Vintage clothing: The past, present and future of fashion’s creativity

In a world increasingly tending toward sameness, pieces from the past are more sought after then ever. «Vintage is vintage, you may think it a style or a trend, but, in fact, it has always been there,» says Christina Vlahoulis, the 28-year-old owner of Grape, one of the very few outlets in Athens specializing in quality second-hand items. Indeed vintage clothing has long been a feature in specialized markets around the globe, often enjoying a passionate clientele. In the last few years, there has also been great interest on the part of prominent designer houses, with designers immersing themselves in old clothes to discover their secrets and draw inspiration. At the same time, interest has further been generated on the part of museums and costume institutes, which constantly strive to study the history of fashion by mounting exhibitions and retrospectives. «I’m always looking for items of excellent quality,» says Vlahoulis. This is of great importance, she adds, given that the Greek public is, in general, not at ease with the notion of second-hand pieces. And so the store offers items from the 1930s all the way to the early 1980s – including clothes, hats and a few pieces of jewelry, but no shoes. Vlahoulis studied in London, majoring in art history and archaeology. Following graduation, she worked in interior design, while also getting involved in textiles. The latter took her to India, where she came across luxurious fabrics which inspired her to design her own line of silk scarves. Back in Greece, she proceeded to sell the scarves, known as the Butterflies Collection, to a number of outlets in Athens and on the islands. For her next professional move, she chose vintage, another passion she had been nurturing for a while. Grape was established in Kolonaki’s Haritos Street in 2001. «My first clients were women who were comfortable with the second-hand idea, women who had lived or studied abroad and understood the notion of vintage,» says Vlahoulis. «After a while, however, things picked up, as a number of items were featured in local fashion magazines and stylists came by to pick up garments; slowly clients began coming by.» Once the store was established, Vlahoulis was also approached by women who were willing to sell items of both Greek and foreign provenance. Some of the gems currently on display at Grape include a late 1960s dress by exuberant Briton Zandra Rhodes; another one by Biba, Barbara Hulanicki’s label which defined London’s Swinging Sixties, as well as an early 1960s Chanel gown. There are also numerous pieces which do not offer the much-coveted designer label, let alone the brand, yet are of exceptional quality and originality. Such is the case of a collection of 1930s capes featuring rich lace and fancy sequins. As for the season’s hottest items, this was a collection of already sold-out kaftans which Vlahoulis had purchased in Brooklyn not long ago. Much of Vlahoulis’s time is spent looking for items, an occupation which often takes her abroad. At the same time, however, and though she concedes that the outlet’s priority remains the clothes, she also takes the time to create the appropriate atmosphere at the store. These days, for instance, Grape exudes a Chinese/pop feel, with scattered antiques, gilded frames and ethnic elements. Furthermore, the store has lately entered into yet another field. Alongside the old comes the new, as its proprietor has decided to offer clients the opportunity to buy pieces from various emerging Greek designers including Hara Lembessi, Iphigenia and Terena (who makes bags), as well as Kyriakos, who specializes in jewelry. A mix and match, according to Vlahoulis. It’s also a healthy way of looking at fashion in general. Like with any other style issue, the trick lies in combining a number of items, rather than going vintage from head to toe. How does Vlahoulis go about building her collection? «I’m not looking for anything in particular,» she says. «Bearing in mind the shop’s location, this means that things cannot be too daring, and basically the pieces that I choose have to, in some way, adapt to where fashion is going today. I’m on the lookout for those items which people can relate to here.» What kind of items are in demand in the global field this days? According to Vlahoulis, there is great demand for items by the late British designer Ozzie Clarke, or those of Italian Emilio Pucci, as the house’s signature graphic patterns have experienced a hip revival recently. «Some people have a vision, I see that as an observer, because I’m still relatively new in the field,» says Vlahoulis. «They are out there buying something today, keeping it in the closet, only to produce it five years later, when the time is right.» When does a garment acquire a vintage quality? «I would say that it has to go back 15 to 20 years,» says Vlahoulis. Hang on to those cool Gucci dresses and graffiti-clad Louis Vuitton bags. They just might become timeless one day.

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