You Call It Vintage, I Call It Garbage
One woman's trash may be another woman's treasure however stepping out of the Manhattan Vintage Show this weekend and trying to clear my head of the overwhelming stench of camphor, I pondered whether the title of "vintage" was an accurate one. Suffice it to say that my "ick" factor and my gag reflex were both on high alert. While the term "vintage" by definition, assumes a minimum of a 20-year-old piece, I would argue that mottled, moldy fur coats, scratchy "steel" wool suits, and labels such as Linda Allard for Ellen Tracy do not, at least IMO, vintage make. Goodwill pile yes, vintage no. Vintage implies something aged to perfection; therefore the quality needs to have existed in the first place and it must have been preserved well. A bottle of Thunderbird in twenty years will just be an even more putrid version of its original self; years will not have turned the swill to Chateau Lafite Rothschild, nor the virtual vintage sow's ear into a silk purse.
I admit I am far from knowledgeable about vintage in general and have really only purchased three items of bona fide vintage (all last year for the occasion of the Patrick Kelly show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). One, an amazing black leather, huge- shouldered peplum jacket with silver Eiffel Tower zipper pulls at the sleeves and front closure, was actually discovered last year at this same Metropolitan Pavilion show. The others were purchased from a private dealer who specializes in high-end designer items and sells to upscale boutiques. Perhaps the difference between what my father would term the "rag pickers" and the more particular collectors is at issue. Certainly that is indicated in the price point as well as the pedigree. It just offends discernment to see items of clothing and accessories that I lost track of/gave away/kicked to the curb or that I remember seeing on others in the '80's and even the early '90's that are now considered vintage-worthy by virtue of age rather than provenance.
You may wonder (as I know I do) where this stuff has been sitting for the last two or more decades? Has it been in someone's dank and mildewed basement or stored in a trunk in an attic also in less than ideal conditions. Has it been sold as part of a loved one's estate or by its onetime owner or was it passed around like the neighborhood floozy. Was it well-worn and then discarded or was it one of those impulse (by that I mean "mistake") purchases that never quite lived up to its promise and was eventually given away or sold on consignment. Speaking of consignment, I seem to do better with newer items at a resale or consignment shop such as Roundabout's newest shop near 83rd and Madison. There you can find items of various ages, some from last season with tags on them (I believe stores such as Saks and Bergdorf's send items here if they are not sold at a last markdown or consolidation sale, or perhaps they came from customers who bought them there but never wore them). I have also seen older items, all of a recognizable and usually covetable designer and while I occasionally detect a whiff of perfume which is bad enough there is rarely any hint of those dreaded and aforementioned mothballs.
Which brings me to the question: at what point do older items of apparel receive the odiferous camphor treatment? Is it the equivalent of a woman going in to get some " work" done to stave off decay and ruin? For someone with compromised upper respiratory faculties, this alone can put me off my game. Isn't there another preventative to louse infestation than to send one's own sensibilities reeling from the foul atmospheric conditions? A dry cleaner will tell you that moths are attracted to perspiration left in clothing and by merely dry cleaning an item you get rid of the moths' temptation. I can see how it may be expensive or otherwise prohibitive to dry clean a woolen garment particularly if there are decorative or delicate embellishments on it but many items are not wool and should not/do not need to be subjected to mothballs. Case in point: one of my actual vintage purchases was a stretch velvet dress which retained the nasty stench no matter how much I tried to air it out until I paid for special cleaning.
Perhaps vintage accessories are less of a minefield. After all, there is no problem of stench with a piece of often delaminating gold plated metal jewelry, a chain belt or perhaps a handbag. Maybe, it's just me but I would forget about footwear. To quote Alicia Silverstone aka Cher in the "vintage" '90s movie "Clueless" when talking about retaining her virginity: "You see how picky I am about my shoes...and they only go on my feet!"
Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show is from 11-6 p.m. today at Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 West 18th Street www.manhattanvintage.com
- Laurel Marcus