I’m in the back of a taxi speeding up Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard, with Diana Ross blaring out of the speakers. It’s 10am, but the party spirit is strong. What better mood to arrive at one of the best vintage fashion stores in North America: C Madeleine’s?
The cab pulls off the main road into a parking lot. Across the heat-hazed asphalt I see the fashion oasis belonging to Madeleine Kirsch, Miami style maven and owner of one of the largest collections of high-end vintage clothing in the US. The boutique proclaims itself “a fashion wonder of the world”, and it delivers on this promise, its treasures attracting A-listers seeking a unique outfit for the red carpet, fashion stylists from glossy magazines and designers researching their future collections.
The showroom is vast (particularly to British eyes) – a 10,000sq ft warehouse with designs from the past 100 years, all available to buy. I am offered a tour of the floor before setting off to browse on my own. I weave my way from a cabinet of exquisite costume jewellery to a rail of 1960s Dior gowns, through to a selection of some of the finest vintage furs I have ever seen. I feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of clothing and accessories on display.
With such vast ground to cover, it helps to have a specific outfit in mind. Before I entered C Madeleine’s, I had chosen Miami’s silver-screen heroines for my inspiration: Ingrid Bergman’s beguiling Alicia in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) and Michelle Pfeiffer’s flashy Elvira in Brian de Palma’s Scarface (1983). But these style icons soon become redundant. After looking through rails of dresses, I opt for the quintessential Miami “hostess gown” – a 1960s floor-length dress in a bold print – convinced its exotic glamour is exactly what my winter wardrobe needs. As is often the case with fashion – or any infatuation – the minute I see the right dress it is as if nothing else exists.
When I ask Madeleine if I am right in thinking there is a “look” particular to the city, she explains: “There are really two Miamis. Either super-hip, or classic and conservative. With the fabulous beaches, boating and dining, many women wear silk-chiffon kaftans because they’re easy to take from poolside to shopping.” I try to look as if that is an itinerary I am familiar with back in rain-soaked London. But Madeleine does share my love of print: “Bright colourful designs that are funky and chic will always reign supreme in the tropical climate,” she asserts.
Madeleine has recently created an online platform for her boutique, which features a selection of her stock and which ships worldwide. Items that catch my eye include a 1950s nude silk gown with pale-gold sequins ($1,890), a 1950s tiered black silk dress by Simonetta ($3,990) and a floral-print hat from Balmain’s 1954 couture collection ($2,100).
Madeleine firmly believes that the history of fashion is a mirror to the future – and her dresses are an irresistible invitation to step through the looking glass.