October 12, 2012 8:25 pm

A-list hand-me-downs

Boutique owner Cameron Silver on the appeal of vintage gowns and how they bring retro glamour to the red carpet
Joe Strassner dress

Cameron Silver founded the renowned vintage boutique Decades in Los Angeles in 1997 and has found dresses for Penélope Cruz and Gwyneth Paltrow, among others. Here he tells Elizabeth Paton about the appeal of vintage gowns.

“Red carpet dressing can be cut-throat: it’s not like there are thousands of truly exquisite top vintage ball-gowns in the world,” he says. “When we find ourselves with a ‘moneyshot’ dress, then absolutely everyone wants to get their hands on it. It can be mayhem.

“The air of mystery and individuality from a unique vintage dress has helped launch several of Hollywood’s biggest names; Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Jennifer Lopez ... I remember back in 2002, pre-Oscars, this exquisite cream draped jersey dress by Holly Harp came into the store. It was devastatingly sexy, yet with a sophisticated neckline and I just knew that on the right person it would create an incredible moment. Nicole Kidman was meant to wear it but changed her mind. Instead, it went to an up-and-coming actress by the name of Chloë Sevigny. It was a total showstopper and Chloë hit the A-list.

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“I think vintage has really retained its position within the movie industry because of the onset of celebrity culture and its marriage to the fashion world. One click of a mouse takes you not only to a picture of a pretty actress and her name but also the designer of every piece of clothing she wears – not to mention the opportunity to buy them online. There’s just so much familiarity – how does one stand out with such a homogeneous aesthetic? Vintage can separate that young starlet from the rest of the crowd.

“There is a small supply chain that comes from Hollywood actresses themselves. Catherine Deneuve has passed many beautiful pieces to us; so has Racquel Welch, and Winona Ryder. Clients love to have that information but it doesn’t necessarily enhance the commercial value of a garment.

“Of course I go to auctions, thrift stores and markets when hunting new stock down – but the most special and exquisite pieces are always sourced from the homes of private clients.

“Savvy buyers will always choose pieces by considering how they will retain value. Generally speaking, while there’s obviously a difference between couture and ready-to-wear, if it’s a great design, it’s a great investment. Structure and silhouette are important; collections such as Phoebe Philo’s early work for Chloé or Lanvin pieces by Alber Elbaz will be worth a small fortune one day. Gianni Versace’s work and Tom Ford for Gucci have already taken on a ‘vintage’ status and fly off the shelves.

“I am endlessly drawn to the 1970s and the sartorial heaven that was Studio 54 – it was a great era for US fashion, so divinely decadent; as a patriot I find it exhilarating. The 1980s? Not so much, although recently it has had demand for designers such as Valentino and Hervé Léger. Decades dresses have to be very modern and very sexy. They need to be relevant to the 21st-century woman.”

Decades: A Century of Fashion (Bloomsbury, £40). www.decadesinc.com

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