Vintage pickings

Today has been a day of vintage treasure hunting. It started off with the discovery of Merchant Archive where I had to pick up some Bordelle bras, sunglasses and and a vintage burlesque outfit for a shoot. I knew the shop was local as I recognised the address or at least I thought I did. But when I started down the road, I realised I’d got it wrong and it was in completely the opposite direction. Anyway, after what I expected to be a five minute stroll turned into a twenty minute power-walk, I finally arrived at the shop. It was totally worth the workout. Merchant Archive stocks a beautifully-merchandised selection of vintage clothes (and accessories and homewares), mostly Victoriana to the 1940s. Sitting alongside the definitely-not-musty bias-cut gowns and theatrical beaded headpieces are contemporary collections by under-the-radar labels such as Zambesi, AM Eyewear and Tracy Neuls which, as owner Sophie Merchant points out, is important as mixing the love-worn with the new is how she and her customers dress these days. I made sure I had a proper nose round the shop – an elegant, light-filled space – while Merchant gave me her backstory and packed up my goodies. I loved her display of sunglasses atop an old library filing system and got particularly excited when I clapped eyes on a pair of honey-framed Paloma Picassos. I talked myself out of a purchase but may give them another whirl when I go back on Wednesday.

My questionable time-management meant that I was late for my next appointment at Cassie Mercantile’s vintage showroom. No matter, owner Graham Cassie was in a happy-go-lucky mood so after a capuccino and chit-chat at the next door coffee-house, he took me to his lock-up to see if there was anything worth picking out from there. Wow! Who knew there were all these precious gladrags behind those anonymous wooden doors? After picking out a Yoko Ono logo T-shirt and a woollen military hat, I pointed to a mini-mountain of denim shirts in the middle of the floor. “What’s that, an installation?” I quizzed, only half-joking. “Och no, that’s just a pile of washing!” came the reply. Jeez, even his laundry looks chic. 

Over to the showroom, where my eyes immediately darted in all directions. In the space of ten minutes I’d amassed an eclectic pile of treasure – a 1930s feather cape, African bead necklaces, more military hats, a Biba all-in-one, a velvet bolero and the most spectacular pair of Terry de Haviland platform shoes. More chat followed – Graham revealing lots of “but you can’t tell anyone” industry gossip and me listing my current favourite blogs and magazines – “What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Fantastic Man!” When I finally got home, I had a mammoth try-on session (stylists’ lesson #1 – try everything on yourself first) and had a ponder on the continued appeal of vintage. It seems that when so much of fashion these days is based on vintage anyway, it makes a lot more sense to just go straight for the old authentic stuff, especially when it’s been made to last.