Dani Smith, the owner of Market Cartel, one of London’s best vintage haunts (so good I’m reluctant to let the cat out of the bag), was about to add a second changing room to her Hackney store when yet another lockdown hit. But just because the doors had closed once more it didn’t mean the magic of vintage shopping couldn’t live on. Ever since, the former model has been releasing salon-style films on Instagram, shot in-store on an iPhone, with her modelling styled outfits in a mini catwalk, harking back to fashion shows of yesteryear.
“I play dress up and I think that’s every girl’s dream,” she says. Among the latest posts has been a classic cream crepe Ossie Clark dress, a Celine blazer and a Pucci shirt. And the coat offering has been especially good, too. The result of which is: I want to buy it all. “It took me five years to think, 'OK I’m going to go for it now and model it myself. I have 15 years training and it’s my shop,'” she says.
Before all of this, she was self-confessedly notorious for not responding to emails let alone attempting to go viral. But the various lockdowns have made her pivot into a new way of working - as it has a lot of vintage and antique sellers, who traditionally rely on IRL footfall.
The Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair was all set to take place in physicality last October, it would have been the first time since March. But further government restrictions meant that its founder, Savitri Coleman, had just 10 days to take it online. “It was a knee-jerk reaction,” she says, and, also, a learning curve. But the debut virtual fair – with 50-plus traders - was a great success. “It’s widened our audience and increased our customer base,” she says – with sales continuing beyond the event; traders based outside of the capital able to be part of it; and further virtual fairs taking place since.
For Holly Watkins of One Scoop in Dalston, it’s been about becoming the master of suspense-building. “It sounds a bit silly, but I’d go and pick up stock and literally just take a snap of it all in the car.” She’d then post the images on her social media in a bid to replicate the all-important 'rummage' element that typically comes with vintage shopping, and builds anticipation. “Customers can just see the label or a sleeve so it’s kind of being a bit clever to get people excited,” she says. “Because they’re not going out shopping they’re living vicariously through you.”
At Nordic Poetry - founded by Ameli Lindgren in East London – you can do that via The Pink Room: a recurring Instagram styling and shopping show in which guest creatives style each other inside her store. Of its inception, she says: “Social media is very important to communicate to your audience, and then I thought, 'why don’t we use the store because it’s very nicely designed.'” The lockdowns have made her rethink everything: how to sell worldwide and how the internet accommodates that. Such is the success, she’s taking The Pink Room to YouTube.
“There’s a lot of competition on Instagram so you’ve got to come up with a photograph that’s going to make someone pause,” says Amanda Wrigley, who runs Portobello’s jewellery emporium The Hirst Collection. Prior to the pandemic, she had already begun dressing up each Saturday and decided that was something she would continue during lockdown (“I was already used to dressing up with nowhere to go!”) and with more time on her hands to explore the local area she began taking pieces of jewellery out with her on walks to produce witty photo shoots – in one instance matching her jewellery to an ornate gate. “It’s fun to share it and get creative with it,” she says. And points out: “Not a single soul has set foot in my shop today, but 400 people have seen a post so technically it’s like 400 people came in the shop.”
Modes and More’s Susie Nelson each week does a 'Featured Five' and hosts a virtual market. “We really upped our game,” she reflects, including click and collect and being readily available to answer any questions eg. regarding sizing. Rooms, an interior shop in Clapton run by Kentaro Poteliakhoff, now sells a lot more through its Instagram stories (be quick, pieces sell fast!). “It’s been interesting seeing other industries adapting to the situation and thinking about how I can apply these to my business,” he says. At Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney, despite reluctance initially from its founder Hannah Turner Voakes - “because everything is a one-off item it’s very difficult to kind of translate that to the virtual world” - First Look Fridays have proved popular, introduced on Instagram to emulate the kind of “drops” you see among streetwear, available then to buy on the site, which has also had a spruce-up. She’s just about to launch a virtual personal shopper experience – send her a wish list and book a slot.
“I found the website became much more of a window to the business,” says Rellik’s Fiona Stuart, who this time last year says the shop, which is very much an iconic destination, was completely different, relying purely on footfall. Developing the website had always been part of the plan, but the lockdown meant that soon became fast-tracked. Stuart holds private online appointments and virtual shopping is something she’s keen to explore more. She says vintage and antique dealers have long been adept at adapting as “people who think on their feet”.
Rellik isn't the only vintage shop to use the pandemic as an opportunity to launch e-commerce platforms. House of Vintage’s online store, established during the first lockdown, has become a real passion project for founder Marcia Cooper. Similarly, Clapton family-run treasure trove Patina – known for its best-selling Kokeshi Japanese dolls, Polish handwoven baskets and more - moved quickly to build a website, having never had one before, following experiments with click and collect and selling through social media. “Over the last 12 months we were selling decorative items from all over the world, but also a record amount of vintage wine glasses,” says owner Robert Gorczynski. DM should something on Instagram also catch your fancy.
As the Clerkenwell Vintage Fair recently declared on its Instagram: “We might still be in lockdown but they can’t take our vintage”.
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