Mixing vintage gems with her own figure-flaunting repro creations, Vivien Wilson (the woman behind the much-loved Vivien of Holloway label) knows her vintage – and has the wardrobe to prove it. She gives Jen Barton a lesson in retro-meets-repro styling...
Vivien Wilson, the designer behind everyone's favourite mid-century inspired label, Vivien of Holloway, loves her Fifties silhouettes – nipped-in waists and curve-hugging dresses – and knows that a lovely vintage piece needs something equally glamorous to go over it, not to mention the right hair and accessories to complete the look.
Her repro design ethos is all about making vintage more accessible to everyone, which means fab silhouettes in easier-to-care-for modern fabrics (and, happily, easier-to-fit-into modern sizes). Meet the queen of repro and her favourite fashion pieces - and find out about the time she bought 350 pairs of shoes in one go...
What got you interested in vintage fashion? Was there a specific person/item of clothing that got you hooked?
I loved old movies, namely for the playful sexuality and the glamorous clothes. I fell in love with my first Fifties dress when I was very young. It was a blue floral Fifties sundress. I had to plead with my Mum to let me have it as she didn't want me wearing second-hand clothes. I remember wearing it on family summer holidays with a little straw hat.
What are some of your tips for styling vintage outfits?
A good hairdo is very important, I think. This usually starts with a good vintage-style cut. It is easier than people think once you get the hang of it and makes all the difference.
Next is the make-up. You don't need much - usually just eyeliner and lipstick will do it. Once this is done and you have chosen your outfit, you need to accessorize. I am a big fan of pearls. They are classic and elegant. But there are plenty of options out there. I like my jewellery to be a set - meaning earrings, necklace and bracelet at least to match - the same with my shoes, belt, bag and hat.
Don't wear a lovely vintage dress and chuck on your old cardigan. Invest in at least one good coat or jacket.
I have coats and jackets to complement all styles. Sometimes you won't get to take your coat off so you want that to be every bit as glamorous as your outfit. Wearing all vintage is often difficult so that is where my shop comes in handy. You can team a lovely vintage blouse with one of our killer pencil skirts. We sell the staples for any wardrobe as well as those special-occasion outfits. They blend perfectly into any vintage wardrobe.
What are some of your top tips for scouring the best vintage pieces?
Be realistic about the prices you pay. Some people charge way too much but at the same time if something is over 60 years old and in good shape it probably won't be cheap.
Be wary of people selling Seventies as Forties - it happens a lot. Just spend some time looking at the quality of fabrics and the finishing. Also, quite often the most amazing outfits look nothing on the hanger so look through lots of fashion books from the era of your choice to open your mind up to the possibilities. Look at all the dresses and imagine what they might look like on.
If the person selling looks stylish, ask them for tips. You can be sure they have a few dresses that they know are fabulous but nobody ever looks at. This is the bane of their lives but don't let anyone ever give you the hard sell.
Your outfit needs to reflect your personality, not just fit. You should know as soon as you see your reflection if you like what you see. It may be a mile from how you normally dress but you will know if you like it. Think about the use of colour in the Forties: they would mix quite a deep purple with chartreuse for a dramatic look. Films are an endless source of inspiration for hair and outfits.
How does buying repro differ from buying straight vintage?
Our designs have a vintage feel and look but have the advantages of fitting a modern figure and using modern fabrics makes them easier to care for. I never had any formal training in dressmaking so my knowledge is based on what I learnt from a lifetime of altering vintage items I found. I started taking in the odd dart but was soon taking the garment apart and refitting. So I only really know the old ways. Maybe we will become the vintage of the future. With our clothing you get a choice of styles, colour and fit - a one-stop shopping wonderland!
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MORE! See inside the best vintage wardrobes here.