Absinthe & Old Lace
The elevator door opens to a syncopated ragtime melody, revealing period-correct outfits hanging on headless forms — a pouffy ’50s party dress, a ’40s housedress, a circa-1910 three-piece traveling suit that would have been worn by someone on the Titanic. Old advertisements and travel posters dot the walls, and a large glass-windowed bookshelf shows off etiquette and beauty books from the 1900s to the 1950s. It doesn’t feel costumey at all. It feels . . . historical, like a museum.
This is ReVamp, the brainchild of designer and owner Annamarie von Firley, a boutique that specializes in replicating clothing from the first half of the 20th century. Shopping here is a full-service experience, like in shops of yore. Some clothes are modeled on mannequins, and there are more designs in look books; shoppers fill out a little form with size, style and fabric. Surprisingly, the clothes are very modestly priced: shirts for $80, dresses up to $150, with details and touches not seen on today’s styles — Eton hips, knife pleats, buttons and ribbon detailing.
It began with an obsession: von Firley’s penchant for accumulating vintage books, furniture, clothes and patterns. “My family never really kept any heirlooms, so I guess my collecting is a way for me to create my own history,” von Firley says, smiling, her Day-Glo yellow hair shimmering in the sunlight that filters through the large windows.
Von Firley went to school to learn toy making, then built furniture for a living, then made perfumes, before moving on to make clothes in 1998. It was her love of swing dancing that got her into it. “No one was really dressing up on the swing scene anymore,” she says, “so I decided to make clothes, at first for myself, then for others.” She had met Dita von Teese, burlesque goddess (oh, and Marilyn Manson’s wife), when she was making corsets, and continues to make clothes for her. When von Teese recently held a tea party at ReVamp to herald her latest book, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese, von Firley made two frilly ’50s aprons just for the occasion. “I can’t sell them now,” she says. “They’d have to retail for 150 bucks each with all the detail work.”
That’s not the only custom work von Firley does. Besides wedding dresses, any piece in the store can be altered; the fabric can be changed, and the piece can be tailored to fit any body type. Most of von Firley’s designs come from authentic vintage patterns, vintage clothing, old magazines and catalogs that she finds — all historically accurate. She also can make patterns based on photographs or illustrations. “A few people have even dropped off movies for me to watch. I go home, fastforward and pause, and try to sketch it out. But it’s finding the fabric that’s hard these days,” she says. “Everything has stretch in it. Whenever I find something that looks vintage, I buy it up.”
Von Firley offers vintage-immersion classes, where students can learn everything from the art of cloche making to how to make authentic slips. And for those not inclined to sew, she offers hair-and-makeup lessons. Students learn how to make pin curls, rag curls, Marcel waves and ’40s up-dos, how to apply fake eyelashes, what the lip and eyebrow shape of a woman in a particular decade looked like. I sat in on a recent class and was transformed into a ’40s pinup girl, thanks to Sandra D (from Allen Edwards Salon, Studio City), who specializes in hairdos of the past. Von Firley handles the makeup; she uses a line of cosmetics called Bésame, from a Glendale company that, like ReVamp, prides itself on the authenticity of its products. All the colors are exact replicas of shades used in the ’20s to ’50s. The lipsticks are even shaped in the small bullet style, so if you find a purse that has a bullet-lipstick holder, these will slide right in. And they all come in gold compacts that are also historically accurate.
A certain breed of shopper will delight in this vintage veracity — those in search of a historical identity, those who feel they were born in the wrong era, or perhaps those who just want to look different in a cookie-cutter Gap world.
“I waited online for seven hours to be on Project Runway,” von Firley says, not at all dejected. “They looked at my book and decided I was too literal.” In a world of high concept and recycled avant garde, literal can be very refreshing.
ReVamp, Platt Building, 834 S. Broadway, Suite 1200, downtown, (213) 488-3387. For more information and vintage-immersion class schedules: revampvintage.com.
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