In the world of continuous changes and instant gratification, the magnetism of days gone by doesn’t loose its appeal. We admire the glamour of early Hollywood, laugh at the crazy hippies, and marvel at the corseted waists of the 1890’s. Fashion of the past is often more than just mere entertainment, or distraction from the every day existence. When you physically see, touch, or possibly even wear a piece of vintage fashion, you connect with the generation that is already gone, you get into their skin, perhaps even borrow a life experience that’s not your own. Today I am talking with Ken Weber, one of the founders of the local mecca of vintage fashion “Vintage Martini”.
TM: Ken, you know I love your store. Even if I am not an avid shopper, I immensely enjoy being there – seeing the wonderful array of colors and styles. It’s like a museum, only you can touch and try on the pieces. How did you start in the business? Where did it all come from?
KW: My education is in costume design. During my early career as a Costumer in feature films, TV shows and commercials, I started developing a stock of garments to use as rentals in productions. Shooting is a fast paced process, and having a good selection of clothes on hand is always a plus. At that time I started buying vintage and building my own collection as a hobby.
TM: How fascinating! I am sure our readers would want to know whom you dressed during your career. Anybody we know?
KW: For about ten years I worked on “Barney and Friends” dressing the children. Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez were among them. Of course back then nobody knew they would become stars. They were normal kids like all others. I also worked on films with Martin Sheen, Kathy Bates, Dennis Hopper, Emilio Estevez, Larry Hagman, Hal Holbrook and the amazing Julie Harris.
TM: What prompted you to change your career?
KW: In the 90’s, the incentives for the film industry in Texas had been cut, and subsequently business soured. The majority of the productions moved to other states. It led to the obvious need for me to downsize my inventory, and start selling some of the pieces. That’s how the idea for the business came about.
TM: Most people would consider this a draw back in their career, not an opportunity. Did you see the immediate interest from the public in what you were offering? Or was it a gradual process?
KW: With my professional knowledge of fashion, fashion history and clothing construction, and my husband Greg’s expertise in shipping and logistics, we definitely had an edge. However, the process was definitely gradual. We started selling at flee-markets and on the newly launched Ebay in order to eliminate less desirable items and upgrade the collection, then “Vintage Martini” came into being. We were one of the first companies to open a vintage clothing website, in addition to having a physical store location in historic downtown Carrollton. In the beginning we only offered vintage and couture items dated to 1980’s or earlier. Now, we have broadened our offering.
TM: Is your preference in vintage or contemporary couture? How do you select the pieces for your store
KW: We used to deal in a lot of older pieces. And I still enjoy finding rare and unique garments from early 20th century, or even late 19th. These items have distinct value and are interesting to collectors. However, the bulk of our business now is in more contemporary couture brands that can be worn, and not just admired.
TM: Who is your customer? Is there a particular target group that you specifically attract?
KW: Traditionally, our business was set up to answer the needs of collectors – people who study, admire, and know the history of fashion. We have sold to museums, private collectors and groups, as well as owners of antique cars and re-enactors, those who still want to dress in antique fashion. To reach this specific group of people, we attend vintage clothing shows, like the one in LA. I have personally sold to Barbara Streisand, for example, who was shopping for her private collection. Giorgio Armani’s people bought pieces from us for inspiration. Both were buying Victorian that day.
TM: That’s an interesting experience. Do you see a lot of celebrities in those shows?
KW: A few. Some come out of curiosity, some for education, to find something unique and unusual, some are genuine collectors. Once, I had a long conversation with Annie Lennox about a garment by Charles Frederick Worth – the Father of Haute Couture. It was quite stimulating.
TM: You’ve mentioned that now you’ve expanded your offering to include contemporary couture. What prompted that?
KW: In 2008 Dallas Morning News published an article featuring “Vintage Martini”, and the recession had just hit. Actually, the month we opened the store, December, 2007. A lot of people experienced financial difficulties. There was an outpour of offers to sell couture items. We obviously couldn’t buy them all – that’s how we started consignment. By doing so we were able to expand the inventory and attract not only collectors, but also those who follow fashion – fashion lovers. Selling to them is often a teaching process – educating them not only about the history of the piece, but also how it should be handled, whether or not it should be worn. Some pieces are just too delicate for daily wear. However, it has been really good for our business. We are able to offer wearable fashion that is no longer available anywhere else – unique items that allow their owners to stand out.
TM: You are a fashion professional. You have real expertise to comment on fashion, fashion trends and the role of fashion in society. What do you see happening in the industry and in the world today?
KW: Fashion is cyclical. There are societal forces that make changes and adjustments to what we wear, but the roots, the inspirations of any contemporary look are in the past. In the past every decade had its recognizable style and silhouette. You could easily identify an era by one look at the clothes people wore. Now the desire to “update” sped up the process so much that the fashion is in complete chaos. Shapes and silhouettes are all over the place; it’s a conglomeration of everything. Sometimes it feels, like we’ve hit a wall,
and about to revert to point zero.
TM: Then what do you see next? Where is this ground zero?
KW: The market is oversaturated. There is no exclusivity any more. I think the reset is going to bring back more local couturiers. One of a kind and hand-made items are in great demand. Modern consumers wants to separate himself from the crowd, be unique, but not at the price of the Haute Couture.
TM: What do you think of the phrase “recycled fashion”? It definitely has a negative connotation, or does it?
KW: The term used to mean second-hand, or used. However, with the help of Hollywood, it is no longer a demeaning notion. Remember Julia Roberts in the vintage Valentino gown at the 2001 Academy Awards? She wasn’t the first or the only star selecting a “recycled” garment. Often, the press calls those dresses vintage, although they are less than twenty years old. The Valentino was from 1992. However, that’s not the point. Turning to couture of the past expands the options for the individuality and style, and doesn’t limit the selection to the available silhouettes. Good fashion is good fashion. There is no more stigma in buying older garments. Some people may feel weird about it, but the majority embraces the notion. Our clientele is all over the financial board – from modest to very affluent.
TM: How do you think this change came about? It can’t be just Hollywood. Not everything accepted in Hollywood gets a wide following.
KW: On the one hand, it is environmental effect. People are a lot more conscious now of the overproduction and waste in our society. Wearing a dress once and throwing it away seems wasteful to say the least.
On the other hand, and I think a lot more important, consumers of fashion realize that when they buy vintage, no one else has it. Vintage offers an opportunity to be unique, to stand out. Reporters and fashion connoisseurs know what’s on the runway TODAY and expect to see it on the red carpet. The ability to surprise, to be unexpected and to steal the show is absolutely priceless.
TM: The business is thriving, you definitely have a devoted following here in Dallas? What’s next? Do you have any plans?
KW: Of course, we are not done. Our plan is to open stores in several other fashion cities in the US. It is an ambitious plan, but I believe it is well within our ability.
TM: Now, my last question before we part. Why “Vintage Martini”? Where did the name come from?
KW: When we finally decided we were going to do this we knew we needed to come up with a name. So one night, along with several cocktails, we started brainstorming. Vintage was the obvious choice. Martini came as a nod to 1930’s – my favorite decade of all times. There is a hint of party in it, a hint of decadence. We also specialize in vintage barware – they are a big hit as gifts for the holidays. But that’s a whole other interview.
TM: That’s something I didn’t know. I am definitely going to buy a Martini set for my husband’s collection. Perhaps, you need to stop by Ken Weber’s store too to find a treasure of your own. I really recommend it.