(We were thrilled to have vintage fashion expert Annamarie join us to talk about the clothing in 1935’s TOP HAT, and of course we talked about THAT ostrich feather gown that Ginger wears in the “Cheek to Cheek” scene. You can hear the ep here!)
I (Lara) first spotted Annamarie von Firley at an Art Deco Society of Los Angeles event and immediately thought she was one of the coolest people I had ever seen. With her sleek bob and groovy vintage dresses, she is hard to miss!
I later met her when I visited her fabulous store in Downtown Los Angeles, reVamp Vintage (which sells their own ready-to-wear vintage inspired line and also makes custom clothing), to see about having a copy of a Madeleine Vionnet dress from the 1930s made. Since she has been running a successful fashion business for over a decade, I thought she would be a great person to share everything from how she got started with vintage clothing to why knowing your fiber content (in clothing, not your breakfast cereal) is important!
- How did the vintage clothing love affair begin and then turn into a business?
Annamarie: I started collecting in the late eighties, and I did not know what I was doing at the time. I would go to the Salvation Army and purchase 1950s evening gowns for $20 and wear them to high school. Eventually, I moved to San Francisco and met like-minded people who knew way more than I did about everything historic, and I went on a self-education historic binge for the next 20 years. Before then, I had no words for my interest in period garments, just a deep heartfelt response to the silhouettes. Now, I can talk at length as to the reason why I like what I like—instead of operating on a purely visceral reaction to a silhouette.
As for how the business started, a friend of mine and I were at a swing dancing event on the USS Jeremiah O’Brien in Alameda. We were lamenting how poorly everyone was dressed, and she suggested that we start a company that did vintage inspired clothing. I said no. At the time, I was working for a startup company and saw that my boss never got paid. I needed a steady income. Shortly thereafter the company I worked for was sold and moved to the Midwest. I was between jobs and able to pursue the vintage inspired clothing idea…and 15 years later here I am. Incidentally, while my friend and I were business partners in the beginning, the partnership lasted only one year. However, the friendship continues to this day.
- What’s your #1 tip for someone who wants to become a vintage-purveying rock star?
Annamarie: I like to get a lot of “bang for the buck” for my time, so I prefer to go to Vintage Expos where there are a lot of vintage vendors all in one location. As a mother of a four-year-old child and a business owner, I don’t have a lot of free time. I shop three times a year in a two-to-three hour window. I carry a tape measure and measure everything before I bother to take it to the dressing room, which saves time trying on things that are too big or small. I do not purchase anything that is not in close to perfect condition, because while I have the ability to repair or alter a garment and access to the right machines, I do not have the time to do it. So I have learned not to bother with anything I have to mess with. In the end, finding the best things takes time and patience. It also might pay off to make nice with the octogenarians in your life in the hopes that they pass on their goodies to you before they end up at the Goodwill or in the dumpster.
And keep in mind that there is a finite supply of vintage. Every day there is less and less of it. Also, the fabrics that the garments are made of have a shelf life, too. Therefore anything made before the 1930s is in a delicate condition even if it has never been worn. This being said, if you like Mid-Century clothing you are in luck. You still can find it, and its shelf life is 20 years longer than its forebears.
3 . What’s the one thing that anyone wanting a career in vintage clothing should NEVER, under any circumstances, EVER do?
Annamarie: Nothing will really squash a career in vintage clothing, but you really need to know your decades. I have been shocked to discover vintage stores and vendors with wildly misidentified decades on their clothing. One person marked a 50s wedding dress as Edwardian, which was a style from the early 1900s! This didn’t kill their business, but I no longer thought they knew what they were doing.
Also, know your fiber content. Don’t label rayon as a silk, or polyester as a rayon. Your fiber content can be one of the keys to dating a garment. For instance, there was no polyester in the 1930s. You can quickly lose respect from those who know about these things when you show that you can’t tell the 1970s from the 1930s, or cotton from polyester.
3.5 How would you finish the following sentence? “Old Hollywood is ______.”
Annamarie: Old Hollywood is a glamorous apparition that some of us reach out to as a respite from the distinctly un-glamorous aspects of modern day life, dissolving like a celluloid dream as it represents a period of time that never has and never will exist. But we can still dream!
818 South Broadway, Ste. 801
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Appointments are recommended.