Saturday, September 08, 2007

Would Cary Grant have worn this?

September 5, 2007

I ask myself: ‘Would Cary Grant have worn this?’

Cameron Silver, purveyor par excellence of vintage pieces, tells our correspondent that today’s stars risk having no sartorial legacy

Cameron Silver has been selling vintage clothes to such celebrities as Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie for more than ten years. His boutique Decades, which sells one-off vintage dresses, is located on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. He also has a concession in Dover Street market, Central London (020-7518 0680). His shops have become a sourcing ground for many of today’s top fashion designers. Silver is also a creative consultant at Azzaro, the French fashion house.

I used to be a German cabaret singer; it’s what got me into the fashion industry. My favourite composer was Friedrich Hollaender, who made music for Marlene Dietrich. While I was touring I found old Yves Saint Laurent suits and cool Pucci ties. This was 11 years ago, and vintage wasn’t on the fashion barometer. Instead of a star being born, a store was born.

I am very selective about what I buy for the shop. The best clothes come from the closets of the original owners. I don’t have to hunt them down any more, they find me because there is a certain cachet to having your dress sold in Decades. When I first opened the store I spent time with a recent widow. I bought a dress from her and she said: “Cameron, this is the dress that I met my husband in.” Clothes hold memories.

Celebrities today borrow too much, they are losing their own legacy. I remember spending three days in a Washington suburb that certainly wasn’t the fashion capital of the world, but one woman had 3,000 pieces to sell. These women like to sell to me because I enjoy hearing their stories. I look for vintage that doesn’t look vintage. When I buy something for the shop I ask myself: “Does this look modern?” But when I buy clothes for myself I ask: “Would Cary Grant have worn this?”

We are very democratic at Decades; people think that every customer of ours is a Lindsay Lohan or a Paris Hilton, but our bread-and-butter clients are a little more sophisticated. And no, they aren’t all size zero. I don’t care if you’re a housewife from New Jersey or an Oscar nominee – everyone is a VIP in the store.

I think the Primark, Target fast fashion trend is tired. I’m over it. When you are buying a dress for $18, there is a reason why it is $18, just like there is a reason why your hamburger is $1! Modern fashion is ubiquitous. You can get anything, anywhere, at any price; there’s the couture version and the Topshop version, but it is very difficult to find clothes that are truly unique. Even haute couture isn’t sacred. You aren’t going to want to spend $150,000 on a Chanel couture dress, only to see Jennifer Aniston wearing the same one to the Golden Globes.

I am very influenced by London. I spent summers there as a child. It sounds clichéd, but I remember going to Portobello and Camden markets. Later, in my teens, when I was formulating my interest in fashion, it was Katharine Hamnett and John Richmond who inspired me.

Some celebrities don’t want to be fashion darlings. Not everybody wants to be in People magazine; a lot want to be known as just actresses first and foremost. I don’t think Meryl Streep is worried about being a fashion icon, for example. But at the end of the day, all women want their boobs and butts to look good, and I hope I can be a vehicle for making that happen.

I’d like to take a fashion house that has great DNA and put it in the washing machine – spin it around a bit, the way that Tom Ford did at Gucci. Successful designers will always be stars in their own right. Look at Ossie Clark: he lived the lifestyle that he designed for. Paul Poiret was a rock star designer, and Coco Chanel was the public’s darling.

It’s not often that I see something on the catwalk I’ve never seen before. Most current fashion trends look rehashed. Every season there is going to be a Studio 54 moment, there is going to be a goddess moment, there will be a Sixties Mod moment. All of these “moments” are just resuscitated vintage trends. When we look back at fashion history the first half of the 21st century will be known as “the vintage years” because it’s the one really identifiable trend to have happened. The black dress that Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is so iconic. I’m not saying that every piece you buy from Decades is going to increase in value a million-fold, but it does prove that collecting 20th-century fashion is like collecting 20th-century art.

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