In the closet with…Hettie LaBombe

Hettie LaBombe, the flame-haired stand-up bassist and singer from Boom! Boom! Deluxe spills her sartorial secrets.

By Natasha Francois

By day, she’s a freelance musician, film maker, photographer and music teacher, but by night, you’ll find Hettie LaBombe (aka Henrieta Tornyai) on stage with her neo-rockabilly band Boom! Boom! Deluxe.

The flame-haired double bassist adores vintage and pinup style, 1950s B-movies, rock’n’roll, jazz, classic cars and cats – tastes which are reflected in her personal style.

Leopard print is a firm favourite, alongside an enchanted world of jumpsuits, leopard print, op shop treasures, 60s mini dresses, more jumpsuits, tartan pants, houndstooth jackets, angora sweaters, swing trousers with braces, New Zealand-made reproduction and more.

Combining elements of traditional rock’ n ’roll, rockabilly, blues, punk, swing and do woopBoom! Boom! Deluxe have become a fixture on the classic car/ hot-rod/ vintage scene.

“At the end of the day we just want to write a catchy song,” says Hettie, who originally hails from Slovakia.

“It’s all a bit tongue in cheek, we try not to take ourselves too seriously and I think our lyrics (like Burger and a Beer) reflect that. Someone even described us as “The Ramones of Rockabilly!”


All about that bass: Hettie LaBombe plays in neo rockabilly band Boom! Boom! Deluxe.

“I love playing in the band because I get to play with musicians I really respect. It’s pushed my bass playing in new directions. I’ve never had to be so percussive as a jazz player before. It’s fun to watch people dance to our music. And of course I have the perfect excuse to buy cool outfits and dress up!”

Of course, because this column is all about the clothes –  let’s admire Hettie’s attention-grabbing stage ensembles and find out how she achieves her everyday glamour!

Read on to discover more!

dresser 1-2

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

Why, thank you! Of course! My wardrobe is an enchanted world of jumpsuits, leopard print, opshop treasures, 60s mini dresses, more jumpsuits, tartan pants, houndstooth jackets, angora sweaters, swing trousers with braces, New Zealand-made repro and oh and did I mention the jumpsuits?


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

I’m definitely not a purist. I would say I probably wear 60/40 repro/vintage. I love the hunt and the satisfaction of finding the real thing but it isn’t always practical or affordable. There’s a finite amount of vintage out there and it isn’t going to last forever. I want to invest into the future by supporting businesses that make quality repro. There is so much talent out there. I especially love to support NZ designers like Vanessa Kelly, Cry Cry Cry and The Dressmaker’s Wardrobe. 

blue dress-14

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

My 60s leopard print faux fur coat I got from Vouz-le-vouz Vintage. It’s a stunner!  I had the fortune of meeting her majesty Grace Jones at her recent gig and she approved of it so it must be good.

My sunshine yellow mod a-line dress with matching jacket. It fits like it was made for me and with a pair of go-go boots and oversized round sunnies, I can’t help but boogie to the psychedelic music in my head.

A homemade teal houndstooth late 60s coat with oversize pockets. The big fabric covered buttons on this are just too cute!

A pair of 70s two tone python skin men’s shoes. I’ve got big feet so finding vintage ladies shoes is next to impossible but luckily I love men’s styles. Three hour gigs make wearing heels on stage too hard so these are perfect. They can also compete with my hubby’s crazy boots!

houndstooth coat-2

Any noteworthy recent purchases?

A late 50s blue lurex wiggle dress that requires some masterful corsetry to get into but is well worth it and a cream 60s Jackie-O style skirt suit that goes so well with my faux leopard pill box hat.

How did you first become interested in vintage style?

It all started with the music. Unlike all my friends, I was never into the Spice Girls but more along the lines of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald. Just looking at the album covers warped my impressionable young mind and gave me a life-long obsession.

I didn’t really start dressing vintage until my mid 20s though which was partly to do with lack of funds, lack of knowledge on how to find it but mostly lack of confidence. I grew up often being the only girl in the room because I wanted to be a jazz instrumentalist and there weren’t many women doing the same.

cocktail dress

Unfortunately, this made me feel I had to downplay my femininity to be taken seriously. I also had body confidence issues having had cystic acne as a teen. Again it was music that helped me overcome this. I spent a couple of years living in the US where I got involved in a few all female bands including the Ladies Must Swing, a big band just like the one from my favourite film, Some Like It Hot. This helped me realise that I could have it all. I can be a great musician and be as feminine as I like!

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

The creativity, the classiness, the sex appeal, the quality and craftsmanship… everything really. It’s so much easier to put together an outfit because everything is so flattering. You can go from comfortable and causal to glamourous with just a coat of red lipstick. 

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How does it make you feel when you wear it?

There’s nothing else quite like it. It makes me feel like a woman but also empowered. I don’t understand the criticism that wanting to dress as women did in bygone eras is somehow anti-feminist. I think it’s the complete opposite.

Just because I dress like a 50s housewife doesn’t mean I can’t run a business or be as independent as I like. Over the years, women have been made to feel that to be equal to men they have to be more like men.

True feminism is being as feminine as you want while doing what you want regardless of your gender. Wearing vintage makes me feel like I am sticking it to the man!

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

I love something from every era but I would say my favourites are probably the 40s with swing trousers and feminine blouses, the more casual side of the 50s and just the sheer arty madness of the 60s.

yello 60s

Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?

These days I probably find most of my things through Facebook groups. I love how social media has enabled us to come together and share our passions globally. I can’t say it’s been good for my wallet though! I still can’t go past my local opshops without having a peek with regular success. I also love a good vintage market for the atmosphere.

black jumpsuit

What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?

Op shops are always a lottery but I think there are still a lot of treasures to be found and I like supporting a good cause. Small towns and out of the way places are the best for true vintage.

Many designated ‘vintage’ shops don’t have much from before the 80s and the prices are over inflated in my opinion. There are a few notable exceptions though like Retro Addiction.

I do often walk away with something nice and reasonably priced from vintage markets. All the best stuff is online, overseas and expensive. That is why I don’t shy away from wearing quality repro.


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

A houndstooth skirt suit a la Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Leopard or houndstooth everything! Jumpsuits!

Whose closet do you envy and why?

There are too many to mention! Instagram is full of them. I especially adore the many kiwi ladies around who just flaunt it. I’m so glad to be part of such a rich and vibrant community. 

black jumpsuit-2

Who are some of your style icons and influences?

I look at Lauren Bacall for the ultimate femme fatale and Eartha Kitt for sass with class, then Diana Rigg’s outfits in The Avengers for my more eccentric side. For day to day looks I draw most inspiration from candid photos of Marilyn Monroe being girl next door, Norma Jean. I love the beatnik style for winter. It’s just so comfortable!


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

When I first graduated from uni, I joined a motown/soul band on electric bass. I wanted to dress the part so I found a floral red a-line mini dress from the early 70s on Ebay. I still have it and occasionally pair it with my white go-go boots. 

green suit

How do members of the public react to your getups?

It’s never been anything but positive. I’m used to being stared at as a musician, especially when I walk around with my double bass, so that never bothers me. I like to think it brightens up people’s day.


I feel most accomplished when I make the older ladies smile because I know they ‘get it.’ They actually remember a time when the standard of dress was much higher than it is today and truly appreciate it.

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

I’m a full time musician so luckily yes! I can wear whatever I like. The more extreme the better it looks on stage! One of the reasons I wanted to play in Boom! Boom! Deluxe was so I’d have an excuse to wear all my crazy stuff out more.


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

As a music buff, a vinyl record collection is obligatory and ours is growing fast. My hubby and I love old b-movies so we’ve got a small collection of posters too.

The house is a lovely 20s villa so it has much potential but we are practical people first. I did recently acquire a mid-century dresser which is something I have wanted for a long time.


I also collect old and strange musical instruments. I’ve even got a theremin!

We would love a classic car, especially something like a hearse or an ambulance that we could fit all the band gear in but we are starving artists so it’s not currently on the cards.

Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?

No. It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it!

When’s the next Boom Boom Deluxe gig?

We are playing all the time. I guess it depends when this will be published. We are playing the Very Vintage Day Out later in the year. Best bet is to follow us on Facebook as we travel all over the country and play most weekends.

What’s your favourite outfit of Hettie’s? Have you seen her band play live? Let me know in the comments!


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’.  


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.


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. 


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?


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! 


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!


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.


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!


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. 


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? 


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.


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