Category Archives: Shopping

Scarf Paradise

To my great delight, two of my favorite sellers, the scarf guys, were back at the Metrolina Collectibles Show last week.  I’ve written about them before; they bought 20,000 scarves and are now selling them for a buck each at Metrolina.  Actually they are also selling at Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta, where the buyers get first choice and the scarves go for $5 and $3 each.  I was told that they occasionally pull out an Hermes which they sell for $100 – still a great bargain.

This time they had eight big bins full, and I managed to dig through them all to my satisfaction.  I only bought six, but they are all pretty special.

I find it hard to resist a blue Vera Neumann scarf.  I’d never seen this sun design in blue, and even though it was not silk, I wanted it. Vera used some high quality synthetics – rayon maybe – during the 1970s.

And there was another blue Vera, this one in Verasheer silk.

This silk scarf was not signed, but I just loved the colors.  Plus, it is long and thin, just the thing to control beach-blown hair.

Giorgio di Sant’Angelo scarves are relatively hard to find, and they are always top quality.  I’m afraid that my photo does not convey the vibrant yellow and orange adequately.  It’s truly stunning.

This is the corner of an older cotton bandana.  I’ve read that the older ones are collectible, but I honestly can’t say that I know a thing about this one except that I liked it.

The best find though was this Liberty of London scarf from the 1930s.  There is a very similar one pictured in my 1937 Liberty catalog, but in a different colorway.

I knew the scarf was a good one, but that little tag sealed the deal.  My color is a bit off, as the blue bits are actually a rich purple.

So, did I get my money’s worth?

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Shopping Expedition, Metrolina, Spring 2015

I always think of the first weekend in April as the beginning of flea market season.  That’s because this weekend is the Metrolina “Spectacular”, the biggest show of the year at the North Charlotte expo center.  The first time I went to this market, fifteen or so years ago, it was truly spectacular.  It took every bit of a day to barely cover it all.  There were ten or twelve excellent vintage clothing sellers.

For the past six or seven years the show has been shrinking.  What used to take eight hours to see now can be done in five, and the latest show was the smallest yet.  Most of the vendors I spoke with about this blamed the economy, and a few grumbled about the management of the show.  Whatever the cause, there was less to see, and less that I found to buy.  And that’s really the bottom line.  There was a good crowd of shoppers, but if they aren’t buying, then the sellers are not going to be successful.

I’m sure there were a lot of people like me.  I’ve learned that I do not have to own every great thing that I spot.  A trip to the flea market is as much an education as it is a buying experience, and these days, the education  seems to be the biggest part of it.

Most of these photos were taken yesterday at Metrolina, and others were taken recently at various vintage venues.

I thought this camping cook chest was interesting, but it was so heavy!  The contents were aluminum, but that didn’t seem to help much.  To be used only for sites one can drive to.

I guess women in skimpy bathing suits have always been used to attract attention in advertising and on magazine covers.

All right, I’ll admit that I almost bought this golf themed handbag.

This was probably the most interesting thing I saw all day.  These are photographs that were colorized with red.  The young woman is a fencer, and the theme extends to the frame.  The seller said it came out of an estate in Tennessee, and she did not know the woman’s name, nor the date, but I’d say 1905-1914.  The fading is unfortunate, and was caused by sun exposure and the fact that the photos were backed with wooden slats.

Just in time for Easter was this fantastic store poster.  Pre-Easter sale at Calahan’s Women’s Wear, the latest spring modes just out.

I found a small example of Springmaid fabric – the one that was made after a controversial ad campaign by the company.

One seller had quite a few athletic letter sweaters.  This one was just full of the owner’s “trophies” including a very unexpected National Honor Society patch.

And if one was in the market for a Pendleton shirt, they had a terrific selection.

This is an example of Chimayo Weavers work, something I don’t see a lot of here in the Southeast.

And, yes, there were Scotties.  I was able to look, admire, and not buy.

This fake Louis Vuitton cardboard suitcase was covered in fake stickers of questionable taste.

Excuse the terrible photo, but I did have to share this one of an antique garment drafting machine.  I have no idea of how it worked, or if it were complete, but I loved that the instruction book was not lost.

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New York City Window Shopping

I didn’t do a lot of shopping while in New York City, but I did do quite a bit of window shopping.  It’s a real pleasure just seeing what the talented window designers come up with.  Though some are pretty predictable, I always see something new.

I was in the city the week of Chinese New Year, and it was obvious just from the windows.  The decorated tree above was not in a window, but was in Macy’s as you entered the store.

Saks Fifth Avenue took a similar approach.  All the gold cats’ little arms wave at you as you pass by.

The best Chinese windows through are in Chinatown.  Compare the Chinese shop above to the “Chinese” window at Saks.  Saks may have drama, but this little shop had authenticity on its side.

I love Chinatown, and it was especially interesting with flower vendors and deliveries all over the streets.

But my favorite Chinese New Year windows were those at Gucci, whose dressers kept to a Chinese theme, but went in a completely different direction.  At first glance I didn’t see the Chinese theme, but a closer look at the disks revealed it.

The disks were samples or facsimiles of Asian textiles.  Stunning!

At the Derek Lam Boutique, they were looking forward to spring.  The shop attendant told me that an artist friend of Derek’s made the birds and trees.

Probably the most interesting windows were the Fifth Avenue windows of Bergdorf Goodman.  All the dresses were made of lace, and they came up with an interesting lace background.

Can you tell what makes up the backdrop?

It is vintage crocheted doilies and pieces sewn together!

 

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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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