After a decade weaving in and out of the fashion apparel market, Michelle Elise has settled into offering vintage apparel and original designs via her own website as well as on Etsy.
Elise, a magna cum laude graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, joins the ranks of a growing breed of creative designers turned entrepreneurs who are leveraging online technologies and social media. Elise’s business, Ellipse, features an online store with originally designed formal and party dress ranging from $175 to $289, She also has a physical store with vintage apparel and accessories in Hudson, N.Y., which is the latest Hudson River town to be targeted by day-tripping hipsters from New York.
Aside from vintage apparel, Elise offers formal and bridal gowns as well as accessories. With her original designs, Elise takes an environmentally aware approach. “As a designer, my niche is ‘recycled couture,'” Elise said. “But a larger part of my business is dealing vintage.”
With her designs, Elise finds inspiration from the cast-offs of others. “The vintage or salvaged parts of dresses and other garments that I find always inspire their new incarnation,” Elise explained. “Often times I can use a bodice from an old dress, but the skirt is ruined, so I deconstruct and restyle. Sometimes I find a pleated skirt in a quality wool plaid that is unbecoming for a bottom but makes a really great shawl. Ultimately it’s a lower-impact route to beautiful clothes that is my inspiration.”
The resurgence of vintage and vintage-inspired fashion has flooded marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy and eBay. Analysts estimate the market to be between $19 billion and $20 billion in annual sales. Millennials in particular are driving a lot of the business.
“There is no longer a stigma of inferiority associated with clothes that have some years on them; the ILGWU [International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union] factory they were made in, the parties they have been to, the quirky patch repairing an old cigarette hole – all these things add authenticity,” Elise said.
While e-commerce is an important part of the vintage market, Elise said having a physical store is a necessity. “We have all had those online purchase disappointments wherein the product was terribly misrepresented, or the fit is horrible,” she said. “I see consumers with high brand loyalty shopping online from their favorite designers or shops because they know what to expect. There is more selection, and it’s easier, for sure.”
Elise said aside from the “practical reasons to shop brick-and-mortar” such as getting the right size and fit as well as being able to assess product quality and feel, “there are plenty of us who still actually derive joy from the act of physically shopping: finding that special one-of-a-kind item, admiring in the artful juxtapositions of store displays, discovering that the dress your girlfriend bullied you into trying on actually looks surprisingly fabulous on you, smelling the sweet fragrance candle burning in a posh boutique, having a smiling second opinion, or scoring a super deal on a clearance rack.”
Regarding the location for her store, which is at the Hudson Mercantile, 318 Warren Street in Hudson, Elise said the choice to open there was due to the area offering shoppers “all things vintage and antique.” She also said that it “seemed like clothing was underrepresented in the sea of mid-century teak that is Warren Street.”
“I do things a little differently from many vintage clothing dealers: I have collections of staples like vintage Lilly Pulitzer and Levi’s 501s and things that I fetishize like Whiting & Davis and Guyabera shirts,” Elise said. “Most everything, hanging on shiny wooden hangers, is natural fibers. There are no double-knit polyester. In a premium antique market like Hudson, I think shoppers appreciate that.”