NEW YORK, United States — From the outside, NY Vintage’s faded red awning doesn’t hint at the secrets within. The name is generic. The front windows are half-covered with a dark curtain. A couple of doors down, there’s even a thrift shop.
Look closer, though, and there are flickers of glamour: mannequins outfitted like 1960s movie stars; a dress on display once owned by a first lady some 150 years ago; and, behind the desk, photos of Hollywood’s current A-list along the wall.
They’re NY Vintage’s clients, you see — all of them.
When it comes to vintage stores, this is about as exclusive as it gets. Shoppers peruse the clothes downstairs, a hand-selected collection of treasures harvested from auction blocks and people’s closets. Racks are filled with thousand-dollar Chanel jackets, Alexander McQueen tops, and decades-old Halston dresses. Upstairs, however, is the real treasure chest. No one goes up the red-carpeted staircase without permission. Guests are vetted and even need a referral. Nothing is for sale; it’s rental-only, and you need to take care with the merchandise. Each item is tagged, valued from a few hundred dollars to $100,000 or more.
Racks are filled with thousand-dollar Chanel jackets, Alexander McQueen tops, and decades-old Halston dresses.
Shannon Hoey is the curator of NY Vintage, located in Manhattan’s pricey Chelsea neighborhood, which she opened in 2002 with her own clothing collection. Given her background in art history and a husband in the antiques business, the move seemed obvious.
“Everything from the archive is invaluable,” Hoey says. “It’s extremely difficult to source.”
Her success, however, is fast becoming the exception. New York’s vintage stores have been under siege as fashion sellers try to adapt to e-commerce and fast-fashion. Competition from corporate giants such as H&M and Zara squeezed used-clothing shops.
And then there are startups: Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms and Wall Street investors have pumped more than $400 million into e-commerce versions of consignments, hoping to fully devour the already bleeding industry. Businesses such as ThredUp and Poshmark lead the second-hand marketplace, providing shoppers a way to clean out their closets while replenishing them with new finds.
Yet Hoey’s shop has endured. It’s become a destination for fashion types who can’t find her wares elsewhere. Designers rent items for inspiration, combing through patterns and fabrics from fashion cycles of yore. Film folk come in search of costumes for television or movies. And stylists look to find unique items for celebrity clients, which is how Hoey’s dresses and jewellery regularly end up on the red carpet and in music videos.
Over the years, items from the little shop have been seen on Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Scarlett Johanssen, Kate Upton, Vanessa Hudgens, and Charlize Theron.
Hoey’s shop has … become a destination for fashion types who can’t find her wares elsewhere.
Hoey says NY Vintage can schedule up to 10 appointments a day, plus walk-ins who want to go upstairs. The store doesn’t double-book, and it certainly doesn’t countenance most client “emergencies” — when some harried designer needs a certain kind of item right now.
In NY Vintage’s private hosting area, two art deco chairs face a hodgepodge of haute couture shoes and headpieces, some of which you might recognise. Walking through the racks, Hoey has a story for just about everything — leather bodysuits that pushed the edges of fashion, generations-old corsets, earrings worn by the world’s biggest pop stars. She has occasionally held dinners and events for VIPs there, surrounded by cases of gleaming jewellery and sartorial splendour.
Recently, Adele showed up, flanked by handlers and security, because the store had been recommended to her and she needed an outfit for a concert. Her arrival was unannounced, but to Hoey, it didn’t matter.
“To be on her list of places to stop was,” she says, pausing to reflect, “I have arrived.”
By Kim Bhasin; editor: David Rovella.