Christened “The Vintage King” in Vogue and loved wholeheartedly by both the fashion press and curious vintage hunters, William Banks-Blaney of William Vintage is famed for a fresh yet exacting approach to fashion, vintage and otherwise. His latest venture is a move into the new, working with Liberty to take principles of late 1960s design and apply them to a Liberty print-lined, luxurious collection for the elegant woman about town. We quizzed Banks-Blaney on:
Collaborating with Liberty
"Liberty is a brand I’ve admired for many years, we have so many shared goals. There’s a real individual sensibility which I’ve always thought is a very difficult thing to convey when you’re a brand that size. I met Scott Tepper [Liberty’s head of fashion and collaborations] to discuss future plans, and I mentioned we were thinking of doing a contemporary collection. I’ve always thought there’s a gap in the market for a particular kind of look; most of our women just want something fantastic to wear, so it’s a natural extension for us.
While the collection is very modern, it’s based on beautifully tailored, late 1960s couture. In the mid-‘60s fashion was about street style, but by the late ‘60s it was all block colours and really set the scene for what you see in fashion today. I really wanted the Liberty print we used to have that psychedelic feel; we found the Kaleidoscope print which is actually early ‘60s but really ahead of its time. That in itself is a lovely story; I would have undoubtedly thought it was made about 10 years later that it was. It reminds me of John Lennon’s Rolls Royce. We’ve used Kaleidoscope print on silk and in three different colourways but you effectively don’t see it on the block colour pieces, I love the idea that only the wearer knows the inside is a riot of colour. Clothes should make you feel uplifted, we thought having every piece lined in pure silk and an incredibly rare print was a really luxurious, irreverent way to wear a piece of clothing."
"At William Vintage we have a lot of customers who love shopping but have become slightly bored by it. When the marketplace is so sophisticated and you can buy nearly anything online you can become jaded, that lovely buzz you get is gone. My most prized find (we’re lucky we’ve had a lot, picking a favourite is like trying to choose a favourite child) is by McQueen, we’ve had some really early pieces, some of which Lee McQueen stitched himself. I think he was a genius: I love his Saville Row background, the way he was so indelibly London. I’m always excited when I find a great piece by Lee McQueen.
The best lesson for me, or anybody, is dresses travel! You never know where you’re going to find something fantastic. I went to visit a friend’s mother – she ended up becoming a very close friend of mine - and she told me to have a look in this cheap vinyl wardrobe in her barn, and inside it were 17 couture Courrèges dresses from 1967 and 1968 in perfect condition. Unbelievable pieces, and they were lurking in a barn in Devon."
"I think British design at the moment is the strongest it’s been since the 1960s. I would put Mary Katrantzou, Jonathan Saunders and Roksanda Ilincic at the top of the list for future vintage, what unifies those is actually the same language I use when I’m buying: these are designers who absolutely understand who they are and what they want their clothing to be, they have a really strong message to relay. That’s normally a sign of what’s going to hold its own, not just for a season but for 10 – 50 years."
Buying and Wearing Vintage
"We often find we’re a port of call for women who have always loved the idea of vintage but are slightly scared of it, they’re worried about the condition, whether it’s been cleaned or that the store might not be up to modern standards. I always say we spend more on dry cleaning than we do on the rent of our central London store."
- If you’re new to vintage, start with either something you can wear every day like a ‘60s coat, or a wardrobe classic like an LBD. Don’t buy something you fall in love with but have to get a new bag, shoes and hairstyle to go with it.
- Always go for fantastic condition, don’t buy something in need of repair or with buttons and beads missing.
- Ease yourself into vintage shopping and work out what you like, don’t go straight for the 1955 Dior.
- Have fun but don’t play dress-up; we don’t do vintage hats and shoes because I’m all about the modern element, I love a vintage Dior dress with Manolo Blahnik shoes, keeping vintage relevant and making it part of a 21st century wardrobe rather than looking like a ‘50s pin-up. A great tip is to only wear one piece of vintage at a time, it’s much more seamless that way and you’ll get much more style points.
- Finally, beware of second-hand. When I say vintage (and that word is terribly overused) I really mean from 1920 – 1970, I see some dealers selling vintage Dior and actually it’s three seasons old, barely second-hand. We approach vintage very strictly and I buy everything piece by piece, I don’t get 200 dresses in at one time.