On a typically grey London day this past September, W Magazine's contributing fashion editor, Giovanna Engelbert, stepped out into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace wearing an orange Courrèges skirt suit from 1965. She was there for a breakfast hosted by the British Fashion Council and the Italian street-style subject cut a bright figure next to the event's other more dourly dressed attendees. "It's a bloody great suit," confirms William Banks-Blaney who had sold Engelbert the outfit a few days earlier and proceeded to watch likes for the look flood in from her 560,000 Instagram followers.
We're scrolling through Engelbert's account on the sunlit upper level of Banks-Blaney's cheery shop in London's tony Marylebone. Luxury department store Matches has an outpost around the corner near the Chiltern Firehouse, a hip hotel and restaurant owned by André Balazs. In this neighbourhood buzzing with new energy, Banks-Blaney's shop, William Vintage, has become a place where fashion's past finds its place in contemporary closets.
A former art historian turned furniture and interior designer, Banks-Blaney dove into the world of vintage-clothing retail in 2009 when he hosted a pop-up shop for 30 friends. By the time he held a sale a few years later in a five-storey Georgian townhouse, the number of interested customers had grown to 400. "Most had not shopped vintage before, but had heard about our editing," says Banks-Blaney, who now provides the likes of Amal Clooney, Livia Firth and the stylists from British Vogue with special-occasion pieces. "It's mixing the good and the great and the unknown and everything in between," he says.
While many vintage retailers with bricks-and-mortar locations eye up potential customers before letting them in to peruse racks of designer pieces, Banks-Blaney wanted his business to be more welcoming and accessible. "I didn't like the fact that people who had lots of high-end pieces had a VIP section, or a separate area where you had expensive dresses," he notes. For example, in his store, a label-less dress that goes for a few hundred pounds sits next to a "campaign Versace piece that starts at 25,000 sterling," he says. "I don't care if it's Dior couture or something that doesn't have a label anymore; my only guideline for buying it is that it has a story to tell."
A few of William Vintage's more fabled items, including a Bob Mackie gown worn by Sharon Stone in the film Casino and an evening cape by Yves Saint Laurent, recently took up residence in the redesigned lobby of Toronto's Shangri-La hotel. Owner Ian Gillespie envisioned the space as a destination for fashion fans to experience the beauty of decades-old designs while enjoying the lobby bar's other enticements. "I love that you can look at these pieces while enjoying a martini and a burger," Banks-Blaney says.
Banks-Blaney's passion, though, is seeing his finds worn by modern women. He notes that vintage has become increasingly more accepted – and in turn, coveted – as not only special- occasion garb, but also items for the everyday wardrobe. "It's not about dress-up," he says. "It's about the 21st-century woman."
For more information, visit www.williamvintage.com.
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