Nouveau Chez Vous shows how tastemakers are making something old new again from the comfort of home.
After two years of selling vintage wares full-time, Andrea Lalonde, the Toronto-based Montreal transplant, found a permanent home for her business in Toronto’s busy Parkdale neighbourhood last winter. Nouveau Riche Vintage has evolved from a series of pop-ups to its own stand-alone shop that offers rare gems of the capital-F fashion variety (Pucci, anyone?) to more obscure but nevertheless fantastic pieces from both Canadian and international designers who worked throughout decades past. Lalonde has cultivated a community of collaborators throughout the shop’s network, and with quarantine keeping her customers at home over the last few months, she devised a creative way to showcase how her eye-catching pieces could live in our evolving day-to-day. The Instagram series ‘Nouveau Chez Vous’ captures the balance between fashion fantasy and quarantine reality. We spoke to Lalonde, who has a background in the arts, about creating the images, what it’s like running a vintage business during COVID-19, and how she’s staying hopeful.
What inspired you to get into the vintage business in the first place?
Even when I worked in museums, I was interested in textile. And when I taught young people, I wanted to teach them about material culture as much as about art. I’ve always been into fashion, but in the art world, it seemed frivolous or secondary. I am now seeing that clothing and fashion history is important. It links us all. It is endlessly fascinating. Vintage really began as more of a side project–a passion for sure, but it started as a way to supplement the work of an artist and art teacher. I moved back to in Montreal for a few years to be with family and worked as a vintage buyer to pay the bills. When I returned to Toronto, I had accumulated a few suitcases and started by doing little pop-ups in my friend’s shops.
How has COVID-19 affected the way you source new pieces for the shop?
I haven’t really been able to source as my suppliers have all been closed, so I have been pulling from my own archives and back-stock lately. Thankfully I have been collecting for a long time and tend to stockpile. Being closed for social distancing has compelled me to release pieces that either have been in my collection for years; some of which have slight imperfections. Before I closed, when I saw an item with a small hole or stain, I would take it off the floor. Since I can’t source right now, I’ve been restoring those pieces or selling some of them “As Is” via Instagram.
Even if I could have been buying, it didn’t really seem safe. I have always washed or dry cleaned everything before I sell so I am confident that the pieces I am selling are safe. I hope that going forward this will make folks feel confident buying from me and also help new buyers feel comfortable buying vintage.
What do you miss the most about people coming into the shop?
Until very recently, I had only ever sold in-person. I started selling vintage through small pop-ups, events and by studio appointments. I am very much into a store as a social place where people connect, so this shift has been difficult. I really miss matching people to clothes, which is so personal. Vintage is so individual; each piece is unique, and I carry a range of eras and styles.
Some people find shopping vintage intimidating and I want to help them navigate that and help them fall in love with vintage. I think my shop does appeal to people who are already obsessed with vintage, but I advocate for converting people into vintage collectors. One of my favourite compliments is when people think the shop is a boutique with items that might have multiples—they will ask for sizing, for example.
I also love Parkdale, and I miss my neighbourhood regulars and the clients who have followed me around since I had a few racks in my studio.
Has there been any benefit to your business in terms of having to amp up your social media presence?
I had not really sold online until now. I just launched a website in February—the timing was really fortunate. Social media has been a lifeline these last few months for me for selling but also, importantly, for connecting with my clients. Previously I had been very active making images and collaborating with photographers and other artists and sharing this on social media, but I never actively sold online until now. These latest distance shoots have allowed me to keep the collaborations going, and this has kept me motivated and optimistic through all this.
Social media has also been incredible in that my clients have been sending such amazing supportive messages. It’s been so touching. Some even just thank me for the content being something hopeful for them to watch.
How are you educating your customers about the importance of shopping vintage and shopping local, not just right now but in general?
It is very hard for me to shop anything but vintage or local; I do think once you discover a love for vintage, it is often this way. More people are becoming vintage shoppers as they come to understand the production and environmental impact of fast fashion. And yes, people are coming to vintage because it is sustainable, but it’s also really fashionable. I believe vintage clothes are so much more interesting, and so is the process of finding them. Vintage clothes often have stories: Era, designer, the manufacturing, or because of where it was worn. I love introducing people to this.
I am also hearing more often, especially lately, that people are choosing to shop from me because they want to support a small, woman-owned business in their community, and this really is so heartwarming to hear.
I think the forced closures of many main street stores is a big reminder not to take our presence for granted. We are all working hard to navigate this time and trying to pay rent. Entrepreneurs are creative and resourceful types, but this is an especially hard time.
Where did the idea for ‘Nouveau Chez Vous’ come from? How does it work?
When lockdown started, I knew I’d miss the store and our clients but I was especially sad about the studio. The studio holds my collection of rental and styling pieces, and is the site where I collaborate with photographers and stylists. I wanted to stay connected to my creative community and I was sad about having that whole collection locked up and inaccessible.
My background is in museum education and community programming, so it felt like I was going back into that and created what is basically a COVID fashion/art camp for my friends. I have also been calling it “nouveau to go” or “drive by styling”.
The way it works is, I select some pieces from the studio and drop the clothes and accessories off with folks at home. The first person I contacted was Anna Daliza, a model and friend. I knew she was quarantining with her makeup artist roommate, Jane, and her filmmaker partner, Luis De Filippis. I sent over a selection of mid-century lingerie, loungewear and prairie dresses from the ‘70s. They produced a shoot so breathtaking it brought me to tears. The results were gorgeous, sincere and cool.
Some of the participants are folks I have been working with for a long time; some are new people I have been wanting to connect with. People are using what they have, so it’s either self-portraiture or involving the folks they are sheltered in place with. There are currently five more small stories in the works, and I will be posting them soon along with the clothes for sale.
What are some of your favourite pieces for sale right now?
I am still so in love with the ‘70s silk chiffon Leonard Paris dress that was shot on Charlie [Reynolds] for the May issue; that dress does so much of what I want vintage to do–loads of ombré silk chiffon, amazing quality and craftsmanship, and even though it’s 50-years-old, it’s so now, and so relevant. It’s also a larger size, which is rare in vintage. I want to find more great vintage in extended sizes.
There is also a ‘70s velvet patchwork dress in the shop that really hits all the notes for me. The skirt is made up of different kinds of silk velvet patchwork. It is also one of those pieces that is so much its own era but also transcends it and feels so now. I think it could be worn so many ways including to a formal event, or I guess zoom party at this point, but also with sneakers and a denim jacket.
What are you hopeful for coming out of quarantine in terms of the fashion industry and your own business?
It is very hard to imagine having a store in the previous sense, so I have been rethinking what this means to me. I am hopeful that this moment of reflection will allow me to go back to some of the things I have done in the past, such as my background in artist-run culture. I have been thinking of more ways to support artists and bring that into the shop.
I really do hope the focus on vintage and local remains. Of course, lots of folks are spending time in their sweats, but I am also seeing that they are being more playful with their dress, which is wonderful; folks in isolation seem to be craving texture and colour, which I’ve always been about. Before COVID-19, people would find a piece and say they wished they had the right occasion or courage to wear it; now we’re in isolation and those events are cancelled, people seem to be exploring bold looks. Maybe it’s the time to play? Maybe it is because social isolation allows for introspection and fantasy?