L&J: What was the very first piece of vintage that you bought?
Shannon Hoey: The very first vintage was not actually clothing; it was hats. I had purchased a trunk filled with 1940s hats and toppers, and that was it for me.
Where did you find them?
S: My now husband was in the antiques business and I would accompany him to estates. They would buy entire estates and I would go with them and help them on the estates, and I found it in a basement, an old trunk. Fashion really discovered me at that moment. I didn’t discover it!
I love that it was a trunk of hats; that’s kind of amazing. So, what were you doing before you started collecting vintage?
S: My background is art history, and I was doing set design. I was freelancing, you know, as an independent contractor and I worked on films and did everything from graphics to set design. Did a little bit of traveling. Yeah, no formal fashion background at all. You know, I didn’t think I had an interest in it until I found that trunk. Later on, I learned some of my favorite designers also had an infinity, you know, a great affection for millinery, and that’s how they got their start. Like, Charles James, as an example, Schiaparelli’s incredible hats and Balenciaga. So, there’s something to be said about that.
It’s a segue for some people, it sounds like.
S: Yeah. Absolutely.
And so I’m guessing you started by collecting, right?
S: I did. So, that was the beginning for me. I started collecting and just coveting those really special pieces, and the collection started to grow.
And then what took you from collecting to actually selling vintage?
S: It was a really big leap for me. I had an offer from this firm I was working for to come on with them as a full-time employee, and it would require me to travel and they would fly me back on weekends. And I really wasn’t really happy. It wasn’t for me. You know, I went to work every single day and I didn’t really have the creative control that I’d hoped for in the field that I was working at the time, and I literally just took a leap into it. I was surrounded by the antiques business for enough years for it to be a natural migration over into that field.
So, you were a collector and then you opened your store. It was the store first, right? Before you opened the rental part of the business, or was it the other way around?
S: Yeah. The retail store came first and we were very successful like the second we opened the store. We were able to expand pretty quickly.
When did you open?
S: 2002, we opened the store in 2002. 2002? 2001? One of those.
And so, you started as the store and then at a certain point you moved into what it is now, which is half retail, half rental?
Can you give an idea of who your clients are who rent your vintage pieces?
S: Yes. It is very varied, you know, creatives in the fashion industry. So it’s anything from working with costume designers on a major film production to working with photographers and stylists for film editorial, or advertising to media and videos… You know, every day that we come in, it’s just ever-changing. We never know what project we’re going to be working on, but it’s just working with all of the true creatives in the industry and bringing their vision to fruition; whatever it is that they are working on. We do a lot of consulting here, and we do a lot of staging and working on concepts and design. We’ve worked with Bergdorf Goodman with their windows – you know, their famed windows.
It sounds like a huge variety of clients.
S: There’s so many projects that we’ve had the ability to work on. We worked with the First Lady, of course, which was a really historical moment for the vintage world because it was the first time in history a First Lady has ever worn vintage.
S: Yeah, it’s never been done before, so that was a big moment for us.
That’s amazing. So, as you just mentioned, you work with some of the industry’s top stylists and designers and costumers and creatives. It must be fun to see your collection re-imagined through the lens of other creatives all the time.
S: Yeah. Yes, it truly is. If that has happened, those pieces – you know, pieces that are ever borrowed in their entirety – those are permanently archived and are not re-released on our end.
I didn’t know that.
S: We protect all of our designers’ interests, so…yeah.
Some women, in my experience styling, have a hard time wearing vintage in their own life, but probably want to. Having collected it and seen it in so many iterations, what kind of advice would you give to someone who wants to introduce vintage into their personal style and is maybe a little sort of shy or unsure about how to go about it?
S: You know, if somebody responds to a piece, they shouldn’t be afraid. I mean, it’s all about—it’s a very personal choice, and I don’t believe my advice would be to—you know, walk out head-to-toe in 1950s matching shoes and dress. That just isn’t done any more. In the 50s, that was on-trend. Your shoes and your bag would match your dress and everything would be perfect. Just to wear a piece. You know, accessories make an entire outfit, so just wear—whether it’s a pony-printed jacket, an animal-printed jacket, or a…whatever it is, just to mix it with modern.
Maybe they could start with a hat!
S: Right, yeah. That fell out of fashion when Kennedy women pretty much stopped wearing hats right around that time.
S: Hats are coming back. There are such wonderful milliners today.
I think there are some occasions where they can work now.
What does the future hold for New York Vintage?
S: We’re going to just continue to grow and to inspire and our goal is to make our archive more readily available to our clients abroad. We plan on having offices on the West Coast and overseas. You know, small show rooms. That’s what I see for us in the future.
I forgot about the West Coast move. That’s really exciting.
S: Oh, yeah, the LA move. We’ll do that within the next two years, we’ll have an office there.
That’s going to be really fun.
S: Yeah. We have a site that will be launching in the next few months that is for our industry clientele, so it’s basically a resource for them that’s by invitation that they’ll have access to for perspective jobs that they’re working on. Just a way of really communicating visually with what their needs are and that sort of thing.
Which is great, and to be able to do it even if you’re not necessarily in New York is a game changer.
S: Right, exactly.
To have access to all the fashion history that you have archived and all the beautiful pieces and knowledge that you have without needing to necessarily be there is pretty incredible, I'm getting excited thinking about it.
S: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. You know, in this business when everything is needed yesterday and directions get changed all the time, for sure.
Well, I’ve got to think it would make your life a little bit easier as well, to have the archive digitized.
S: Yeah, you have to, especially when you have a collection the size of mine. You definitely need to be digitized and be able to facilitate what you need, you know, rather quickly. Especially because we do do so much business outside of New York and in London as well. So, everything needs to be accessible pretty quickly and we need to move fast to get orders out, and that sort of thing. Which is why those work spaces are needed there, you know, just to be able to have a drop-ship location. It’s going to really take a lot of the pressure off, and it’s going to be a little more streamlined.
Last question if you can answer it. It might be too hard. What’s your favorite vintage item that you own?
S: You know, I am definitely a surrealist at heart, and I just love the 20s and the 30s, so I would say that decade and pieces that I own from that period are some of my favorites. You know, Schiaparelli and hats by this brother and sister team from the 30s called Bes-Ben. Those are some of my favorites. Yeah. That would be it.
S: It is a hard question.
I know, I’m sure it is. It’s one of those ones—I feel like there’s certain questions people ask me and my mind goes completely blank, and then just trying to choose from everything is next to impossible.
S: Yeah, yeah. It is, it’s hard. There’s even modern designers that I’m in love with from today, too. I love Gareth Pugh and Iris van Herpen. I mean, those real story-tellers and avant-garde designers. So, yeah, every decade has it's great artists, even in war time time. You know, like what Ferragamo did when there was shortages with materials, because of the war, with shoes. Making shoes out of raffia and cork. I mean, it’s just absolute genius.
Yeah, I think during and post-war fashion history is really interesting. How people dealt with it and used different materials and used labor in a different way.
S: Yeah, well, necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Shannon, thank you so, so much.
S: You’re so welcome.