‘You have a more interesting life if you wear impressive clothes’. Although she was not referring to vintage clothing, these Vivienne Westwood’s words of wisdom could easily be translated to the booming movement of wearing something old and something… used? The meaning of vintage fashion has been drastically changing for the last fifty years, especially today when dressing vintage became way more vogue-ish than simply wearing second hand items. Sales of high-end vintage attire and accessories are soaring and just a handful of small businesses across the globe are taking advantage of the market forces that are making what was old new again. So, what happens when a fashion addict (read: moi) enters the most alluring vintage fashion temple in Paris? Spoiler alert: Diagnosis? Still addicted.
Colombian by birth and French by choice (she prefers Georges Brassens over George Michael, so she might easily be 100% French), charming Livia is the mastermind (and a loving, fashionable soul) behind Paris Fashion Vintage, a two-level luxury vintage store in Paris that offers more than just everlasting it bags and haute couture gowns. In the name on fashion, she has been traveling the world in search for the most unique, sublime and extravagant clothing items and accessories. From London to Madrid, New York to Paris, the most hidden neighborhoods to colorful markets, Livia’s energy, charm and the impeccable eye for details, style and materials seem to dominate the vintage industry.
This trained stylist and an avid lover of life and fashion has an extraordinary ability to make you unconditionally fall in love with her and her charming Parisian fashion boudoir. We met over a glass of champagne (since the café au lait was a huge non!) and discussed the vast history hidden inside the space that even Frida Kahlo would be jealous of. Livia’s passion for vintage started in the early childhood days. When she was about 12 years old, she discovered and old chest that belonged to her grandmother. ‘That chest was really like an Ali Baba’s treasure for me. It was filled with fine, old vintage clothing that belonged to my grandmother and I used to spend hours trying on different clothes. It was a real dress-up game, indeed.’ Years later, in 2012, Paris Fashion Vintage came to life. In this business of vintage, there are no ordinary days. When new clothes are arriving, her job is to select the pieces she likes, make sure they are all in pristine condition and ship them to a pressing facility. In case some of the items are damaged, they are being sent to a specialized vintage workshop with whom she collaborates in order to ensure absolute perfection. As the final touch, she curates them to the most subtle fashion exhibition.
‘What I love most about vintage clothing is the quality, the subtlety of the work’, she emphasizes and explains that there are no rules when it comes to clothing assemblage. ‘Sometimes I buy from private individuals, and other times people leave me their items for sale on consignment.’ The hardest challenge in running a vintage boutique remains finding quality pieces at reasonable prices. Among many different, colorful and elegant items, there is a hidden gem that holds the status of the oldest one in the store. It is a Paul Poiret dress from the late ’20s, which belonged to an 80-year-old client who bought it in the ’70’s for the purpose of a trip on the Orient Express.
Luxurious vintage items often come with an interesting story on the side. Selling a piece of history is a part of the job and, according to Livia, that is what people love the most. ‘I once found a silk and fur coat, inspired by the ’20s, made by a French fashion haute couture designer Christophe Le Bo. It was a wonderful piece. I had it in the boutique as a part of my own private collection and I wasn’t planning to sell it. One day, a French actress walked in, and fell in love with that piece, so she asked me if I would be willing to collaborate on her next theater play and at least lend her the piece, since I absolutely refused to sell. So, I decided to lend it along with some other pieces and in exchange they advertised my boutique. Soon after, this play became pretty famous and quite successful, and the Christophe Le Bo coat was pretty much in the center of the play. They expanded the play and toured for six month in France. Shorty after, the actress in question was chosen to present an award during The Molière Award (note: The National Theater Award of France, presented by the Association professionelle et artistique du théatre at the annual ceremony called the Nuit des Molières- Night of the Molières- in Paris) The Molière awards are considered to be the highest French theater honor, and she came dressed in that coat. The coat became the large part of that entire story, so the theater asked me once more to sell. Alas, I gave in! The Theater La Gaité Montparnasse owns the coat since 2014′
In terms of vintage being the sustainable version of fashion, she says that ‘people are getting more and more aware of the quality of vintage, especially young people. It is really trendy and ‘ecologic’ so, I would say things are going in the right direction. My average customers often come from an artistic background, they are in their thirties and are looking for unique pieces. I strongly believe that nowadays we have to be eco-friendly. Since we are practically recycling, the vintage industry is most definitely sustainable.’
Aside from clothing and accessories, Livia is a grand collector of fashion illustrations. She owns exactly 57 illustrations, 40 from Christian Dior and 17 from Jean Patou and Christian Lacroix. ‘They all come from a client I have, an old lady who bought a lot of vintage items from Jean Patou and Jean Louis Scherrer. She owned an amazing collection of illustrations. I have no clue of how she got them because they are really rare to find. My guess is that she had a friend at Dior who gave them to her as a special gift. The ones I have are from collections from ’77. and ’78. Unlike the Le Bo coat, I won’t sell them, they are really to precious to me.’
Vintage boutiques are owned by passionate people, and that is why Livia believes that her job is unique. It takes more than just buying and selling the clothes, one must understand the history of fashion through time, know the designers and their specific stories, have a modern vision and a lot of patience. ‘If you’re going to do it for the money, don’t do it all. It just doesn’t work that way’. Like any other fashionista, she gets attached to the items she offers for sale. It is a bitter sweet situation every time her pieces find a different home. ‘A nice piece is like a nice woman, it does not belong in a cage. It belongs in the street, in the sun, in the light… for everybody to see it. Vintage items offer different stories. If they could talk, they would be books. They don’t belong in museum, but deserve to be brought to life everyday by simply wearing them’.
As the sun was going down, along with our bottle of champagne, I could not help but wonder could she be more French than she already is? But, then she said that she would pick Serge Gainsbourg over Paul Newman on any given day.
– Coq au vin or Coco Chanel?
Coco Chanel (laughter! I love this one!)
– Nabokov’s Lolita or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary?
– Roaring 20’s or defining 60’s?
Twenties, for sure!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paris Fashion Vintage
Cover Photo: Christian Dior, The New Look, in Vogue, illustration by Christian Berard, 1947