Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Vintage local loveliness

Today's local loveliness interview features two very lovely ladies who are vintage clothing aficionados. Together Abi and Emma form 'Before We Were Friends'. Their beautiful treasure trove of a stall caught my eye at the MK Handmade and Vintage Weekend and I had to find out more. A big thank you to Catrin Arwel the talented photographer who provided some of the images for this post.

1. Tell us a bit more about yourselves

'Before We Were Friends' was born about 14 months ago, out of a mutual love of all things vintage and two ever expanding vintage clothing collections! We both have busy careers in the Performing Arts in various guises and have worked in theatre, dance, film and TV in various corners of the world for the last 10 years.  With so many costumes and experiences along the way, we have both always enjoyed developing our own sense of style and expressing ourselves with our wardrobes.

We studied at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, but were in different year groups, so we only really knew each other to say hello and have a quick chat. A few years later, our paths crossed at an audition, neither of us ended up in the show but we did end up with the seed of a new friendship and blossom it has! We have so many people and places in common but get confused with the chronology of when we knew each other and when we didn’t, hence our name 'Before we were Friends'! Whenever one of us was telling the other a story we would say 'was that before we were friends?!' It became our little joke. We were searching for a name for our Vintage Clothing Company and Emma suddenly said 'I've got it!' We think it's perfect. 

2. Give us the story behind your playing card business cards (which I love by the way!)

We were looking for an economical and unique way to price our items.  We knew we wanted something recycled and environmentally friendly but with a vintage design flare.  Packs of playing cards seemed the best choice!  Old cards are easy to source and come in endless designs and colours. We soon decided to hand-make our business cards using the same idea!  To be honest hand-making them is quite time consuming but we have had such lovely feedback about them that we have decided to stick with it (although Abi needs a little work on her handwriting)! They have proved to be quite the conversation starter!

3. When I met you at MK handmade and Vintage fair, several things about your stall really stood out, grabbed my attention and made me come and chat to you.  In particular a polka dot dress prominently displayed. Would you say that vintage pieces a more likely to create a lasting impression.

There's no doubt about it!  The polka dot dress you mentioned, we fondly refer to as 'The Bumblebird' - a yellow with black polka dotted stunner of a dress! It’s a hybrid of a bumble bee and a ladybird! Come to think of it, we often name our items. I think that's because vintage clothing naturally exudes character.  Vintage clothing so often uses patterns and textures that we don't see as much in today’s fashion. So Vintage inevitably stands out from the crowd. There is nothing more satisfying than putting a few vintage pieces together; that you know no one else will be wearing.  Fashion can be so diluted in today's 'disposable' society and we see the high-street full of clothing that replicates vintage styles.  It's much more thrilling to have the real thing! Plus, the quality and detail of a vintage piece is almost always superior. It's much more personal; a way of expressing who you are and what YOUR slant on a current trend is.

4. Vintage means different things to different people - what does it mean to you?

The word ‘Vintage’ is banded around a lot these days, causing much confusion. From our point of view, as lovers and sellers of vintage fashion, it is an original item from a bygone era that exudes style and design, therefore never going out of fashion. Officially, (I just googled it, so it must be true?!) ‘Vintage’ clothing is anything that was made at least 20 years previously. So, yes, the 90’s are rapidly being considered vintage….  Although we’re not sure the stripy legging and DM’s look of ’93 will be having a resurgence quite yet?!

Personally, we do have an issue with the word being misused. You hear some people looking at 80’s clothing and claiming ‘it’s not real vintage’ and then see a 50’s style Primark dress being sold on Ebay as Vintage. So many high street shops use the word to describe their brand spanking new clothing or furnishing’s that are in fact ‘Vintage style’ or ‘Retro’, which means something else entirely.
We are careful to source genuine vintage. A lot of the time you can tell a piece must be of a certain age simply by the label stating ‘Made in Great Britain’.

5. Can you name 3 major influences on your vintage collections?

The two major influences are of course us! We source what we love. It’s as simple as that. This can of course cause problems, as we end up wanting to keep everything.

Abi: I love the feminine timeless images of the 30’s and 40’s screen sirens. My wedding dress was heavily influenced by that look.  Alongside the obvious elegance of those fashions, there was also a ‘there is a war on’ practicality about clothing, making it wearable but still undeniably feminine. In my teens I was very into the bohemian 70’s look, I still dig a pair of high wasted flairs! That’s the great thing about vintage clothing; there is something for every mood and stage of your life.

Emma:  Being honest I’m not sure my choices are influenced by a particular decade at all.  I tend to think about CONTEXT when sourcing items.  It may sound silly but I instantly build a picture in my head of who could wear that item, what with and in what situation?  I often say to myself “ooo yummy mummy does a bbq with friends dress” or “trendy 20 something layers chunky cardigan over floral dress for effortless beer garden chic!”  This is all in my head you understand!  I actually bought a divine pair of jade green heels in Las Vegas once and was convinced they would look great with jeans whilst hoovering!!! True story and no I didn’t!  Anyway, on a serious note, one of the great things about the different influences that Abi and I migrate towards is that we tend to buy very different items which really helps us cater for our varied customers.  There should be something for everyone!
6. Do you follow certain curation themes or rules?

‘Wearable and Affordable’ are our rules of thumb. We don’t want people to be intimidated by Vintage fashion, just see how it will work for them. We of course have some more ‘outlandish’ pieces in our collection, just waiting for their new owner to discover and fall in love with them.
We tend to keep our eyes and ears to the ground about what is big in the fashion world and see what is being worn by everyone around us. The resurgence of 90’s grunge means our shirts have been doing very well of late. Lots of young women are sporting denim cut off shorts with a tucked in shirt. Try it for yourself!

7. Does where you live influence which items you choose – perhaps it provides particular inspiration, maybe it is a great source for or people are particularly keen to buy a certain type of item for example.

We are learning to tailor our stock to the markets we are visiting.  There are some sales where people are more comfortable buying vintage and know what they like. Others, where people don't feel as brave and that's where accessories tend to sell best.  A belt or clutch is not as bigger commitment as an 80's jumpsuit!  Having said that, vintage items are so unique and specific to a person's taste that there is no rhyme or reason to it.  Sometimes it's just about waiting for the right person to come along. We sold a dress to a lady in Ecuador from Brixton market once! A few photo messages from her friends through the wonders of modern technology and she was the proud owner of a phenomenal cerise 60's mini for her friend’s wedding. We were as thrilled as she was…. 'Before We Were Friends' goes global! Seeing someone ‘discover’ an item on the stall, makes those cold early morning set up’s all worthwhile!

8. I love that on your Facebook page you have some fabulous photos of people wearing vintage items, showing how they can be worn in an up to date and stylish way today. If you were giving advice to a first time vintage clothes buyer what sort of thing would you recommend they look for?

Definitely start with accessories.  Bags, belts and scarves.  It's an easy way to integrate something vintage and unique to your style.  There is nothing better than a vintage scarf to give a twist to a modern outfit. They are so versatile and come in such gorgeous colours and patterns.  If you've got one of those in your bag you have a belt, a head scarf, a neck scarf and something to pep up a handbag! It's easy to start there and become braver as you become more familiar with what is available and what suits you.   
A certain decade’s shapes and styles often appeal to certain people or body shapes. Do you usually opt for the cinched in waist with a feminine touch when choosing modern clothes?  Then perhaps look at clothes from the 50's. Are you less curvy but with a pair of killer legs?  Then the 60's mini shift dress trends may be more your thing. There really is something for everyone and how far you take it is entirely up to you. The same rules apply to buying vintage as modern clothes; choose clothes that flatter YOUR body shape, that make you feel confident and express who you are.

9. How do you use vintage fashion items in a modern wardrobe?

Abi is the dress fiend!  She has a vintage dress for every occasion, whilst I (Emma) tend to opt for vintage shirts and blouses that can easily be paired with skinnies or skirts.

It’s all about WEARABLE vintage for us. There’s no point spending your hard earned cash on something you love but are not going to be able to wear (believe us, we have done it!). Both of us mix vintage pieces with modern clothing, creating a fun and personal look. By teaming a vintage dress with a contemporary blazer/leather jacket or adding vintage accessories or a hair style to a high street dress, you avoid looking like you are in 'in costume' but will exude creativity and individualism.  You just have to find what makes you feel great.

10. What can we look forward to seeing from Before We Were Friends this year?

As well as our regular markets and sales, our ‘Before We Were Friends’ Parties are really taking off! They have proved really popular for Birthdays and Hen Do’s. As our business is based on friendship, we love being surrounded by wonderful groups of friends enjoying one another’s company. We offer any combination of ‘vintage dress up’s’, make overs, photo and video shoots and if that isn’t enough we draw on our other passion and offer dance classes in every and any style, to a song of your choice and with plenty of love and laughter.
These events have proved so popular, there is a ‘Before we Were Friends’ Tea Dance ‘on the cards’ (pun intended!) with all the splendour of a ‘B4WWF’ party, but on a larger scale.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details of our future sales, events and of course, get in touch should you fancy a party of your own!

I do hope this interview has inspired you to add a touch of vintage style to your wardrobe (or enlarge your collection!).  Do take a look at Before We Were Friends on Facebook, and visit them at the next MK Handmade and Vintage Weekend in May.

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