Vintage has long been a source of inspiration for accessories makers. But sometimes slapping antique fabric on a basic clutch frame just looks…old. Here are four new lines resurrecting vintage in a modern manner.
As teenage friends, Marisa Stubin and Erika Milstein would raid the secondhand clothing and vintage recycling factory Stubin’s family owned in Brooklyn to search for the latest trends. “Like when [old] Levi’s were in fashion, or Adidas [tracksuits],” Milstein said, “we’d always think, ‘Okay, let’s go there and get what’s cool.’”
A decade later, they’ve found they can make a living out of it. Last spring, they launched Mintage, a collection of vintage handbags with new crystal, pearl and rhinestone handles.
The pair finds antique bags at the Stubin’s factory, where the family reworks vintage clothing and resells it to boutiques, as well as at flea markets around the country. Prior to partnering with Stubin, Milstein designed jewelry, which led to the concept of recreating the bag handles to double as necklaces. The worn-out or outdated straps on the bags they found are replaced with crystal and pearls that are interchangeable — and necklaces, too.
The bags wholesale from $25 to $50; coordinating handles range from $45 to $128.
The very fact that the bags are antique is what makes them unique for today’s market, Stubin said. “A lot of the bags [from the Fifties] come with a change purse and a mirror, unique things that modern bags these days don’t have.”
Their collection is carried at Galleria Neoponti in Englewood, N.J., Fini in Seattle and Infinity on Madison Avenue here.
“I was sort of born into this,” explained jewelry designer Lauren Milne. “I come from a family of travelers and collectors.”
Her grandfather was a jeweler who, with his wife, would travel the world and bring home trunkloads of antiques from China and other Asian countries. Her mother designed woven handbags long before people started knocking off Bottega Veneta.
Now, with her mom, Myrna Ratner, Milne is continuing the legacy with their jewelry line, Jada.
Together they scour markets from London to Istanbul for unique pieces with rich histories — like century-old Afghani prayer beads — that they can turn into necklaces. They also tap into Milne’s grandparents’ collection. “Things don’t embody the same richness and distinctiveness anymore,” the Seattle-based designer said.
The collection features necklaces and earrings primarily in silver, gold and glass. Antiquities such as kingfisher feather pendants that were once Chinese hairpins, and gold coins that hung from Turkoman headdresses in the 18th century, are used as pendants for necklaces. Because of the diversity of the materials Milne and her mother find, retail prices run from $145 to $2,500.
The pair have also come across a number of antique locks from China that were given as symbols of good luck to new Chinese mothers. But the locks are too big to translate to jewelry, Milne said, so they’d like to explore using them as closures on a new line of handbags. “We just have this wonderful appreciation for history,” Milne remarked. Jada is carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, Jennifer Kaufman in Los Angeles and Fragments in SoHo here.
Designer Margaret Rowe believes there is one way women dress today: “It’s a great T-shirt and an elaborate necklace, and you’re there,” she said.
Leaving the T-shirts to somebody else, Rowe has created a collection of necklaces that combine pendants from the Twenties through the Sixties with modern materials like Swarovski crystal and semiprecious stones.
“I’ve always loved vintage jewelry, but a lot of it is not as wearable as we’d like it to be, so I’ve taken vintage elements that I love and modernized them [with new materials].”
She noted that necklaces from the Eisenhower era were much shorter, because sweaters and blouses were cut high around the neck. To adjust for today’s plunging necklines, she adds length to create a more modern 18-millimeter necklace, which falls in the middle of the chest.
Rowe travels from her home in Arizona to London and Paris and shops estates with her husband and son. She’s careful to choose items only in mint condition and ones that would likely appreciate in price.
“I never [break down] any pieces, because I would never want them to lose their value,” she said.
As soon as she spies a piece, Rowe has visions of how to adapt it for the modern consumer. “I will see it and think it would look great with fresh-water pearls or with some of the colors they’re showing this season, maybe the charcoals, sage greens and apricot.”
Included in her collection, which retails from $145 to $625, is a sterling silver and gold finish Coro floral spray with a citrine and Czech crystal necklace. An enamel, pearl and rhinestone pansy pendant is attached to a blue topaz, pearl and crystal necklace.
For now, Rowe sells her year-old collection on her Web site, heiressvault.com, but she is beginning to target specialty stores such as Fred Segal.
Vintage is often the ideal way to pay homage to the ones who so uniquely went before. Especially if that person is a lively, pink-Cadillac-driving grandmother who vacationed in Rio.
When she began her belt business two years ago, Jacqueline Hardy decided to name it for her late grandmother, Rose. “She was just a very fashionable lady,” Hardy explained.
Her affinity for Rose, combined with her love of all things vintage, inspired Hardy’s year-old collection of leather belts with vintage brooches and compacts for buckles.
The former advertising executive became a pro at scouring flea markets in her hometown of Atlanta for costume brooches, but when she came upon an antique compact, she knew she had hit upon something. “I just thought how cool would it be to have something that opens on a belt.”
After relining the compact in suede or vintage fabric, Hardy mounts it onto a buckle. Her finds vary from floral enamel and bright retro colors to Art Deco-style silverplated and goldplated cases. Depending on the rarity of the item, prices for the belts can range from $98 to $160 retail.
Since first approaching local Atlanta boutiques, Hardy has picked up 15 to 20 accounts nationwide, including Selma and Syd on East 60th Street here. Next she’d like to branch out into handbags, “but I’ll wait until this side of the business gets more settled,” she said.