If I was to describe Sascha, the owner of La Belle Vintage, in just a word or two, Vintage-Fairy is what springs immediately to mind. The reason being, is that Sascha makes vintage dreams come true by finding exactly what I’m looking for and in great condition so, that I don’t have to stress out about the possibility of having to mend, which I’m truly awful at. Apart from being very knowledgeable on the topic of vintage fashion, as well as costume restoration, Sascha is also incredibly kind and generous, making the whole process of buying vintage clothes a delightful experience and making me always want to come back for more! You can see my breathtaking 1940s dress from La Belle Vintage here!
Dominique de Merteuil: How did you start your adventure in selling vintage clothes?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: Well, I started selling vintage out of necessity rather than choice. When I first came to New York in the 1990’s and wanted to start my Master’s degree in costume history, I found it difficult to find a job that would accept English (UK) qualifications as an equivalent to US qualifications. I remember having two Bachelor degrees back then and potential employers asking me if I had a GED.
Eventually, I got a job working part time at a New York museum. I learned a tremendous lot in the costume department which has shaped my vintage and restoration knowledge. I was then able to start my Master’s at FIT.
In order to supplement my income as I was the sole breadwinner for my family, I started selling the pieces that I worked on in class. The pieces that were used for the practical part of the courses were eventually sold for much more that I had anticipated. These pieces were usually found at flea markets, swap meets etc and were in deplorable condition. However, I was able to restore them to wearable standards and thus a business was born!
I sold at a few flea markets in Manhattan (yes, I am the girl who used to be on the “A” train with a dress form and a suitcase every Saturday morning J) and eventually started selling on eBay in 1999. Back then, there were no photos on ebay. You had to manually take photos with a camera, get them developed and send them to potential customers! It was a long process and then you mostly got paid with checks/money order via snail mail. When Paypal came around, I launched my website and have sold on Etsy since 2007. I have been doing costume designing on the side, so I have a full plate.
This adventure has overtaken every aspect of my life, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing 🙂
Dominique de Merteuil: What can we find in your vintage shop? For example, do you specialise in a particular era or type of garment, accessory, etc?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: I sell clothing, shoes, and accessories from all eras. I don’t specialize in any particular time period as each decade has had something special to offer in terms of style.
You will however find the most crazy vintage novelty purses ever at my shop. I love novelty handbags, especially animal shaped ones and the ones that I don’t keep, usually end up in the shop 🙂
Dominique de Merteuil: Is there a process you go through when selecting garments for your shop? Perhaps you have a list or a criteria, that you use when deciding which garments will be perfect for your shop and your clients?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: Everything MUST be wearable! Under-arm stains, tears, holes are a huge no-no at my shops. I spend hours a day working on restoring damaged vintage before listing them. When my customers receive an item from me, it must be ready to wear out of the box. A customer shouldn’t have to spend $300 on a dress and then think about how much to spend on cleaning…it’s not acceptable in my books. I tend to stick to purchasing quality items in excellent condition, but I am a sucker for wounded birds…especially from the 1920’s/1930’s. Art Deco aficionados like me usually don’t mind vintage from these two eras in less than perfect condition.
Dominique de Merteuil: Where do you find all those beautiful vintage clothes and accessories for your shop? (if it’s not a secret!)
LA BELLE VINTAGE: It is a secret 🙂 but I will tell you that it involves a lot of time and energy. I work 16-18 hour days just in finding, restoring and listing my vintage garments.
Dominique de Merteuil: What is your favourite period of time and why?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: I love all decades and time periods! I love fashion, no matter what era. I could hang out with Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette and Twiggy at the same time…they all had style 🙂
I do love the 1920’s/1930’s as I said above, but I love fashion from any decade.
Dominique de Merteuil: What message/advise do you have for women who have never bought vintage clothes before? For example: what are the key pieces to start building a vintage look? What to keep in mind when making a purchase?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: I usually advise on jewelry or accessories like a scarf, belt, handbag or a maybe a hat. Fashion is all about details and what better detail for an outfit than to accessorize it? After you’ve done that, invest in a measuring tape and use it…know your measurements. A measuring tape is essential before you even think about purchasing a vintage garment as vintage sizes do not correspond with sizes of today. The best way to buy vintage is to know what fits you.
Dominique de Merteuil: What are your 3 favourite items that you have ever sold and why have you chosen to name those particular ones?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: There are so many favorites…what to choose, what to choose?
1) My first favorite sale was my first sale. It was an 1800’s green silk bodice with amazing lace and ruffles. However, I don’t have a photo as that was 1998.
2) Second was 1920’s silk wedding dress with a scalloped hem and train. The original owner of the gown said that it took 17 days to cut and sew on the scallops on the hemline. That alone is worthy of praise. But the gown itself was magnificent. I’ve attached a photo of the dress as it was worn by it’s present owner. The customer who purchased this was incredible to work with and she also started a blog on her 1920’s themed wedding featuring the dress.
3) Thirdly was an incredible ensemble that was used on set at Universal studios in 1962. I had gotten several garments from a costuming gig that I had worked on. It is a pink silk chiffon catsuit with several matching skirts. Oh my goodness! This thing was incredible. That, I do have a picture of!
Dominique de Merteuil: What are your favourite vintage brands and are they very difficult to find?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: I don’t have a favorite vintage brand really. I love all vintage equally…ha ha! I do love designs by Elsa Schiaparelli, Paul Poiret and Peter Minshall who is an incredible Carnival costume designer. Google Tan Tan & Saga Boy and just watch that magic 🙂
But I have a soft spot for catalog fashions like Lana Lobell, Skylark, Florida Fashions, Bellas Hess, Lane Bryant (circa 1940’s), Roaman’s, Fashion Frocks, Maisonette Frocks, Montgomery Wards, etc.
It reminds me of what the everyday woman wore back then. Not everyone could have afforded couture like Dior and Chanel. The majority of women wore what they could afford and that’s close to my heart 🙂
Dominique de Merteuil: What’s in your wardrobe? Do you personally wear vintage clothes on a daily basis?
LA BELLE VINTAGE: I wear vintage jewelry and accessories everyday. I use the same Coach purse that I’ve owned since 1992. I wear old school Reeboks, the bright candy colored ones from the 1980’s 🙂
I really appreciate the quality of vintage items and I tend to gravitate to wearing or using something older.