By Samantha Shephard
It’s a sunny Saturday morning in West Hollywood and Rita Ryack, the Oscar-nominated costume designer known for her work on Casino and A Beautiful Mind, is on a hunt for sequined dresses. Production on the film Rock of Ages is wrapping and she needs one more piece for Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character. Judging by the racks she’s browsing, which are filled with this season’s hottest labels and trends—Versace print T-shirts, heavily embellished Moschino jackets, sweeping red carpet–worthy gowns—you’d think she were shopping at an upscale department store. Think again. She’s at The Way We Wore, a vintage-clothing mecca that attracts A-list clients like Angelina Jolie, Dita Von Teese and Katy Perry. The shop is full of high-end designer pieces, like little black dresses from Chanel, elegant Christian Dior gowns, Pauline Trigère party dresses and Pucci pyjama pants, all dating from the 1930s to the early 1990s.
“Vintage is not fashion backwards, it’s fashion forward,” says Doris Raymond, owner of The Way We Wore. She describes the way designers have taken silhouettes from the early 20th century and tweaked them, as John Galliano and Alberta Ferretti have done with their signature bias-cut chiffon dresses. “It doesn’t matter that it’s almost identical in pattern, in silhouette, because it transcends time.”
Looking at this season’s collections, it’s hard to disagree with her. From New York to Paris, designers have reimagined some of fashion’s greatest hits from yesteryear. Luxury houses like Gucci, Etro and Ralph Lauren have zeroed in on the heady decadence of the Jazz Age with embellished flapper dresses, art deco–inspired decoration, drop waists and soft, sheer fabrics. Miuccia Prada showed pencil-skirted pin-ups; Marc Jacobs’ pretty pastels at Louis Vuitton were the picture of Kennedy-era optimism; and Karl Lagerfeld reinterpreted the jetset glamour of the Pan Am era for Chanel haute couture. Though current runway trends and television shows like Pan Am and Mad Men create an awareness of (and a fashion following for) these retro-inspired styles, it is Tinseltown’s red carpets that have given us a VIP pass into the world of high-end vintage dressing. A-listers like Julia Roberts, Penélope Cruz and Reese Witherspoon accepted their Oscars wearing vintage Valentino, Balmain and Dior, respectively. In our celebrity-driven culture, these leading ladies have done more to spur vintage sales than Betty Draper ever could. In Los Angeles, boutiques like The Way We Wore, Decades and The Paper Bag Princess vie to dress the brightest stars, who have learned to value vintage for its old-Hollywood glamour and the guarantee of a one-of-a-kind gown.