If you have the tenacity of a female Sherlock Homes and an instinct for a bargain, the Isle of Wight is a treasure trove of beautiful things, from a more refined and genteel age just waiting to be re-discovered. I’ve purchased ‘thirties devore evening gowns in summer antique fairs in the middle of a field, and unearthed an Hermes scarf for the princely sum of fifty pence in an early morning flea market. Vintage is big news this summer and going through into autumn as designers rediscover the Femme Fatale Heroine: I predict that the recession will usher in a new mood of glamour to lift the spirits with all this talk of pain and austerity. The catwalks certainly showed a return to tailoring, sharp silhouettes and a celebration of the siren. Goodwood has brilliantly anticipated the trend, holding its first vintage fashion event in August. Let’s start a movement for ladylike glamour, decorum and good manners. We need optimism, plenty of pillar-box red lipstick and hourglass dresses and heels!
The thrill of walking into a vintage clothes emporium and discovering a beautiful, and rare one-off dress that you feel sure was made just for you, has to be experienced, preferably, at frequent intervals.
I’ve just found such a dress in Suzesroom, a colourful jewel of a vintage shop in Pier Street, Ventnor. As a fashion editor, I confess my heart did skip a beat when I first set eyes on the perfect high summer day dress – in a hypnotic and striking blue and white silk print by Ungaro. His Majesty reliably tells me they are an accurate depiction of Greek red and white figure vases!
Even so, the dress really didn’t work it’s couture magic, until I tried it on in the quaint loo, which doubles as the changing room, beyond the courtyard garden. The dress glided on and clung, Dolce Vita Style to every curve of my body. “Wow”, said my friend Jane, and favourite fashion accomplice. “It looks amazing on you, it really brings out the blue in your eyes. You have to buy it.” Five minutes later, and eighty pounds lighter, I became the owner of my first Ungaro day dress, in mint condition.
Suzesroom is owned by Deborah Robinson and Tracey Simmons. The duo share a great passion for all things from a bygone age that are either exquisitely made, colourful or kitsch, and freely admit, they had to open the shop as a drastic measure to deal with their mutual addiction. “ I now have to ring Debbie up, and tell her that I have just gone past a boot sale, and not stopped the car and gone diving in,” declares Tracey, giggling.
Now to shop. If you yearn to go back to the mid fifties, or early sixties, you will like Suzesroom. It’s as bright and colourful as a boiled sweet, and filled with everything the aspiring fifties housewife wouldn’t have been without, including Pyrex cookware, china, cookery part works, a handsome cream kidney shaped dressing table, a box of pretty aprons, and Lady Bird books galore which fly out of the shop. I’m tempted by an unusual mirror in gleaming black metal, with over sized, burnished gold flowers, £15,00; and a super chic and rare Schiaparelli silk scarf in a black and white dogtooth print, £60.00. Prices aren’t cheap, but these are rare, lovely pieces in very good condition.
The jewel in the shop is the rainbow hued clothes rail. On my last visit, the stand out pieces included: a swingy, brilliant Jaffa orange A line dress with a gorgeous triangle print, the Ungaro jewel of a dress and a very chic sixties shift dress, in timeless, elegant grey, with oversized front pockets. This is the perfect place to find something rare and fabulous to wear and stand out from the hoards at The Isle of Wight Rock Festival or Bestival.
Oh So Vintage, Carisbrooke
A new vintage clothes shop is always cause for excitement and the thrill of anticipation…
One Sunday afternoon I set off on a special pilgrimage to this tucked away newcomer in the pretty village of Carisbrooke, just five minutes from the heart of Newport.
I am glad I did. There are a trio of gorgeous, and quite startlingly beautiful fifties dresses in the window, one powder pink, another the colour of flesh and best of all – a dream of an original American Prom dress, in the palest of pale sugar pinks, with vibrant forget-me-knot flowers strewn across the bodice, a tiny waist and full, luxuriant petal skirt. I can visualise the young Natalie Wood wearing such a dress in the film West Side Story.
The owner, Wendy Levett, recently opened the shop after experiencing her children all fly the nest, and longed to embark on a new adventure and do something interesting with her time. “My husband was away on business in Australia, and by the time he came back, I was stocking the shop with men’s’ sixties suits.” She says silkily.
I tried on the Prom dress. It was a real Carrie date dress. Just like the one she wears in Paris when she is rescued by Big. Alas, it just didn’t suit my pale English rose skin tones; it was heartbreaking. We decided it would look incredible on a sultry, Mediterranean beauty.
What I love about this shop is the clever, carefully edited mix of old and new, always with a clever retro twist. The shop currently has some wonderful original Mary Quant tights and ponchos, and deliciously cute skirts made by a local designer in unusual vintage style fabrics from animals to geometric swirls, with all manner of pretty trimmings, including pom poms. What girl can resist a cute skirt with added pom poms? Priced from £20-25. This is also a great place to find a vintage wedding dress, catsuit or a one of a kind maxi evening dress in a dazzling, psychedelic print. For the man who loves the flamboyance of sixties and seventies style – there are original suits, kipper ties, cravats and denim.
Prices are reasonable, with special pieces such as the Prom Dress commanding a higher price tag of £80.00.
The Ethical Hedonist Secret Vintage Fashion Address Book:
Suzesroom, 10a, Pier Street, Ventnor 01983 857007/07734 752361 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oh So Vintage, 51, Carisbrooke High Street, Newport 07896 008220 http://www.oh-so-vintage.co.uk/
Tip: Look in ‘The County Press’, the local paper, on a Friday for listing of antique fairs, boots sales and one off auctions. This is a rich source of inspiration for the lover of vintage and recycled treasures.
Great Ventnor Flea Market, Ventnor Winter Gardens, nearly every Saturday 9.00-1.00am (so best to check in The County Press)