Deep in the heart of South Kensington is one of the most inviting boutiques in London: D&ME. Owner Marcelle Symons has created an award-winning fashion paradise, spread over four floors of a charming townhouse. The rails hold an eclectic mix of contemporary ready-to-wear, while cabinets gleam with accessories and jewellery by cult designers, including Eugenia Kim, as well as perfumes by Bruno Acampora. But the real draw to Symons’ emporium is her own reworked vintage clothing label, One Vintage.
“I design not for eccentrics, but for sociable people who are out all the time and don’t want to bump into someone wearing the same thing. The appeal is that they are wearing something unique. It’s the ultimate limited edition,” Symons explains. Her clothes are breathtaking in their beauty and originality. When I admire an elegant evening gown, Symons demonstrates how it comprises three separate fabrics: 1920s French lace, 1940s sequin-embellished tulle and a vibrant Scandinavian floral embroidery from the 1950s. The result is bewitching. “I’m very attracted to rich and lush fabrics. I like contrasting heavy beading with light chiffon, for example, and to deconstruct garments in order to create something new. Customers really appreciate this, rather than something that is bought off the peg.”
Symons’ atelier is filled with stacks of catalogues and Polaroid images of designs. The shelves are loaded with individual zip-lock bags of vintage appliqué flowers in various colours and sizes, waiting to be stitched onto necklines and hems. “I tend to work a lot with Victorian and Edwardian garments because that is really when you notice the difference in terms of the textile. Handwoven or handstitched fabrics look very different to man-made ones.”
Over her desk I spy a photograph of model Poppy Delevingne at her wedding celebration in Morocco earlier this year, wearing a One Vintage signature piece: a white Victorian day dress decorated with vivid Indian embroidery. Other star items include 1920s boleros reworked into sequin jackets backed with lace, and vintage silk kimonos. Symons’ recent designs include a floor-length silver plissé dress with jewel-encrusted yoke (£1,100, first picture, now sadly sold), a strapless ballgown in black tulle glittering with sequins (£1,100, second picture) and a striking column dress lovingly refashioned from a 1930s silk kimono (£1,500).
These are dresses that get “the right kind of attention”, as Symons puts it. She loves how vintage clothing does not categorise its wearer in the way that a recognisable “It” piece from a designer collection can. “Certain ranges [of designer clothing] can bracket a woman – by income, say – and I have an issue with that. A woman can work and have a family, and still look fabulous and feel special and unique when she goes out. To have that sense of individuality is important and I want to be able to create that for my customers.” This observation is spot on – the kind of woman who chooses to wear beautiful vintage dresses rarely needs the reassurance of an identifiable designer logo. Her sense of style is not a box-ticking exercise; she is bien dans sa peau. Symons’ delicately reworked gowns are a must for those women whose wardrobes reveal nothing but their enigma.