Certain cities are haunted by the ghosts of incredible parties. It’simpossible to walk down West 54th Street in New York without imagining a discobeat or glitter underfoot. And while having a cocktail at the bar in the PlazaHotel, I surrender to the fantasy of Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball –held there in 1966.
Party scenes from New York movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s,Valley of the Dolls – even the psychedelic bacchanal in Midnight Cowboy –feature immaculately dressed women. Their wardrobes range from chic toflamboyant to offbeat, and oh, how great they all look when they party. NewYork’s intoxicating mix of glamour, disco, sex and style continues to influencedesigner collections as well as fashion magazine editorials the world over. One of the reasons I get so excited about shopping for vintage fashion in New Yorkis that here I can find a very particular style of cocktail dress. Two years ago I chanced upon a 1960s shift dress inheavy jade silk, embellished with coral beads and tassels. There’s nothing coy about it– it is a frock designed for dancing, drinking and fun.
An exciting place I’ve discovered for exquisite examplesis Southpaw Vintage, a dress rental agency run by the charming Jeffrey Pattiewith stylists Nick Michael and David Viccaro. The atmosphere in the studio iselectric: the gowns, accessories and costume jewellery seem to vibrate withboth history and possibility; each garment seems to promise a magical eveningahead. On a recent trip I spied a floor-length pleated silk chiffon gownhanging on the rail and immediately started to wonder what sort of woman Iwould become after I put it on. Fashion can change the way you feel aboutyourself, sure, but there is something uniquely potent about the transformativepower of vintage. The charm – or reckless behaviour – of the previous owner isa mystery that can, quite literally, be inhabited.
What makes Southpaw extra special is the rock’n’roll aesthetic that informsJeff’s collection (fans include Stella McCartney and Theodora Richards, as well as Kate Moss and Agyness Deyn). Even the most delicate lace gown in theboutique exudes a bohemian magnetism, and it is this quality that gives thecollection an ultra-modern appeal. These dresses are not costumes but pieces offashion history that can be styled to look as edgy as you dare. With close to10,000 garments hanging from the rails in its Garment District studio, thecrack team of stylists can put together an entire look for clients – and itwill be flawless. For those looking to buy rather than hire, Julie Skinner is a name to know.Julie runs Postscript Couture, which recently relocated fromManhattan to Beverley Hills (and has an online retail space, too), but as abouthalf of her clients are based in New York she regularly returns to the cityfor business. She is a long-term collaborator with super-stylist Patricia Fieldand her expertly chosen dresses are true investment pieces. With awards season in full swing, keep an eye out on the red carpet for somebeautiful vintage gowns. They’ve been picked out by the experts.