If Vintage Could Talk: Stylist Mary Fellowes Shares the Stories Behind Her Favourite Pre-Loved Pieces

What if clothing had already had its own #30Wears journey before it found you?  Seasoned stylist and polymath Mary Fellowes explores the idea of deeper bonding with vintage fashion by imagining the stories and personalities behind the clothes.

Have you considered the satisfaction difference between drunken one night stands and a heartfelt, passionate love affair?  Be honest.  Now, be honest again: when you last did a wardrobe clear out, what went first: the impulse buys or perennial classics?  Don’t tell me you tossed that perfect timeless Burberry trench coat and kept the Primark “pleather” biker jacket? Or donated a perfect two decade old DVF wrap dress and held back the Zara synthetic lace dress? Don’t the former have years of stories hidden in the seams? What are their memories?

If you are bemused from seeing how lethal fast fashion is, yet when it comes to contemporary designer and luxury apparel you are horrified at the investment—and lack of return on it (£700 ‘ugly sneakers’… seriously?), panic not and keep the love metaphor front of mind.   While fast fashion is waking up mid December with memory loss and a guy from the accounts department, vintage or luxury consignment fashion is the long term love you opened your heart to—the memories are etched in your mind with Instagram filter fondness. You’ve seen each other’s demons, and angels. You’d rescue the polaroids of the two of you if the house caught fire.   

Wouldn’t you prefer that sartorial equivalent? The joy of vintage and second hand is knowing that as well as likely coming with over #30Wears lurking in its careful hand stitches and love worn lining, it has a before life, a photo album of its own waiting to be envisaged.    So, I invite you to go shopping and see the world through vintage eyes.  To get you started, I have dug through my archive, to show some of the most versatile and modern looking pieces, some dating back five decades. Their quality, design and craftsmanship is so impeccable that were we to buy them today, they would cost hundreds or thousands. 

Be childish, invent stories, be as daft as you can.   Pre-loved pieces have their own backstory, it’s up to you to invent it.    If they had eyes, ears and lips, they could tell us themselves.   Maybe in the future, wearable tech clothing will have its own hidden Go-Pro type technology to record it all—isn’t that a thought? For now, analogue and unbridled imagination will do just fine, so suspend reality, close your eyes and listen. If you enter a carefree enough state of make-believe, the clothes will tell you everything.

1970’s Vintage Leopard Print Velvet Dress (pictured above) – $25 from the Melrose Trading Post, Los Angeles

Hiiiii…I am Jennifer, forgive the cigarette smoke, can’t help it. Where was I born? In Beverly Hills, 1972, baby! This couturier there had hair pomade and a perma tan, more Valentino than Valentino. I lounged on Anjelica Houston’s leather sofa watching Jack Nicholson draw on his cigar…I blushed heavily when he flirted with Arlene, my first owner, by exhaling on me. I loved the Cohiba aroma mixed with the tuberose she’d douse my neckline in. 

In Manhattan we went to Studio 54 – Grace Jones put her heel through my hem. I then thought my life really was over when Arlene went to the great party in the sky. I was smushed into an old suitcase and left with nothing but shift dresses to talk to for years. But then her estate was sold at a Pasadena auction and a vintage clothing dealer called Kent scooped me up and then this flame-haired English girl fished me out of obscurity from his stall one autumn afternoon on Melrose. These days we go to The Wolesley in London for dinner where I’ll have an Alaia cinch belt around me. I have made friends with my fellow leopard friends in this picture: Dolce slingbacks she prefers for full urban safari wildcat. Gotta go—Miaow for now! Love, Jen xxxx

1980’s Vintage Navy Crepe Thierry Mugler Tailored Jumpsuit, €60 from Mamie, Rue Rochechuart, Paris

Moi, I am Celestine. You know Mugler? My master is one of the greats, a French couturier who is responsible for that super-sculpted, graphic look that nowadays many houses shamelessly rework. My cousin Claudine had her fifteen minutes of fame, as the little black dress Demi Moore wore in Indecent Proposal. All his babies, we are born to be stars: so much so that Monsieur even paid tribute to us by creating a heady perfume for us called Angel, in a bottle shaped like a star.

Now I live with a photography-obsessed British stylist, who found me up in Paris’ Rue Rochechuart where I was minding my own business in Mamie, a vintage shop. I get to go to fittings with A-list actresses, I join a pair of Converse on weekends at the farmers’ market with a beret, and sharp black ankle boots when she meets her accountant. At night I chat to her vintage Chanel velvet suit on the next door hanger. Today she had the nerve to make soup wearing me. Just wait till Chanel suit hears about this, mutiny awaits.  Bisous, Celestine x

1970’s Victor Costa chocolate velvet coat with ivory organza collars and cuffs, $5—yes five dollars!—at the Goodwill charity shop on 7th Avenue, NYC

Hi I’m Mimi!  I’m complicated, a hybrid of an impressionist muse from painter John Singer Sargent, a touch of pierrot, and 1970’s Waspy, preppy glamour. Actually Waspy was my equally complicated creator’s bread and butter: Victor Costa dressed retail doyenne Betsy Bloomingdale as well as first ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Rosalynn Carter. As the son of a metal worker from Sicily whose family lived in three rooms behind a grocery store in Texas, he is testament to the American dream…. his acumen started right back at high school where he made paper dolls and sold them for two dollars to classmates.

I had American dreams once, now they are British. Given that my relations have covered such prestigious derrieres, can you imagine my lurking in a 7th Avenue Goodwill thrift store? Then this English girl came by and breathed London life into me. Before, I lived in Virginia for years where they ride horses and have copious volumes of gin before dinner; and this Brit, well she took me to the countryside and wears me over there as a dress for lunch. I fit right in. We went to a cathedral on Christmas day, then to drinks at a house full of very old furniture, much older than America itself.  So perhaps I have been given a leg up in the world?!  Fondest love, Mimi x

1960’s coral crepe day dress with box pleated hem, $60 from Groovy Palm Beach Vintage, 108 N. County Road, Palm Beach

I’m Coral. My life started when American fashion doyenne Lily Pulitzer (the Pucci of the USA, who cornered the maximalist market for whimsical, tongue in cheek prints) snapped me up in 1963 from a Chicago boutique. She wore me herself then referenced me for her own designs; my progeny looked like Grandma’s vacation table cloth was back in style, in a good kitsch way.   

Mrs Pulitzer spent a heap of time in Palm Beach, a place I was gripped by; a gated community of elite stopping by in winter on their annual circuit of Park Avenue, Nantucket, South Hampton. She would wear me to lunch at the country club, or drinks on her terrace. When she passed away, her daughters dispatched me to our friend and favourite vintage dealer E.J., who owns Groovy’s. In there, lots of Lily’s designs were lurking so we spent hours reminiscing; a Bill Blass sheath would come in now, a 1980’s Oscar De La Renta full skirt then. And then Mary arrived one late afternoon in January. These days my fashion insider status lives on: in fashion weeks it’s being styled with cowboy boots one day, another day fierce pointed patent pumps. All season I look forward to New York Fashion Week, as America will always be home. Big kiss, Coral x

Giorgio de Sant’Angelo vintage pleated butterfly sleeve dress, €120 at Como Vintage, Via dei Serragli 7r, Florence

Hey, I’m Gypsy! I was born on 7th Avenue in the early 70’s. Giorgio my Italian/Argentine creator was one of the American greats. He studied with Picasso, crossed to New York via Los Angeles and dabbled in interiors and jewellery until legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s sharp eye caught his, and had him style those epic photos of models like Verushka.

He then went back to designing and, besotted by bohemian attire (hence my name), liberated women’s bodies by elbowing out restrictive structure. Freedom was our thing. I was dispatched on the shop floor at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then bought by a terrifying, brilliant Broadway theatre agent called Esther Goldstein. On opening nights she used to have the actors back to her apartment in the Upper West Side, full of real cats and cat ornaments, for dumplings and daiquiris and we’d dance till dawn.  

After years of this diet, she outgrew me and gave me to her young Italian assistant, who took me to Florence where I wound up in Momo, an insider’s vintage mecca. Then this British stylist Mary pounced on me like Esther’s cats used to. Last fashion week I ended up on vogue.com when she wore me in Milan Fashion Week and I realised that, like Giorgio’s curvilinear cutting techniques that liberate the body, great fashion comes full circle. Love you, Gypsy xx


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