeous pieces and how they style them is always a delight! 

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Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it? 

My first 1950s dress (or 1950s in style, it could have been handmade) came from the Sunday school cupboard at my church! I don’t know how or why it was there but I had a school ball coming up so it appeared at just the right moment. It was sheer pink fabric over black, covered in black pin dots, and it had a sweetheart neckline and big poofy skirt. I still have it and it probably still fits! 

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How do members of the public react to your get-ups? 

Generally they’re quite positive, and my outfits do make for a great icebreaker. It’s always nice to be told by people that they used to dress like me, or that I dress how their mother or aunt did – that’s always such a huge compliment!

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The comments about whether I’m going to a party (especially a costume party), how long it must take to get ready in the morning (it doesn’t, I’m not a morning person so I’ve got my routine down), or people coming over to pat the faux fur on my coat or lifting my skirt to see my petticoat do get quite frustrating, but I’ve learnt to deal with them and most people do mean well.

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Having people randomly snap my picture is quite weird and creepy though! And I find it amazing in New Zealand how brazen people are in their staring; I recently went to Japan and found it refreshing it was that everyone was too polite to stare.  

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Do you wear vintage to work as well? If so, how is your style received in the workplace? 

I do, every day! I spent the first three and a half years of my full-time working life as a corporate auditor in a Big 4 firm, and I was lucky that my bosses and clients really liked how I dressed. I’m now in a more creative workplace and while I still stand out and I definitely don’t feel quite so different here. I do like breaking the mould for how people expect an accountant to dress though! 

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Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections? 

I wish I could have all of those things, but really outside my clothes and accessories my only other vintage collection is records. I don’t have a huge amount but there’s a lot of favourites in there including just about every Fleetwood Mac album. 

What do you make of Miss Hero Holliday’s style? Do you have a favourite outfit? Do let me know in the comments!

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Behind the Seams with de Vol clothing

Laura Macfehin looks ‘Behind the Seams’ at iconic Wellington brand de Vol!

I well remember my first de Vol garment– it was a black Jeanie dress my husband bought for me and which miraculously fitted like a glove.  It quickly became my go-to dress because it was so comfortable and easy to wear and was super flattering.

Over the years I have bought many garments from de Vol and I can say in all honesty they have been the most flattering and most loved modern clothes I have owned.  Their aesthetic continues to evolve, but they remain reliably consistent in their commitment to craftsmanship and high quality, locally produced clothing.  So I was excited to find out more about these Cuba Street stalwarts!

 Who are the folks behind de Vol?

 There is just the two of us; my partner in crime Brendan and me, Stacey
 
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You’ve been selling clothes for almost twenty-five years now- how did you get started?

 If you counted my stall at Calf and Lamb day at primary school and the Barbie clothes I sold to friends and family you could say it’s been a little more!  De Vol started when I studied fashion and Design at Bay of Plenty polytech in the mid 1990s.  In my last year we had to make up a clothing label and produce a range.

When I finished tech I sold most of my work over that summer and I just never stopped.  Brendan was trying to get a streetwear label together doing screen-printed tees and denim but he couldn’t find any shops to take it on.  So I guess his ideas came over to de Vol (de Vol is named after Frank de Vol who composed the music for the Brady Bunch, a show we both loved as children).

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How did you learn to design clothes?  Were you a home sewer or did you have training? 

Well I have always been interested in sewing.  Way before I could sew I would get mum to sew scraps together and wear them until they fell off or mum would hide them from me.  When I was nine I got my first machine and started making my own clothes.  Aunties would give me fabric or I would cut up old things.
 
I wasn’t very popular when I made Madonna gloves from mum’s wedding dress.
 
Brendan’s mum was a factory machinist and had machines at home; when Brendan was a teen he would cut up old suits and make punk tees and hoodies.
We met at a sewing factory in our late teens, and when the factory closed down I decided to follow my childhood dream and study fashion.
 
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What is your process like– do you start with a fabric or a garment in mind?  Where do you work?

Jeepers my process is very random.  Sometimes it is a design idea, which may just be something like a sleeve shape to a dress silhouette, other times it could be something I would like to wear.  There can be problems with this method is finding the right fabric which speaks to you, and says hey make me into…
 
Our work room is attached to the end of our house.  It was built as a billiards hall by a previous owner, and has the best axminster carpet.  Its definitely our dream work room with space for an office, a three metre long cutting tables, six machines and twenty years of patterns.
 
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How would you describe your design aesthetic?

 That’s a hard one… it has definitely changed over the years.  There has always been a retro vein in our designs.  I think what I am going for at the moment is late 1970s librarian who has just come back from a trip to Japan.  We would like to think our clothing is versatile, easy to wear and care for.  We don’t go for fussy fabrics, and try to pick fabrics which will last.
 
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Where do you get your design inspiration from?

 I really enjoy reading and learning about new things.  Inspiration could be from traditional costumes, different periods in time, or reading a biography about an interesting character.
 
In the last few years I have been influencing current inspiration especially Japanese and South Korean work.  It also helps that the Japanese do the most beautiful fabrics.
 
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How has the process changed for you over the years?

 I leave less doodles around the house these days, especially now that ceramics take up any spare time I have.  I use to work on de Vol seven days a week (actually some weeks at peak times we still do), just not all year round.
 
The clothing industry in New Zealand has changed a huge amount in my time.  Firstly tariffs were lifted off imported clothing in the 1990s, the internet came along, and a disposable culture has come along… being such a small business we really need the bigger local designers to stay in the game, but they are closing their doors and that affects suppliers.
 
So the situation now is that is more difficult to find fabric, machinery, mechanics and more.  All of these factors affect our process, we now produce more designs in lesser numbers than we did in the late 1990s/early 2000.
 
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Were you always creative/crafty?

 Yes totally!  Being sick as a child meant staying in bed knitting and drawing.  My great-gran, my grandmother and my mother were all sewers/knitters.
 
Brendan’s grandfather was a saddle maker and his mum is a sewer and he made his own wooden toys as a child.  So we have both been around makers since we can remember.
 
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What has been the highlights for de Vol and you over the years?

 I think having clients like Anna Paquin, The Pointer Sister and Nico Case is pretty awesome for such a small label like us.
 
You know the best thing in the world though is when someone takes the time to let you know how much they love whatever it is that you have made them.
 
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What do you spend your time doing when you are not creating fashion?

I started making ceramics about five years ago, and have become an addict!  I love the freedom of being able to make something that is what it is and I don’t have to think about how it fits, who will suit it etc.

Ceramics for me is a great stress relief and I feel very lucky to have people want to buy it.  I sell my vases and planter pots (as the tailors wife) at Yvette Edwards floral studio in Wellington and Frutti stock my porcelain necklaces and earrings.  Also I have been getting back into dying fabrics, especially linen, I used to do a bit in the 1990s dying muslin.

 
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I notice you are including knitteds in your range now– what other developments do you have in mind for de Vol in the future? 

I have been toying with the idea of an on-lone store for my ceramics.  I’m not sure how it would work along side our clothing or whether it should be its own separate thing.  Something to look into for sure.  I love making both ceramics and clothing so it would be great to have them together.

 
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de Vol clothing can be found online and at the Cuba Street store Frutti and they are very kindly offering our readers a discount from their webstore!  Just enter promo code ELLBLOG10

This code is valid until the end of July!

 www.devolclothing.com

 Frutti, 180 Cuba Street, Wellington.
 
 

In the Closet with Sarah Corbet

Hamilton-based librarian Sarah Corbet talks to Natasha Francois about why she has a thing for trousers, how a turban teamed with a linen suit turns heads in Countdown and why she’s too poor to be a purist.

“When you work in a library, people almost seem to expect the stereotype of the twinset and pearls,” says Sarah Corbet.

The 43-year-old, who originally hails from Nottingham in the United Kingdom, loves being able to wear her own clothes to work.

Sartorially she looks like a cross between a woman supporting the war effort or one out to smash glass ceilings for girls in the typing pool, and says there’s nothing better than having her efforts noticed by those of a ‘certain vintage’!

“I get a real buzz off the older ladies that come in and tell me that they used to wear dresses like mine and style their hair like mine which is incredibly flattering coming straight from the source.”

Read on for a glimpse inside Sarah’s closet!

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?

Mostly items from the 40s and 50s but there are also a lot of modern pieces that have, what I like to think of as the “essence” of these periods; clothing that evoke a time period that help to create the overall impression that I am just off to work on my war effort or break some glass ceilings for the gals back in the typing pool.

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Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?

I’m too poor to be a purist and am incredibly jealous of those with both the budget and patience to be one. I am learning to be more discerning when it comes to vintage clothing and try to restrict myself to collecting items I know I will wear well and wear often. A wardrobe full of organza and tulle is fun and beautiful to look at but I’m not a Real Housewife so more day-wear is my current mission.

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What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?

I have a late 1940s Paul Sachs crepe, camel brown dress with chocolate velvet trim that I adore. I also have a 40s pale lemon flocked gown that unfortunately has the dry rot so it now lives on permanent display in my bedroom.

She fits beautifully but is only really being held together by love. A lot of my most beloved pieces are quite delicate as by the time vintage clothes get to a price point that I can afford, they’re pretty thrashed.

I’ve worn somethings to death because they’ve become solid wardrobe staples and it can be heart breaking to have to permanently retire items.

The roulette wheel of vintage clothing can mean you will never see another piece like it, or that if you do, it inevitably won’t fit.

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Held together by love: The 40s pale lemon flocked gown that has dry rot so it lives on permanent display in her bedroom.

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How did you first become interested in vintage style?

I have always been a bit different when it comes to my own personal style. When I was a child I was obsessed with people like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and how they were both so fearless when it came to their identity. For most of my life music has had an intrinsic relationship with how I dressed.

In the late 80s I started getting into rock and alternative bands and even had a momentary Goth stage when I was about 14. All I would wear was black from head to toe, which I’m sure looked cool when I was sneaking underage into Rock City in Nottingham, but has left me now in later life with a weird aversion to wearing anything darker than navy blue.

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She’s so unusual: For most of her life,  music’s had an intrinsic relationship with how Sarah dresses.

The early 90s were my heydays when grunge arrived and I was at Art College so anything went really. My friends and I were in constant competition to create the most bizarre outfits and it wasn’t uncommon to see one of us wearing a chopped up 1950s wedding dress with a tiara and army boots (Courtney Love was our spirit animal at that time).

I’m ashamed to say that a lot of vintage didn’t make it out of the 90s thanks to me and my friends but even in those days all the more valuable and collectable items were becoming harder to find in charity shops.

I took a break from vintage in the early 2000s because of living the single girl Sex and the City life which meant trolling the high street for Carrie Bradshaw knock offs. Then I found myself in New Zealand which is a whole different story.

What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?

It’s the aesthetics of vintage clothing that appeal to me the most which is sadly missing from so much of the mass-produced “fast fashion” of modern times. It just feels so much more considered and artisanal and the quality of fabric and tailoring has often left me slack jawed. Wearing something that someone else is unlikely to own pleases the individualist in me also.

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Fiercely individual: Sarah enjoys standing out in a crowd.

What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?

I’m not an elitist or purist about any particular time period but I do love the classic tailoring of the 40s and 50s, especially the trousers. You can build an amazing look around a good pair of pants. The delicate line between masculine and feminine was manipulated so well at that time and essentially created a look that has endured through design over the past century.

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Enduring style: There’s nothing quite like a classic tailored pair of trousers.

Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

I used to be a die-hard op shopper and there are plenty of those here in Hamilton but finding vintage out “in the wild” as they say is so hard these days. I used to get a lot of great pieces from Sarah O’Halloran when she was running Bellavintage but now that she’s shut up shop I have to do all the hard work myself (shakes lazy fist at world).

Eclectic in Nelson has the most beautiful vintage items if you’re ever lucky enough to be in that part of the country so when I am I like to treat myself and worry about paying rent later… TradeMe still occasionally throws up some treasures if you’re prepared to wade through all the “super rare” 1980s Dynasty dresses, but of course there’s always a bit of a bun fight for the good stuff.

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Sarah channels Katherine Hepburn.

Do you have general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

I love the Kiwi tradition of not throwing anything away if it’s still useful, which I guess comes from being in such an isolated part of the world. This means you’re never far away from an op shop or an antiques dealer, but in terms of vintage clothing you really have to look overseas, especially America and Europe for the truly fabulous stuff. The Internet has made the vintage market a lot more accessible here in New Zealand but it’s still a thrill when you stumble upon some unexpected treasure at the Sallies.

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Whose closet do you envy and why?

I LOVE Jessica Parker, (@noaccountingfortaste), whose outfits are a huge inspiration for what goes into my wardrobe. I’m also a big fan of a lot of drag queens because they have that fearlessness about them which I find inspirational.

Violet Chachki is the re-incarnation of every Hollywood starlet smashed into one tiny waist. Their whole life is just being a glamorous doll that people love to dress-up and that’s something I can totally relate to, she says writing this in her pyjamas.

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Glamour guru: Violet Chachki

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

I love trousers so it has to be Katherine Hepburn with a bit of Lauren Bacall thrown in. I’ve never been a girlie person so women that have a slight masculine edginess to them light little vintage fires inside me. Did I mention I love trousers?

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Masculine edge: Sarah likes to tread the delicate line between masculine and feminine.

Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?

It is a handmade 1950s dress made with a green, repeating rose design, cotton fabric. I bought it when I was about 16 years old for, I think, about nine pounds which in those days would have been a lot for me as a poor student. I still have it so it comes out occasionally for another showing each summer. And, yes amazingly it still fits! RIP my dreams of ever getting boobs.

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Librarian chic:  Sarah looks effortlessly elegant in her vintage threads.

How do members of the public react to your getups?

I do get a few compliments every now and then with the, of course, predictable “are you going to a costume/fancy dress party?” etc. Because I’m not trying to exactly recreate eras with what I wear or make historically accurate statements, it seems to be less jarring for most people. Although a turban with matching lipstick and a 1940s linen suit will turn heads in Countdown.

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Do you wear vintage to work as well? What do you do and how is your style received in the workplace?

I’m really lucky that I get to wear my own clothes to work. When you work in a library people almost seem to expect the stereotype of the twin set and pearls. I get a real buzz off the older ladies that come in and tell me that they used to wear dresses like mine and style their hair like mine which is incredibly flattering coming straight from the source. Although none of them have yet to donate to me said dresses I still live in hope that one day there still exists out there the mother lode of vintage with my name on it. A lot of the little kids just think I’m a Wiggle.

Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?

My home definitely reflects my taste for old used things which wasn’t really thought of as “vintage” back in the day; it was just buying second-hand. I’m a bit of a nomad so moving around a lot does prevent accumulating lots of collections of things but it also means you have to be selective with what you own and you can’t be too precious about stuff. I’ve settled in Hamilton for now but thanks to rental inspections and a housemate I haven’t been allowed to hoard my house to the rafters with doilies and knick-knacks.

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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

I think history has shown that I will give most things a try so who knows what my next vintage sartorial phase will be. I kind of like the idea of entering an “Elizabeth Taylor during her second marriage to Richard Burton” era where I wear nothing but kaftans and diamonds but I guess we’ll just have to watch this soon to be bejewelled space.

Follow Sarah on Instagram– where she goes by the moniker @professional_spinster

So, what do you think of Sarah’s sartorial style? What is your favourite outfit pictured? Let me know in the comments. 

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Behind the seams with Vivien of Holloway

Natasha meets the wonderfully witty lady behind the Vivien of Holloway empire.

It’s not every day that you get to meet the reproduction vintage pioneer behind one of your favourite reproduction clothing labels.

Vivien of Holloway is a veritable institution in the vintage world. Since 2000, the label has been serving up only the highest quality, authentic, reproduction vintage clothing to pinup and rockabilly devotees worldwide.

Inspired by the timeless style of 1940s and 50s silver screen starlets, her glamourous clothing is made in England and designed to flatter your curves.

It’s an extremely humid Friday morning in late January and Vivien Wilson, aka Vivien in Holloway, is in Auckland and I meet her at Rita Sue Clothing, a vintage inspired boutique in St Kevin’s Arcade, which has recently become a stockist of the brand.

While I’m hungover as hell and my hair is plastered to my skull with sweat, Vivien is a picture of style and elegance. Dressed in a red and white Kitty dress with a striking Hawaiian print, her strawberry blonde hair perfectly coiffed, she’s a walking, talking ambassador for her label.

We grabbed a coffee at a bustling cafe overlooking Myers Park and had a jolly good chat.

Read on for the interview!

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Vivien Wilson aka Vivien of Holloway at Rita Sue Boutique photographed in January.

You’ve been making clothing since you were a child and your label started in 2000. So you’re a reproduction clothing pioneer, is that right?

I am the first! I don’t think anyone else was doing it when I was 9 or 10.

I don’t think I’ll tell you how long ago that was! I didn’t start selling  until I was about 14 except to my friends because, obviously I’d make something for myself and then they’d go ‘ can I have one’ and I’d go ‘OK’.

So then I’d make it. And then at the first ever rock ‘n’ roll festival in the world as far as I know, probably the second one actually,  I took some clothes along to sell.

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Was this in the 80s or 90s?

 Very early 80s is as far as I’m going to go back.

Was that the beginnings of a scene in the UK?

No there’s always been a scene!

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 I went to America when I was 18. There’s pictures all over my personal Instagram…

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There was no scene there…no rockabilly scene.

There were a few people there and they said to me ‘there’s nothing here.’

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Why do you think this was?

Maybe because it’s so spread out and rockabilly is already a part of their culture. They dressed according to their music but they didn’t dress 50s style.

It was a bit flat to go to America and not to be able to find any rockabilly clubs. But it wasn’t a surprise as obviously I had friends from there who said there wasn’t any. And they were coming to England.

I went out there to meet an English boy who I was seeing and later married and when he picked me up from the airport he had a Chrysler and a ’59 Cadillac and we just got dressed up and went cruising all the time.

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And he had a couple of young friends that had Corvettes, so there were cars and people into cars but there wasn’t really a music scene as such.

A few years after that when my friend came over from America… it slowly built from there.

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How have you noticed the scene evolve?

The English scene doesn’t really change. People come and go. What’s shocking is when you remember there being a new young person to the scene and then they’re turning 30… Time just goes quickly!

Is the scene a lot bigger than it used to be?

There’s always been a big scene in England. Ever since I can remember really, if anything the clubs were bigger when I was young.

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In New Zealand it seems like the opposite way around. Pinup and vintage culture seem to be booming here. despite us being a tiny country.

I think there’s a big difference between vintage culture and rockabilly clubs. It’s not the same thing.

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Viven meets local pinup Dolly Destory.

I guess the scene’s so small here that we don’t really have enough people to have separate scenes..

That’s a good thing it’s not like that in England. I wish more people who are just interested in pinup and vintage would come to clubs, it would make them more interesting.

As it is, it’s just people I’ve been looking at for 30 years.  And oh not you again! Hahaha!

As the first vintage repro label. Obviously everyone is doing vintage repro now. How does that make you feel?

It’s a bit sad that so many of them feel the need to copy my designs!  They do very close copies and then say there’s nothing like it. There’s a million different styles from the 50s- why did you choose to take so much influence from mine?

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Vivien of Holloway’s flagship store on Holloway Road, London.

How do you feel about those cheap, nasty, made -in -China knock-offs that people buy on Ali Express and Wish?

One company in China actually stole my whole website! They have now copied a lot of other designers who are now contacting me. And it’s like, well none of you cared …they didn’t have any recognition of the fact that the scene is too small and you need to look further afield.

I started designing 1940s style trousers, I had them with the turn up and buttons and now people  seem to think that that’s the only style of the 1940s trouser instead of looking a bit further and going ‘ there are lots of different styles of 1940s trousers’ you don’t have to put buttons on one side and turn ups!

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Do you go after then with lawyers?

When I first started, I didn’t do many designs. The stuff sold really well and I didn’t have to.It sold as quick as I could make it.

But then when people started copying my clothes, I just thought well that’s going to happen and it was just a big kick up the backside to do more designs. So really, they did me a favour.

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But the difference with my brand is everything is made in England. Everything has my hand on it because literally those factories are within half an hour travel of my office and I personally check every pattern, I check every fit of every garment.

They’re fitted on one of the girls in the office who’s a size 10, and me who wears a size 18.  Every garment is checked like that- so it fits every person as an average the best. It’s difficult to make something fit at all on a short person.  But what we try and do is do the average of everything. So everything doesn’t fit me perfectly cos I’m tall!

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That time I met Vivien Wilson in the flesh at Auckland boutique Rita Sue Clothing.

But it will fit everyone on an average pretty well. Some designs- because they’re made, they might not fit a short person quite so well.

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I was actually going to come to that next as I’m sure you get a lot of comments about sizing..

There’s a lot of argument about the sizing. My label has been going so long that the sizes were actually made on the large size when we started.

If you look at an official size chart, it’s not actually that far from our sizing. But also a lot of clothes that are made in China – Asian people don’t have waists like we do so a lot of the clothing doesn’t get made with waists..

28034613_1947677521927239_1990867361_oAlso it’s the same with vanity sizing – if they don’t put a waist on something it’ll fit everybody. But I’m not happy with that. My clothing is limited to girls with one type of figure or maybe two, but it’ll fit them brilliantly.

The thing is there’s a massive gap in the market – for the body shape I cater for. There’s not a massive gap in the market for girls who are size 10. But there is for girls of size 18.

I try and leave little bits of extra [fabric] here and there so you can do adjustments.

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Have you ever considered making extended sizes (currently her laegest size is UK22 with a 38″ waist)?

It’s very difficult because we already do 8 sizes. It’s not that there isn’t enough of a market–we could either cut off the small and add another larger size, but I can’t do more than 8 sizes. As it is, every time we make a dress – we make 500 dresses – that’s going to add another 80 dresses every time we do a fabric…

You have to have a cut off somewhere. And that’s kinda where we got to. 

28033166_1947679475260377_2025412431_oA lot of people have asked about larger sizes in the sarongs, but it’s difficult because as you get bigger, different people have their weight in different places and so it’s hard to know where to add the extra. I totally sympathize as I can’t buy clothes on the high street I’m too big…unless I want to go to a big girl’s shop and then just all tents.

In Australia I wear a 16 and at home it would be an 18 to a 20 and most shops don’t even cater that large. And if they do, they do one so it’s gone pretty quickly.

Maybe some of the clothes that aren’t so fitted I could do to a larger size..

28694591_1971569019538089_1357051668_oThe idea of our clothing is to pull you into the shape you should be so if you use a stretch fabric it will just let you out…but I think this year will see us possibly doing a little leisure range so a little beach dress maybe and with me coming to Australia every January , I don’t have anything to wear on the beach.

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I like the structure that comes with wearing something non stretch.What about the idea of doing a separate plus size range or even a couple of pieces?

Oh I’d really love to but it’s just not plausible if you understood how small the company was .. because everything we do sells really well so I don’t want to stop… a lot of companies bring out a new range every year. But if we stopped doing anything from our range , people would be unhappy ..

28695235_1971569829538008_909684462_oWhat are the hallmarks of the Vivien of Holloway brand?

Well I like to think we are actually reproduction, most labels are just retro which just means made out of funky fabrics [ or a vague nod to retro] wheras I use the same fabrics – as close to the fabrics as I can get- or we replace rayon with polyester because it washes and it hangs just like rayon but it washes brilliantly or you can chuck it on the floor and put it straight back on.

I try and use fabrics that will hang exactly the same as the original which is where I think a lot of clothing brands fall down.

28695071_1971570499537941_241343011_oSo did you have any formal training in fashion?

No not really. I started [sewing] when I was about 8 or 9 I think – might have been 10. My mum loved old movies so I used to watch old movies with my mum and you know there was always that scene where you saw the women clicking down the road in those heels- stiletto heels with her seamed stockings and her tight skirt .. so I really wanted some of those shoes.

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So my mum took me shopping and we looked everywhere and then she went ‘ ok I know where to go’ and she took me to a charity shop which is probably the worst thing she ever did in her life – and from that minute onwards I was hooked. I went in there and she said right- you can have two pairs of shoes and two items of clothing so I remember I bought two pencil skirts and two pairs of shoes and from then on, every single penny I got went straight to the charity shops and jumble sales.

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And that’s how I learned the construction of vintage clothing, because I started altering them to fit me – first of all I just made tucks everywhere. My mum always made her own clothing but she wasn’t very good ..and she said this is what you do but then I realised you could start taking things apart and that’s where I learnt all my knowledge about how things were constructed. So that’s how my brand differs from other peoples because I’ve taken thousands of garments apart and I know how to put them together.

1950s-halterneck-turquoise-duchess-dress-p35-12965_image.jpgIn early days I used to just cut a dress in half and use half of it for a pattern and keep the other half to see how the rest went back together.

I learnt an awful lot of things that people can’t teach you .. how seams were made, how darts were made , how things should hang, how a particular style should hang and where it should drape- you need to know all these things.

And through a whole life of being into vintage, that’s how I am ..

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Rita Sue Clothing proprietor Cathy Warden models the new Kitty in tiki print.

Have you got anything exciting coming up with the brand or personally?

It’s a bit late for the season but there’s a coat coming. It’s the first time I’ve told anyone we’re doing coats!

katharine-trousers-crepe-scarlet-p2757-12538_medium.jpgAren’t coats quite expensive and complicated to bring out?

They will be, but they’re worth it. It’s very beautiful and already under way and they’ll be made when I get back to England and they’re very beautiful and they’re going to be very limited – I think we’re only making 20 to start with!

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We just started a new range before I went away called the Pink Label Deluxe and that’s because so many people admired clothes that I was making for myself but the fabrics were too expensive for me to put them into our range for a similar price so the pink label – probably most items will be twice the price as everything else but it’ll be because the fabric is really nice quality.

I mean we use nice quality already but this will take the limits off what I can spend on fabrics which means I can buy whatever I like. And we’ve already brought out some of the pink label items which are absolutely beautiful.

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What is the label most known for? 

Well if you go to my live page on instagram, you’ll be able to see how I spend my life.

What are you most proud of?

My son! He’s just turning 30. He does work with me sometimes but he’s a musician- he’s in a metal band called Counting Days. They’re quite well known but there’s not an awful amount of money involved in music at the moment..

Fashionwise it’s usually my latest thing: I make clothes for me basically. If I want to wear something, then I make it. I might make something I wouldn’t wear now but everything I make is things I would have worn at some point in my life.

28642991_1971570889537902_1730123199_oHow has your style evolved over the years?

I very much dress for my body shape and for my age and I think the label probably reflects that but when I choose fabrics I make sure I choose fabrics that suit every personality and age so I just pick fabrics I think are beautiful and will look good in design- I might not wear them all.

I go to some very high end events a lot and even though I’m surrounded by people in designer clothes I’m always getting people stop me and tell me how amazing I look. And that’s everywhere I go really.

28822071_1971573742870950_422064913_oMy friends find it really funny that some people actually chase me up the street to tell me I look amazing. Year ago they used to laugh but now they understand what it [vintage] is. It’s in the press so much that people understand what you’re doing.

I used to go to a lot of fashion parties with stylists and fashion people . I myself am not really interested in getting involved in the fashion world, I’ve never been to fashion shows, I don’t think it’s got anything to do with what we do.

28695591_1971570639537927_2061382378_oBut I go to fashion parties with other people and whereas people used to look at me like I was weird and ignore me, now they tend to treat you like you’re some 50s movie star or something because they get it. But before it was fashionable, it was like ugh who’s that? The fashion industry can be really catty.

Want to find out more? Check out Vivien of Holloway stock in store now at Rita Sue Clothing or visit the website here.

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Vivien and yours truly. Thank goodness for Vivien’s beloved ‘beauty app’ LOL

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New Vivien of Holloway kitty dresses in store now at Rita Sue Clothing!

The Handmade’s Tale: Interview with Hey Muchachita!

Welcome to part three of our Handmade’s Tale feature which celebrates crafty and creative women. This week Natasha meets Mexicana-inspired jewellery maker Dani Spadevecchia.

It started with a vintage handbag. It was a beautiful black Italian raffia purse with a crocheted shell pattern, dark wood handle and decorative gold studs – and Dani Spadevecchia had to have it.

Despite agonising over the price, she decided it was an ‘ investment piece’ so snapped it up.

Soon she needed matching accessories for a special event. Nothing seemed right… until she bought some black rayon raffia and fashioned a pair of earrings with dark wood bead detail and the Cha Cha earring was born!

It wasn’t long before she had her own jewellery range Hey Muchachita! which she began selling at vintage fairs and markets and via her own Etsy store!

Today the Brighton-based collector is a self-employer jewellery designer/ maker. And when her hands aren’t tied up in raffia,  she also works as a training co-ordinator for a child safeguarding agency.

Read on to discover how a girl from a mining town in the north of England developed a passion for Mexicana , the process involved in making each of her pieces and the new products she’s planning to roll out in future!

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Dani Spadevecchia ‘womans’ her Hey Muchachita! stall.

How did you first get interested in Mexican style?

It’s really difficult to pinpoint, but since I was a teen I’ve been fascinated with Mexican and Latino style, culture, music and dancing, which is quite unusual for a girl from a mining town in the north of England! After taking salsa dance lessons, I was really interested in the Mambo craze of the 1950s, and so my interest and passion for other music and style elements from the mid-century era grew. 

My love of Mexican culture was more than justified after I travelled to the Pacific coast of Mexico on my honeymoon. I loved how aesthetically pleasing pretty much everything was – the traditional dress, food, artwork, architecture, and landscapes. Even the cemeteries were beautiful and bursting with colour. It really is such an inspiring place.

Range of Fiesta Earrings

How did you come to be making your jewellery range? 

I’m an avid collector of 1950’s raffia handbags, which started after I bought one bag in particular – a beautiful black Italian raffia bag with a crocheted shell pattern and dark wood handle with decorative gold studs. Some time later, I was looking for some accessories to match this bag for an event I had coming up, and was frustrated that nothing seemed quite right. So, I bought some black rayon raffia and made a pair of earrings for myself with dark wood bead detail. The Cha Cha earring was born!

When I purchased that black handbag, it was quite pricey and I remember beating myself up about spending so much money on it. I genuinely said to my now husband “it’s not just a bag, it’s an investment”, and it really did turn out to be just that.

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Tell me about the process involved in making your pieces.

Should I really give away my secrets?! OK then…

For my earrings I use a combination of crochet and weave. The top parts of the earrings are always crocheted, and depending on the style the process for the lower parts vary. Most of my earrings consist of woven raffia around a hoop of some sort, and can be adorned with beading or stitched into. My new Maya earrings however are completely crocheted, meaning no glue is needed at all to construct the earring (apart from to attach the backs of course). I’m pretty proud of them! 

I tend to work in a production line type style;  for instance I’ll weave around large multiples of hoops, finish them with glue, and then whilst the glue is drying I’ll crochet the tops. By the time I’ve finished crocheting, the glue is dry and I can move on to finishing details like stitching, before constructing the earring. Et voila!

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What materials do you use?

The predominant and reoccurring material used in every Hey Muchachita piece I make is rayon raffia. I adore it’s versatility; it’s as easy to work with as yarn, has a beautiful texture and lustre, and comes in a multitude of colours. My earrings are predominantly made from raffia, but I do use different materials when making brooches. For the western style brooches I embroider onto natural denim.

For some of my more Tiki style brooches, I use genuine vintage buttons. I love coming across vintage haberdashery at second hand shops, as simply finding a set of beautiful buttons or beads can inspire a completely new design.

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What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I really enjoy selling my products at vintage fairs and events, as it is a great way to meet other like minded people, and I get to meet some of my lovely customers! I’m so grateful to  the internet and social media for being a fantastic platform for small businesses to gain publicity, but it can be quite a daunting and isolating place. I’m really sociable and love interacting with people face to face, so it is nice to come out from behind the computer screen and meet my customers from time to time!

Fiesta Earrings Red and Gold

How has your technique evolved over time?

I wouldn’t say my technique has evolved as such, but I definitely have got neater and a lot quicker over time. I guess it’s like anything, the more you do something the better you become. It’s almost becoming muscle memory now, I’m sure I could make earrings in my sleep! Also, as my brand has become more well known and demand for my products has increased, I have had to adapt my production methods to keep up. Making large quantities of each element of the earring at once is definitely the way forward.

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Any plans to branch out into other areas/ products besides jewellery?

I still have so much to explore within jewellery! At the moment I’m working on some ideas and designs for a range of bangles, which will hopefully be coming soon. I’ve had so many exciting ideas for necklaces and hair combs too, it’s just having the time to play whilst trying to keep my existing products in stock! I’d love to explore embroidery more, and have sketched up some ideas for purses and clutches. So watch this space!

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What are your creative inspirations?

My ideas usually stem from me making products to match some of my favourite vintage pieces, like the handbag I mentioned earlier. Also, I own a beautiful vintage mauve wool jacket with gorgeous cream and brown western stitching, and initially designed my Lasso earrings to match this. I get so much inspiration from my customers however – I love it when I get a request for a custom order in a colour way I hadn’t initially thought would work, because more often than not they look great! When initially coming up with a new concept I tend to use colours that I like and that match my wardrobe, so having suggestions from my customers really helps me to think outside the box.

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Were you always crafty/ creative as a youngster?

Absolutely! As a young girl I was obsessed with making and loved to watch the arty kids shows on TV. I saw potential in pretty much any bit of discarded string or card, and my poor parents couldn’t throw anything away without me trying to give it a new lease of life first. Also, I spent many a Sunday afternoon learning to knit with my Grandma. It was being able to knit that led to me being interested in and then learning how to crochet, so I guess Grandma Joyce has played a big part in Hey Muchachita’s set up!

Lasso Earrings on Tamara

Do you have a favourite piece you’ve created? 

I really like the shape of my newest style, the Maya earrings. Personally, I love to wear mine as I feel they are bold and unique, and so eye-catching. I’ve had so many compliments whilst wearing them! But I also feel really fond and proud of my Fiesta earrings, which have proven to be my best sellers by far. I think the versatility of this style, with limitless colour ways and sizes, make them a really popular choice across my wide spectrum of customers.

Maya earrings all colours

Where can people learn more about your work and purchase their own pieces?

Etsy

Instagram

Facebook 

What do you think of Dani’s handiwork? Let me know in the comments! x

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The Handmade’s Tale: Nifty threads from Wellington label Cry Cry Cry Clothing

In the closet with Heather Benzie

In part four of our ‘In the Closet with’… series, Heather Benzie spills her sartorial secrets to Natasha Francois.

Vintage doyenne Heather Benzie has a knack for crafting authentic-looking 1940s and 50s high fashion outfits using a hodge podge of vintage, retro and modern items.

The Christchurch-based apparel manager happily mixes eras and has a particular interest in retro pieces which recall earlier eras such as 1930s does 70s items or 80s does 40s or 50s.

But you wouldn’t know this from looking at her. From head to toe, she’s the epitome of elegance and tailored perfection. She’s certainly no vintage snob but by the same token, doesn’t own a single piece of  ‘purpose-designed’ reproduction clothing.

Read on to find out about her eclectic wardrobe, her passion for formal day-wear and skirt suits, and why she believes 1980s clothing is the ‘vintage of the future’.  

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Being ladylike, as I do sometimes for fun, faking the 50s in a modern op shopped blazer. A good blazer is a good blazer, really.

Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?

I don’t think I own any actual purpose-designed repro. In general, manufactured reproductions and retail shopping don’t really interest me. What I like is the quirky, the individual and the fortuitous. I love to go hunting and see what I find and be inspired by it. And I do value my true vintage for age and authenticity: I suppose I like things that are a bit rare and special.

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The green and white ‘Snow Drop’ post, in a pretty polyester 60s blouse on a chilly early spring day …

But I am definitely not a vintage purist either. If I am wearing a good vintage dress or suit I like to keep my fairly accessories in keeping, but for every day I will happily mix up vintage, retro and modern items to create a look I like, and it might or might not be a historically accurate effect that I am after. And I am really interested in retro pieces which in turn reference earlier eras, like 30s-influenced 1970s fashion and 80s fashions which are similar to styles from the 40s or 50s. For one thing they are handy because you can wear them either way, but I am just fascinated by the overlaps and circularity of fashion. 

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A beautiful Chloe jacket I bought at the Recycle Boutique in Auckland – more expensive than vintage but exquisite really. The vintage of the future.

What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?

I have acquired a nice Lilli Ann suit and some lovely 1950s and 1960s dresses and suits which are always nice to wear for special occasions. They are always elegant and glamorous. One of my favourites is a teeny black silk velvet cheongsam which I will probably never squeeze into again … thank goodness for the everlasting photographic record of the internet! If I am buying proper vintage I try to follow the same guidelines I would for buying a new piece of clothing: is it beautiful or stylish (in my opinion), well designed, and well made of quality fabric?

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I love a little fierce 40s style: actually 80s vintage jacket and veiled hat. Don’t you just love veiled hats?? I do. Hurrah for 80s does 40s!

Any noteworthy recent purchases?

There are a couple of dresses I picked up recently which are quite different from each other but both of which I love. I recently added to my collection a long silk evening dress, maybe 60s, with a stunning Chinese style water lily print. It’s very elegant. And I bought an amazing 1980s velvet cocktail dress with amazing oversized shoulders and puffed sleeves which I love because it is so ’80s’ but it has a real high fashion flair to it – elegant too, in a different way. It’s what I call the vintage of the future: when the rest of the world catches up with me in appreciating 80s fashion I will have the market cornered! 

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One of my nicest things: an ivory cocktail suit. Tres Dior, non?

How did you first become interested in vintage style? Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?

I remember from quite a young age loving the the glamorous high style of the old movies which were still pretty standard fare on the telly. As a teenager in the 1980s I got interested in current fashion – it was the age of Madonna, British New Romanticism and punk, so a really fun, eclectic time. There was quite a strong retro element in popular culture, and my friends and I loved visiting the local op shops and mixing up our Glassons stuff with vintage 50s and 60s items, among other things. I used to wear my pencil skirts with op shop 60s cardis and my mother’s gloves and pearls or a silk cocktail jacket and brocade shoes from my Nana. I don’t think we called it ‘wearing vintage’: it was more just a way to stretch our small budgets and wardrobes with nice things!

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The closest I ever get to that immaculate pinup style! – pretty 60s wool frock from Dunedin Savemart, and a hat to minimise my naturally chaotic hair.

What is it about vintage clothing that appeals the most?

I am mostly driven by aesthetics and a kind of curiosity about fashion in general. I love a good outfit of any era and style and really appreciate when anyone puts thought into what they’re wearing. Vintage gives me opportunities to try out different aesthetics. I love co-ordinating all the elements from top to toe: it is like a puzzle you can put together in different ways. Sometimes I want to look smart, or cute or romantic or whatever, and sometimes I am just mucking around.

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I was inspired by Kate Bush’s video for The Hounds Of Love to photograph this romantic 80s Thornton Hall ball gown this way ..

Given that, the question of whether my clothes are a form of self expression is complicated. It is true that wearing different clothes makes you feel different (if you are interested Google ‘enclothed cognition’) and the fact that I experiment with lots of different looks probably indicates that I am happy with being several different people! I have said before that my clothes mostly express a desire to make the everyday just a little more fabulous and interesting!

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This lovely silk 70s wedding dress reminded me of the White Witch in the original Narnia illustrations, with its austere medieval styling.

My photographs are really important to me as a creative outlet. I don’t have time to do many at the moment and it makes me sad! When I have time I really love to photograph some of my clothes in a creative way. I am trying to show some cultural or even an emotional association of the clothing for me. For example, I styled a 1980s ballgown in a photo shoot inspired by a Kate Bush album, as an attempt to illustrate the new romantic spirit. It’s a very personal and impressionistic interpretation, though; not a documentary.

What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?

I wear clothes of lots of different eras: more than favourite eras I have favourite styles or genres that I gravitate towards. I adore formal daywear and love to wear a skirt suit with all the accessories – from any decade from the 40s to the 80s. The sharper and more glamorous the look, the better, so I do have a special yen for that high drama, fierce 40s, 50s and 80s style.

I take any opportunity to get dressed up in eveningwear too. I have a lot of elegant 50s and 60s frocks but I have started wearing more funky late 60s and 70s dresses, and of course I can’t resist a good 80s number!

For casual wear I mostly revert to various forms and eras of what you might call romantic and boho style, from 40s looks to current ones. 
If I were going to sum up my preferred style, it is either elegant and formal, or colourful and romantic. With a hint of preppy and the odd cute moment. Go figure. 

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A ravishing gold satin 50s gown against the golden autumn beauty of the Port Hills here in Christchurch.

Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

I do the rounds of my local op shops when I can, buy a few things off Trademe and always visit Overflow in Mayfield when we head south. I don’t buy a lot of ‘retail’ vintage only because I’m tight with money. Some of my best things have been bought from friends in the vintage community, because I trust them. 

Do you have any general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

Well, it is easy to get envious about the seemingly bottomless pool of amazing vintage you see on overseas sites. But paradoxically the small size of the vintage community and stock in New Zealand keeps prices down, which is nice for a collector. I have bought beautiful true vintage suits and dresses off Trademe for a fraction of what the would sell for on an overseas site. And you can definitely still find bits of true vintage in the op shops and fairly inexpensive second hand shops. Sometimes I can’t believe what I find that has been overlooked or consigned as valueless. You do need patience, sharp eyes, some knowledge, and a bit of luck though.

Whose closet do you envy and why?

Marilyn Monroe’s maybe? Ava Gardner’s? 

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Ava Gardner

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

So many influences! I have certainly been influenced by the beauty and glamour of the classic movie stars of the 40s and 50s. My favourite designers are pretty diverse: Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren and Yves St Laurent spring to mind. Fashion advertising and pop culture of all sorts in recent decades interests me.

I don’t really follow any bloggers or such but I totally love Leandra Medine, aka Manrepeller, for the way she has divorced an interest in fashion from conventional notions of femininity, prettiness and sex appeal. I think that is my position, to some degree. Looking pretty is not, in and of itself, particularly interesting to me these days.

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Leandra Medine aka ‘Manrepeller’

Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

Nude lipstick. Trackpants. Activewear unless I am actually running. Any form of imitation Ugg boots or boot slippers. Leggings as pants. Chunky gladiator sandals. Makeup modelled on that of a Khadashian. But that’s only me and what I personally consider attractive or suitable for me. I don’t care what other people wear: we are all different! That’s a good thing. 

What do you think of Heather’s vintage style? Let me know in the comments! xx

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All Kooped Up: An interview with lounge lothario Koop Kooper

Natasha Francois chats to Cocktail Nation radio host and arbiter of all things swank, Koop Kooper.

Koop Kooper vividly recalls visiting his grandparent’s home as a child and being dazzled by the mid-century furniture inside. He would lie on the couch watching old movies from the ’50s and ’60s while his mother and grandmother sipped tea.

Sometimes he would take his mother’s old Bluebird wooden tennis racket outside and hit balls against his grandparent’s wall imagining he was playing [Australian tennis pros] Rod Laver or Ken Rosewall. “It was like my own little portal to the past, he says. “Even as a kid, the mid-century appealed to me.”

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“I had quite an active imagination for a 10-year-old. Also, I remember little things like the fact that it was a very old neighbourhood and to me, it felt like ’50s America. Add to this the fact that my mother also used to like listening to old music, I guess it tends to get into your head.”

At 14, Koop discovered the rockabilly subculture. He remembers sitting in a ’50s style milkbar with a friend, watching the local greasers with their vintage clothes and slicked back hair, and thinking they were so brave and he could never do that.

“A year later and I had my hair piled high in a pompadour and was dressed head to toe in vintage 1950s clothes,” he says.

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By the late ’90s he’d drifted away from rockabilly towards jazz and swing. A girl he was seeing introduced him to the Ultra Lounge series which he began collecting and fell in love with all things swank.

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25 years later, and the 40-year-old radio host is still wearing clothes from the era. Granted, it’s a more adult style, but still mid-century to the core. “I have several shirts and jackets I picked up in the early days and I am pleased to say they still fit!” he says.

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Describing his distinctive sartorial style as “vintage 50s/ 60s Cary Grant meets Don Draper meets George Clooney,” Koop favours skinny ties, single breasted thin lapels suits and stingy brim hats. For casual wear, he loves jack shirts and gab pants.

“I wear vintage every day of the year. Same with my hair, royal crown pomaded pompadour.”

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“Too many people play at a lifestyle and don’t actually live it day in and day out. From wearing vintage clothing or vintage-inspired clothing every day, to driving a classic car everywhere (his current ride is a 64 Austin Healey Sprite), I don’t just dress up for the weekend out.”

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“This is how I look all the time, says the one-time pro tennis chair umpire, “I don’t listen to modern music, I constantly read books written about the past or written in the mid-century. I’m not interested in the latest viral sensation, To me it’s just another fad that will disappear faster than you can say Jack Robinson.”

“This lifestyle is 100 per cent for me. It’s not just about physical things but also thoughts, attitudes and manners.”

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However, unlike many vintage fans Koop doesn’t consider himself a collector. “I bought all my furniture and brick-a-brac with the intention that I actually use everything I buy. I don’t want to live in a museum.”

His favourite era is the late 1950s to mid 60s. To him it “epitomises the zenith of style where design and love of technology started to come together.”

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These days he hosts the internationally syndicated weekly lounge music podcast Cocktail Nation which he broadcasts from his Sydney penthouse to an audience across the globe. The hour-long show, which first aired in 2006, fuses interviews, commentary and advice with an eclectic mix of neo and classic tunes.

The music runs the gamut from lounge to exotica, with detours into many other sub genres, but the smooth-talking Aussie is in his element when it omes to interviewing luminaries and pioneers from the world of cocktail culture such as The Martini Kings, Marina the fire-eating mermaid, mid century bongo master Jack Constanzo and tiki cocktail guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

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Tiki cocktail guru Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Having worked as a radio announcer on commerical Australian radio for years, and as a professional voiceover artist, Koop felt that there was a gap in the market for a show which combined music along with interviews, a gig guide and news from the world of lounge.

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“I wanted a late-night feel of a show that had a feeling of exclusivity about it. This wasn’t meant to be something that was readily accessible to the public, it’s always meant to be slightly alternative. Certainly this is something which has come up when dealing with potential syndicate stations who want a cutesy pie top 40 of the 50s, we ain’t that.”

Koop’s top five neo-lounge tunes

Check out the show at: www.cocktailnation.net

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The Cocktail Nation is a radio show and podcast broadcast across the world via various radio stations. Every Saturday night, host Koop Kooper talks to the movers and shakers of the lounge and Exotica scene while mixing it up with the very best in swingin’ tunes from the 50s and 60s.