Honest to Goodness

The Manhattan Vintage Clothing & Antique Textile Show (www.manhattanvintage.com) now in its 14th year, bills itself as “The collection that 100 years of design built” and “the greatest collection of vintage clothing and antique textiles from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries”. It also promises to be “the most fun you will ever have shopping”. Certainly that’s true if your idea of ‘fun’ is finding merchandise that is honest to goodness, the ‘real deal’.

The April show may not be as well attended as the other two during the year, according to its spirited organizer and founder, David Ornstein, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the ‘faithful’ did not come. Or that the crowds didn’t line up to pay the admission fee of $20 at the door in order to peruse the racks and booths of 80 top dealers from 16 states (including Cherry Vintage, What Comes Around Goes Around, Vicki Haberman’s Vintage Collections, Divine Finds, Green Parrot, Right to the Moon Alice, Joe Sundlie, Amarcord Vintage, Eevalinna, Resurrection Vintage, Patina, and Daybreak). And it seems everyone who was there, was there on a mission.

For fashion designer Behnaz Sarafour (who ALWAYS shows up and shows up early), and reps from Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, the mission – one would assume – would be to find items to serve as inspiration for future collections; for dealer Cameron Silver, the mission would be to find choice items (particularly those of couture quality from iconic design houses) to fill his legendary West Coast shop Decades; for another dealer, Pinky Wolman, the mission would be to find items to sell on her online shop, Mid Century Chic (which is currently hosted by www.fashiondig.com). Just a note, with the opening of AngloMania at the Met’s Costume Institute this week, and the attending Gala which takes place on Monday, May 1st, I was expecting, or hoping, to see some of the designers whose clothes will be on exhibit and who are here from London (like John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Christopher Bailey, Vivienne Westwood) but alas, did not see any of the above.

In the case of customers like die hard vintage collector Lisa Perry, her specific mission was to find that perfect chapeau to don at this coming Wednesday’s Frederick Law Olmsted Awards Luncheon (affectionately known as the FLO Awards Luncheon), held at the lush and breathtaking Central Park Conservancy. This has become a true fashion spectacle, where hats are the main attraction and which can be best described as New York’s answer to Ascot. For the record, it took her less than an hour to find a darling black and white abstract polka dot hat around which she will now have to work an outfit. Yes, absolutely, you get the hat first and then the clothes later.

I always love attending these shows, walking the jam packed aisles hoping something will strike my fancy. And while there were many things that caught my attention, one booth in particular, Ohio Knitting Mills, Cleveland Ohio, www.ohioknittingmills.com, a collection of “Never worn, one-of-a-kind, true vintage, heartland made” sweaters, capes, vests, shirts, dresses and jackets produced from 1947 through 1974, did so for several reasons. 1 – a group of colorful, large, sculpture like spools of thread perfectly ‘advertised’ its specialty; 2 – I had never heard of them before (and as a ‘veteran’ of vintage shows, I feel as if I know all the players by now); 3 – knitwear, could not be hotter (as of course, you know by know if you’ve been following fashion); 4 – the artful pieces looked ‘alive’, real, true, and smacked of a Mid West, honest, lovingly handmade, hand sewn, homegrown integrity that was the polar opposite of something slick, urban, and false; 5 – the pieces on exhibit were at once wonderfully naïve AND hip, retro AND modern (in an almost ‘Missoni’ or ‘Pierrot’ kind of way); 6 – while most other booths were filled with a beautifully mismatched hodgepodge of stuff (that’s the point, after all), here, everything was related, told a cohesive story and there was a thread (sorry for pun) that held it all together.

As soon as I began chatting with Steven Tatar, the Cleveland based company’s exclusive agent representative who is highly visual, creative (he’s a sculptor by training), impassioned, and focused, it became obvious to me that this will be a company worth watching. He handed me a museum quality ‘catalogue’, proceeded to tell me the history of the company (it was founded by Harry Stone in 1928 and was initially called The Stone Knitting Mill), and where he sees taking it in the future, which includes launching a children’s line and opening a temporary store somewhere in Brooklyn (perhaps Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Park Slope). Why Brooklyn? It’s “what I’m about” and it’s a “happening” place”. As he noted, “the energy is moving downtown and midtown is becoming corporate and mainstream”. And of course, the rentals are more affordable.

While he is a relative newcomer to the business (he has been actively involved with the company in this capacity since 2004 and this is only his second Manhattan Vintage Show), he has already cultivated loyal customers – including a stylish, beautiful, Academy Award winning star who shall remain nameless, and he is on a mission to build a brand based on the approximately 5,000 “one of a kind design artifacts” he has at his disposal. It’s a brand “whose heart and soul is about that heartland sensibility and authenticity”. “This is the real deal and we are trying to preserve this history and culture of honest hardworking people making beautiful things with integrity”. “Its all about brand building and story telling”. Stay tuned.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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