Haute Nostalgia: Finding Vintage in Vienna
Treasure Hunt, Feb. 2013: where to find the best vintage clothing shops in Vienna
Ingrid Raab adjusts her red-framed glasses and schools me in "vintage". If anyone is an authority in this city, it is Raab. She has curated (there is no better word) her internationally renowned shop Vintage Flo for 35 years, bringing her into contact with Hollywood celebrities, major designers, performing arts companies, look-book creators, and even a chocolate company for whose packaging she styles "pin-up girls" in vintage.
Just off the Naschmarkt, Vintage Flo features a century of women’s fashion (1880s-1980s). The simple white showroom features ample mirrors, only a few racks of clothes, and three display cases of jewelry and accessories. A few retro mannequin heads animate the perimeter. Most of the collection remains behind the scenes in Raab’s private storeroom. She rotates the inventory to keep her shop seasonable, well-edited, even airy.
It is a far cry from the thrift shops of my youth – cluttered, musty warrens with a few gems hidden amongst tatty fabrics and stained leathers.
A gulf separates "vintage" from "thrift" or "second-hand", Raab explains. Vintage is finely culled "antique textiles", almost always workshop-made couture. It offers a romantic reprieve from today’s globalised fashion market, harkening back to a time when a dress from Italy did not look like a dress from France. Vintage clothes do not begin in a sweatshop factory and wind up, a season or two on, in a give-away pile.
But the price for clothes that appreciate in cultural value is, well, the price tag. Few items are under €100, and most are well over.
The Spittelberg shop of Austrian designer Lena Hoschek continues the tradition of workshop-made designs, geographic specificity, fine textiles, and a price tag to match. While not a vintage store, it traffics in nostalgia. Each season, Hoschek bases her eminently wearable collections around a particular era and country. The winter collection evokes 1940s Paris, and indeed the voice of Edith Piaf greets me as I walk in the door. Embroidered samplers hang on the wallpapered wall. Vintage-inspired eye-glasses gaze out from a small rack. Button-style suspenders drape across a greyish-teal velvet loveseat.
The shop attendant, a charming burlesque dancer who goes by "Mitzi May", shows me images of Hoscheck’s spring/summer 2013 collection from Berlin fashion week. With flower crowns à la Frida Kahlo and faces painted to resemble Day of the Dead skeletons, the models display creations that evoke Mexico’s golden age of jet setters. It promises to surpass even last summer’s collection, which had the capacity to turn an ordinary woman into an evocation of a classic Italian film star on holiday. Lena Hoschek worked for Vivienne
Westwood before returning to her native Graz to open her first shop seven years ago. Now with shops in Vienna and Berlin, her reputation is clearly on the rise. Blouses start around €200 and dresses around €400. Good news, however: Those prices drop precipitously with end-of-season sales and on the outlet section of the store’s website.
The new Frauenzimmer und Männersache has caught my fancy as the city’s sexiest retro shop. Founded late last year by burlesque dancers Antonia Gruber and Kathrin Pfeiffer, the boutique offers quality retro styles (1920s to early 1960s) for a much lower price-point than Lena Hoschek. Dipping into Gruber’s extensive collection of vintage patterns, Gruber and Pfeiffer team with a skilled local tailor to create original pieces in gorgeously soft fabrics. The result is a totally authentic 1940s or 1950s look if you pair, say, a wool A-line skirt with a micro-fitted tailored vest. For a less costumed look, the pieces can be worn in an otherwise modern ensemble. For instance, a red, double-breasted cape might be worn with modern skinny trousers. Likewise for the small men’s collection: forget the wide-legged Zoot-suit trousers and pair the shop’s exquisite tailored vests with, perhaps, a rolled-sleeved oxford and fitted grey jeans.
The shop also offers an array of international lines. In its intimate showroom, you can find beaded flapper dresses by the Australian designer who costumed the Jazz Age film The Artist; 1940s-style uniform dresses from Germany; mid-century pieces by U.K. designer Tara Starlet; and my favorite, What Katie Did – a vintage-style lingerie line that ranges from boned-and-laced corsets to gartered bodysuits to "bullet bras" reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe’s. All the stockings, of course, have seams. And for those seeking authenticity, you can even find old-style all-nylon stockings with enforced "Cuban" heels. Rounding out the nostalgic ambiance, small gift items range from chalk, parcel twine, and paper party straws to the more inspiring, if no less iconic, feather duster.
The Neubaugasse vintage boutique Carnaby is named after the iconic Soho street of Swinging Sixties London. Owner Oliver Schaffer limits its fare to a single decade, from about 1965-1975. Not generally a fan of the psychedelic, I was pleasantly surprised to find several items perfectly suited to my everyday life: a black V-neck knit dress with grey accents, a yellow button-down to pair with boots and skinny jeans, and – from among the housewares – a globe lamp with thick clear glass, shaped like a berry. The price range is reasonable for high-quality vintage, which is to say, in the several-hundred euro range for party dresses. Schaffer asserts that his prices are as low as possible, given the care he takes to procure, clean, and sometimes repair each item. The shop is sometimes closed for stretches; it’s advisable to call before making a special trip.
But it is at the moderately-priced second-hand shop Bootik 54 down the street that I make my only purchase, a handmade Alpine hat of green velvet. For the satisfying price of €10.
4., Schleifmühlgasse 15a
7., Gutenberggasse 17
Frauenzimmer und Männersache
7., Zollergasse 16
7., Neubaugasse 78
0676 767 68 69
7., Neubaugasse 54