These Vintage Collectors Are Putting Today's Fast-Fashion Epidemic To Shame


It's a word now used as a phrase in its own right, or a qualifier for something done over and over again. Tom Brady winning Superbowls: vintage. The Kardashians bringing the world to a stand still with an Instagram post: vintage. The President tweeting about "crooked Hillary:" vintage. My use of popular culture to explain a word: vintage.

There are those however, for whom the word vintage means so much more. A vintage coat, owned by their great-grandmother in the 1900s and handed down because it was designed by John Redfern, or a Chanel bag, crafted in the same halls the illustrious designer once walked. Vintage, in these cases, is synonymous with special, unique, and means that whatever it is - earrings, a hat, or a coat - it has a story.

It's the history of the pieces that's fascinating. Knowing they weren't manufactured in a warehouse in India and sold at 5,000 outlets throughout the world means a lot in 2018. Fast fashion - the Zaras, H&Ms and Primarks of the world - all contribute to a dulling of identity, and a veritable nullification of uniqueness. The vintage revolution is here to abate such a crisis.

We recently stopped by a vintage trunk show at the Javits Center here in New York and met some women who shared tales of their journeys in the world of vintage: from the lengths they had gone to get a piece, to the stories they had heard from miscellaneous worldly clients. Their determination to keep their collections inspired and relevant was flooring. Each woman had her own specialty, be it Victorian jewelry or army bomber jackets from WWII, each, of course, as different as the other. Below, we chatted with 5 women in the vintage industry about what differentiates them from the fashion of today, and how for many, what once started as a passion project, became a full-time job.

Yardena Lulu of NY Lulu Vintage

Yardena Lulu

Yardena Lulu has been in the business of vintage for 17 years. Travelling city to city to collect and present at vintage trunk shows, she's the longest running of the collectors here, and specializes in the "eclectic, wild and special." Her collection spans all the way back to the 19th century, but it is fittingly the colorful, hippy 60's that is her favorite era. “I love it all, but love the 60's with all the colors and fun clothing," Lulu explains. Given her years on the scene, she recounts meeting some incredible people, whether they were buying from, or selling to her. She reminisces about the story of a woman she encountered on her hunts, who in 1964, personally brought a suit to Coco Chanel to get it tailored.

A worrying trend within the industry, Lulu recognizes however is the proclivity to buy cheap or inauthentic vintage from overseas. Given her experience in the industry, Yardena is quick to notice a fake vintage. “I have good instincts. When I see something that is fabulous, I know it's fabulous. When I find something that's a museum piece, I still get so excited." As for the more nefarious copies from overseas, she had this to say; “I absolutely get upset when I see that, the workmanship is so poor and it takes away from our industry with this cheap approach."

A Chanel suit from Lulu's collection

Vanessa Samet of Vanessa's Vintage

Vanessa Samet first discovered her love for vintage while playing with her grandmother as a child. "She [Samet's grandmother] would pull out her pieces and talk about each one - where she got it, who gave it to her, and where she would wear it," Samet recalls fondly. "I've always loved the decorative arts, because form has to follow function. I guess vintage jewelry is just an extension of that. I love the history and stories behind each piece."

Vanessa Samet

Since then, she has grown very fond of jewelry made in the 20's and 30's. "In the early 1920's, after the discovery of King Tut's tomb, jewelry and fashion reflected Egypto-mania," she explains. "I love old pieces that were designed in that style with the scarabs and turquoise, and then the revival in the 1960's, after the movie Cleopatra came out with Elizabeth Taylor."

And speaking of powerful women, we questioned Samet about female dominance in this niche industry. As we walked the aisles of the trunk show, it was eminently clear who the bosses were in this town, and it wasn't men. Of the female heavy percentage in the field, Samet believed it was especially prevalent in jewelry, because it was originally purposed to adorn, or decorate women, and the majority of it was female-focused. She also offers the idea that women, by nature are the more nostalgic creatures. "Perhaps it has to do with the fact that vintage is fashion combined with nostalgia," Samet comments. "I know when I was with my grandmother and we would talk about her jewelry, I felt like I was celebrating her life experiences as a woman."

"Vintage is fashion combined with nostalgia."

-Vanessa Samet

Lindsay Risk of Risk Gallery & Boutique

Lindsay Risk's journey into vintage collecting is incredibly moving. "Growing up as a child, my mom was a model and she was married four times," says Risk, the owner of a 2-year-old vintage boutique in Brooklyn. "Sometimes we would shop at Bergdorf Goodman, sometimes it was Salvation Army. I learned how to dig for treasures on any budget."

Risk's proclivities for the colorful (as captured in the picture of her store below), are symbiotic with her passion for the 1960's 'Peacock Era.' "Men were also able to show off their interest in fashion," she remarks of the time that became synonymous with psychedelic suits and bold male fashion statements, setting the tone for the next decade in menswear.

Risk's aesthetic, she summarizes, aims to be "an adult playground - a whimsical, unique, vintage experience as well as an art gallery." Through her store you have access to both her curation of vintage pieces, and her impressive artwork, so inevitably, if you have the time, stopping by the boutique is well worth a trip.

Muneca Mullins of Muneca Mullins Studios

For this young vintage collector, what began as emotional hoarding, ended up creating a lifestyle and business for herself that surpassed her expectations. Mullins, whose passion for vintage arose out of a culmination of creativity and being self-professedly broke, also believes women become involved with vintage because of nostalgia. “They'll hold onto certain pieces that are from certain highlights of their life," she says. "Think about it, how many women do you know that kept their wedding dresses? How many dudes do you know kept their tux?"

Mullins, who operates out of a studio in New Jersey, began spreading the word of her business through Instagram. She quickly discovered that inviting this new wave of influencers to her shop for a shoot adorned in vintage clothing, would create a buzz, and indeed it did. "I believe my success comes with being able to combine multiple time periods with a modern flare," says Mullins. "I take the time to help the customer to understand how to style vintage pieces in their everyday world."

Muneca Mullins

Mullins's collection is more modern leaning than the rest of the ladies here, with bashful 90s gear adorning her clothes rails, coupled with some older pieces she really had to work to acquire. Speaking to us at the show, she recounts an incident whereby she had tracked down a WWII fighter pilot's bomber jacket, only to find the owner quite reluctant to give it away without a struggle. Mullins however persisted and the jacket hangs in her collection now, a cool $600. She explains that while the price tags might deter some folks from buying, it's these struggles for acquisition and the uniqueness of the pieces that make its worth. "It's really my job to explain the history and the great quality of my vintage," she says. "I make sure they understand the investment they are making."

Lara Kornbluh of Icon Style

Kornbluh's background in metalsmithing makes her eye for vintage delicacies an enviable one. She is currently the owner of Icon style, a boutique on the Upper West Side.

“As a teen in the 80's, I didn't see things I liked in regular stores," remarks the collector. “I felt much more connected to things from the past - their craftsmanship, design, and fabrics seemed so much more interesting to me than anything I would find at the mall. I felt they were little pieces of history." And that they were. Upon meeting her, she introduced us to some of the pieces captured below. The Victorian brooch dates back to the 1860s, during which time, as a symbol of mourning, one would capture a piece of their loved ones hair in a locket or brooch.

“As an adult, one of my favorite parts of vintage is the green aspect. In truth, we do not need to produce anything. It already exists, and we just need to reclaim, preserve, and enjoy it." -Lara Kornbluh

Kornbluh, who has been in the business for nearly 30 years, is positively enamored by this type of jewelry. "Loaded with fascinating symbolism and unique techniques and materials, I could write for days about this topic," she says. "I have always loved and collected hair work jewelry (it should be noted it is not always mourning jewelry, it can also commemorate an occasion with a loved one). When I think of these memorial pieces, I think of a time where photographs of loved ones were not readily available and these beautifully braided and woven pieces, were a way to have a piece of your loved one with you...in remembrance."

Can a relationship 'gram really equate to this level of intimacy? I think not.

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How This CEO Is Using Your Period To Prevent Chronic Diseases

With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.

For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.

Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."

There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."

“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"

-Anna Villarreal

Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.

How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.

So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."

To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."

These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.

A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.

To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."

How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.

Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."