Category Archives: Shopping

Skulduggery!

Having just run the gauntlet of fake designer goods that is Canal Street in New York City, I was struck at how the skull motif on scarves has really held on as a fashion item.  Since it was over ten years ago that Alexander McQueen released his wildly popular skull scarves, I just sort of thought that whole thing was over.

Not only can you still get your skull fix in Chinatown, you can also still buy them in McQueen boutiques.  The ones above were at Saks Fifth Avenue, and were priced at $295.  They were made of silk and were, motif aside, quite nice.

The fakes (top photo) were made of a rayon-type fabric and were priced at under $20.  It occurred to me that the potential buyer of the $20 scarf might not even realize that the item is a rip-off of the McQueen scarf.  The buyer might want the cheap scarf merely because he or she thinks skulls are “cool.”

How did a symbol that was once reserved for gravestones and poison bottles become so commonplace that it now decorates everything from expensive designer clothing to inexpensive trinkets at the dollar store?  How did a motif that was once so edgy that only goth kids would wear it become as common as the bird or flower?

I don’t have the answers, but the longevity of the skull motif puzzles me.  I don’t understand how something can remain cool after the over-exposure the skull has received.  It isn’t scary any longer, and it certainly isn’t edgy.

I know I’m always going on about fakes and the theft of design, but this really does not bother me.  It’s not like McQueen invented the skull motif, no more than he was the first to put it on clothes.  I’m guessing that honor went to a maker of punk rock tee shirts.

I’ll leave you with one last skull image.  This sneaker collage is on the wall of a Converse sneaker store in New York.  The former ultimate symbol of death is now a marketing tool.  Welcome to the 21st century.

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Ad Campaign – I. Miller Shoes, 1930s

I. Miller gives you summer shoes in color taken from the new flower prints.

On to the American Summer scene of glamorous clothes walk  I. Miller shoes in vibrant flower colors.  Nature’s hues selected with the I. Miller genius for color…for costume relationship. 1937

Israel Miller was the son of a Polish (some sources say Prussian) shoemaker who immigrated to the USA in the 1890s.  He obtained work as a cobbler with John Azzimonti,  an Italian immigrant who was making shoes for the theater.  According to an issue of the Boot and Shoe Recorder, actress Sarah Bernhardt once ordered 244 pairs of boots at one time.  When Azzimonti closed the shoe making business in 1909, his customers put in orders for up to thirty pairs.

They need not have worried about obtaining quality shoes, as Azzimonti’s former employee, Israel Miller was already making shoes and would establish I. Miller by 1911.  His operation was moved to a building near the corner of Broadway and 46th Street, which is in the theater district.  He was soon leasing the two brownstone buildings on the corner, and business was so good that in 1926 he bought both buildings and began renovations that would unify them into a single unit.

The resulting building is seen above,  but in 1926 the statues in the niches were not yet in place.  The next year it was announced that statues of four show women would be chosen to represent the arts of drama, comedy, opera, and movies.  The public was even invited to vote for their favorites, the winners being Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Rosa Ponselle, and Mary Pickford.  The statues were made by A. Stirling Calder, the father of Alexander Calder of mobile fame.

Unfortunately Israel Miller did not live to see the unveiling of the completed building.  He died in Paris of a heart attack several months before the October, 1929 unveiling.

 

The Broadway side of the building was quite different from the elegant 46th Street facade.  There were pre-existing billboard leases on that side, and so even in the early days of the store, much of the Broadway facade was given over to advertising.  Today, the main entrance is on Broadway, as that is where most of the traffic is, but when this was a store store to the stars, they entered through 46th Street.

I. Miller shoes closed sometime in the 1970s and the building was bought in 1978 by Riese Restaurants, who ran a TGIFriday restaurant there for several decades.  By the late 1990s Riese was saying the store front would be restored, and though they applied for and were granted landmark status, nothing ever came of it.  Eventually the TGIFriday restaurant was closed, and the building taken over by the Express clothing company.

When I visited New York City in August, 2013, I went by to see the building and was dismayed to see it scaffolded over. In New York that could mean anything from restoration to a complete redoing of the building.  To their great credit, as Express readied the interior of the building  for retail, the exterior was renovated to its former glory.

The four statues had to be removed and restored as they were in terrible condition.  Chunks of marble on the building had to be repaired, the bronze was polished, and the entire facade was given a good cleaning.  Today it is one of the best reminders of what shopping in New York City was like in the early and mid 20th century.

When I first read of the shoe store several years ago it struck me as odd that there would be such an elegant store in a part of the city that was not (at that time, anyway) a shopping district.  A little reading about the subject informed me that this was only one of I. Miller’s stores.  The main store was located on Fifth Avenue, and there were two other New York City branches.  Nationwide there were 228 branch stores and several factories.

The mode for black is charmingly met in.. Monograin silk by I. Miller

As all femininity fares forth in Black, Monograin becomes the overwhelming fashion favorite for wear with the new autumn hats, gloves and handbags of this subtly-woven silk.  1930

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R.H. Macy’s, Herald Square, New York City

Most Americans are well acquainted with Macy’s not only because of the annually televised Thanksgiving Day Parade, but also because there are now Macy’s stores located all over the country.  The mother store is located on almost a full city block in New York, between 34th and 35th Streets, and Broadway and Seventh Avenue.  Simply put, the store is huge.  It has also been added to and updated since it was built in 1902, but it is possible to see a lot of history in the building even today.

The store’s founder, R.H. Macy, was not initially successful in his retail ventures, but in 1858 he finally hit prosperity with his newest idea, R.H. Macy & Co.  Basically, he opened a dry goods store at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue, a store that was, at the time a bit too far uptown to be in the thick of the retail scene.  At that time, most of the city was still contained to the area that today is lower Manhattan.  As the city grew, it had to spread north, or uptown, because it is on an island.

Even though he was not in the center of things, Macy made it work.  The store was so successful that Macy kept buying the surrounding buildings in order to expand.  R.H. Macy died in 1877, and the business passed on to his partners, a nephew and cousin.  The business was eventually bought (1896) by brothers Isidor and Nathan Straus, who were already selling china in the store.  In 1902 the Straus family moved the store uptown again, this time to 34th Street and Broadway.  Over time the company came to inhabit most of the block, all the way to Seventh Avenue.

As the company began to purchase the property, the owner of a small building at the corner of 34th and Broadway refused to sell.  It is thought that he was acting on behalf of another store, Siegal-Cooper, which was believed to be the largest store in the world and who did not want Macy’s to be even larger.  Macy’s decided to just build around the older store, and it remains that way today.  As you can see in the photo above, Macy’s now leases the upper stories for their shopping bag sign.

And while we are looking at the sign, note the big star.  It is widely thought that R.H. Macy had acquired a red star tattoo while working on a ship in his younger days.  The star remains as the store’s logo.

Much of the ground floor of the original building has been changed, but the entrance at 34th Street has been restored to pretty much the way it was built.  The windows and revolving door are newer, but stepping through the front into the foyer is like stepping back in time, with lovely marble steps and walls that lead the customer into the store.

In the foyer is this bronze tribute to Isidor and Ida Straus, who both died on April 15, 1912.  They were sailing on the Titanic.  As an elderly man, Isidor was granted a spot in a lifeboat with Ida and her maid, but he refused the spot because other women and children were waiting for a seat, and Ida refused to go on without her husband.  The maid survived and the story of Isidor and Ida became a popular one after news of the sinking spread.

One last interesting thing about the Macy’s store is that some of the original wooden escalators are still operational.  On most of the floors the original wooden escalator steps have been replaced with metal, but the upper floors still have the original wood.  According to a 2012 article in The New York Times, there are 42 wooden escalators remaining in the store.

This is the first of my posts from my trip to New York City, and I just hope you all do not get sick of hearing about it before I get it all completed!

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We Bring New York to You

For years Paris was the undisputed center of fashion, but during the two world wars, New York clothing makers capitalized on the absence of European imports. After WWII ended, New York was regarded as the center of American fashion and a leader in fashion worldwide.

I recently found this little brochure from Modern Manner Clothes, located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  I haven’t found out anything about the company (it does not help that the company’s name contains words that show up in all kinds of searches.), but it appears that it was a sales venture that was similar to Avon.  There is a place on the folder for the name of the representative, and the sales pitch mentions shopping at home.

It’s the easiest way in the world to shop – right in your home at your leisure, at your convenience – direct from Fifth Ave., New York, to you.

No shopping hurry – no parking worry, but in the privacy of your home when you are all rested and at ease, you make your selection of New York’s beautiful styles.

There’s no date on the folder, but it is late 1940s.  The styles are similar to what was offered in catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward. Prices range from $4.98 to $16.98, which would be $52.78 to $180.26 in today’s dollar, based on inflation from 1947.  So, the dresses were not cheap, but neither were they expensive.

Click to enlarge

 

Somehow, though, I feel like Modern Manner Clothes was missing the point.  Even though claiming a New York or a Paris connection was a huge selling point, there really is no substitute for the experience of shopping in New York.  And it really is about the experience, rather than the purchases one makes.  I’ve strolled Fifth Avenue, stopped in at Saks, Bergdorf’s, and Tiffany’s, and never spent a dime.  It was more about seeing than buying.

A recent study at Cornell University indicates that humans get more pleasure from spending their money on experiences than they do from spending it on material objects.  If that is the case, and I do agree with the findings, then one would be better off spending an hour or two window shopping and then experiencing high tea or drinks at a fancy hotel.  Skip the latest “It Bag” and take in a couple of plays or musical events.  Forego the souvenirs and instead go to the top of the Empire State Building at dusk.  Make some memories.

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Souvenir from the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki

The 1940 Olympics were to have been held in Helsinki, but were cancelled due to the war in Europe.  After the war ended, Helsinki was chosen to host the 1952 summer games.  These games are notable because it was the first time that the Soviet Union, The People’s Republic of China, and Israel competed.  The Republic of China (Taiwan) boycotted the games as a result of the Olympic Committee allowing the People’s Republic to compete.  Politics has always been a part of the Olympics, so it seems.

I love how the design of this scarf uses only the Olympic colors of blue, yellow, black, green, and red. Printed on rayon, it shows some of the more colorful and popular Olympic events.  I don’t seek out Olympic artifacts, but I had to have this one because of the representation of women athletes – the diver, the gymnast, and the equestrienne.

If you follow my Instagram account you might have seen this photo last week.  It was taken at the Charlotte Metrolina flea market/antiques show.  There were five or six huge tubs of vintage scarves, all priced at one dollar.  I stood with my friend Marge and we plowed through the piles of scarves, looking for treasure.  I found it in the form of this scarf and one from Liberty of London.  Two dollars very well spent!

I got to talking with the vendor and she told me she bought 20,000 scarves from a vintage seller who was going out of business.  There were so many that she had to take them to a cloth baler just so she could get them home.  She is now selling them at vintage shows like Metrolina.  The best ones start out at $5, and if they don’t sell they go to Metrolina for $1 each.  Even better, every month the scarves are different.  So if you attend Metrolina or Scott’s in Atlanta, look for the textile woman with the tubs of vintage scarf heaven.

 

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Vintage Shopping with The Vintage Traveler

It’s time to go shopping for vintage treasures.  I hope you are not all shopping weary with just one more day before Christmas.  My first photo was taken inside the beautiful Grove Arcade in Asheville.  Built in the late 1920s as a shopping arcade, today the building still serves that purpose.  The only vintage here is the building though.

Recent shopping trips have turned up lots of vintage Christmas decorations.  I used to collect old ornaments back before they were “discovered.”  Today I rarely buy any as I have enough for a great tree, and the prices are usually high.

I should have had this when I was seven or eight.

I’ve come to the conclusion that every woman in the 1950s and early 60s had at least one decorated sweater.  The quantity and variety of what is available on the market today shows what a huge trend this garment represents.  This cardigan was top quality.  See the Pringle of Scotland label?

This is a good example of Chimayo weaving, something I don’t see of lot of around here.  This vest was reasonably priced at $40.

For some time I’ve been looking for a pair of reasonably priced Indian clubs.  I don’t for the most part buy sports equipment, but there are so many photos of Victorian girls in the gym swinging these clubs that I really want to get a pair.  These were too expensive, as they always are.  I wish I could order a pair from my 1935 Lowe & Campbell catalog where they are $1.05 a pair.

This was an amazing little game.  At a glance it looks like a regular croquet set, but the mallets are about a foot long, and it was designed to be played indoors on a table.  The original box makes it really special.

Niagara Falls became a honeymoon destination starting with Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia in 1801.  One hundred years later this couple had their honeymoon commemorated with a portrait of them and the falls.

I need this super Vera design in a scarf, which does exist.  These were linen napkins.

Buyer’s rant:  Why would a seller package his merchandise in a way that makes it impossible for potential buyer to examine it?  I know that a lot of paper items must take a beating in antique malls, but if I’m going to buy a magazine or catalog, I have to see the contents.

I’ve been on a buying diet when it comes to cute stuff to just set around the house, but this little literate Scottie just about broke my resolve.

Nothing like a trip to the Lo Price Liquor Store when heading out for a day of log riding.

I’ve probably shown one of these Car-Snac set before, but they are so perfectly early 60s that I can’t help but love these.  The metal hooks hung over the back of the car’s front seat.  How convenient!

I do love a great pair of boots, especially when the label is so perfect.

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Metrolina Antiques and Collectibles Show, November 2014

On Halloween I treated myself to a visit to the big flea/show at the Charlotte Metrolina grounds.  This show is always worth a visit, and this time around there was plenty to look at – and to buy.  Above is part of the booth of my favorite seller at Metrolina.  She is always finding great things for me.  It pays to let people know what you are collecting.

Not all treasures are so well organized.  The owners of this booth had cleaned out an old store that was closed in 1965.  There was a lot of stuff, and it was cheap.  Unfortunately much of it was also stained, but that’s why I have collected magic cleaning formulas.

Most of the inventory was from the early to mid 1960s.  I found some really nice things including a harlequin patterned blouse and a matching shorts set from Glen of Michigan.

There was a great deal of underwear and stockings, much of it still in the original boxes.  I could have spent the entire day going through it all, and they did not even have it all out to display.

Another seller had piles and piles of feedsacks.

Sometimes I do get home and wonder why I did not buy a certain thing.  This drink tray fits into that category.  I did love it, but I have one tray already, and having two is getting dangerously close to a collection.

There were some terrific vintage graphic items for sale.  I loved the golfing woman on this poster for Country Club Beverages.

Dee-Light was delightful, as was their poster showing happy picnickers.

This Bruner Woolens box almost came home with me.  The price was reasonable, and the graphics were terrific with the golfing theme.  I already had a similar one from Detmer Woolens, as I gave it a pass.

This print was quite an interesting piece, mainly because of the date it was published.  Entitled Sea Bathing at Ostend (Belgium), it was printed in 1888.

I would have guessed much later, due to the skimpy swimsuit of the lady and due to her bare legs.  I’ve read that bathers in Europe were more likely to bathe bare-legged due to the prevalence of bathing machines (the little changing booth on wheels).

Here’s a basket full of display feet.  I already have some, otherwise…

Not related to the theme here, but these big plastic decorations seem to be coming on strong as a collectible.  I see a problem with storage, though.

Those looking for cowboy boots were in luck.  Many of them were in the original boxes.

And what is a good flea market without cute doggies?  This little one was showing off her new coat.

And this big sweetie was celebrating her fifth birthday by letting everyone pet her.

I’ll show off my finds in the coming weeks.

 

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