Lifestyle 05 February 2018
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 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."
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."
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."
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.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.