How vintage clothing can change the lives of the less fortunate

How vintage clothing can change the lives of the less fortunate

Over time

Text: Jolene Khor

With Hollywood royalty in her blood, some would say that Liz Goldwyn — whose paternal grandfather was Oscar-winning Samuel Goldwyn, contributing founder of Paramount Pictures Corporation (yes, that giant film studio in Los Angeles) and Goldwyn Pictures which would later become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, another powerhouse American production company — was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

But if Goldwyn had her way, that spoon would be recycled silver.

You see, the filmmaker-artist-writer has been invested in eco-conservation, particularly in fashion, long before she wrote and directed the documentary Pretty Things. Her true passion supersedes her production of a handful of short films and dates far back from her written work, published in the likes of The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times, British Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Of her many ventures, Vintage Vanguard, a project she began with model Karen Elson hits closest to home. She calls it "a fun, upscale charitable version of Project Runway". Twenty-one American designers (Rodarte, Zac Posen, Jeremy Scott, Jason Wu, among others) reworked both co-founders' vintage pieces to create new garments. They were then sold on Moda Operandi, 100% of proceeds from which went to Dress for Success, a global organization empowering women (particularly survivors of domestic abuse and the homeless) through economic independence. The source: donated gently worn work suits. Aside from dressing women for job interviews, Dress for Success also provides training and mentorship programs.

"Something as simple as passing on your old clothes has the power to change someone else's life," said Goldwyn. "This is closely aligned with why I love vintage clothes."

Though her archive sale with Vestiaire Collective (she is the third vintage maven to participate after Toni Garnn and Yasmin Le Bon) is not part of Vintage Vanguard, it sustains her long relationship with Dress for Success — a fraction of proceeds from this curated sale will go to the charity. In her edit, rare finds spanning over seven decades. There's a piece from Nicolas Ghesquiere’s highly sought-after spring/summer 2001 white collection for Balenciaga that one would be crazy to pass on, an Hèrmes Bradka travel case awaiting collectors, and a pink mini dress 1992, designed by Gianni Versace himself. 

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What has been the most sentimental item in your possession? 
The pieces that were given to me by people I love or have purchased and worn for special occasions. A few examples: A knit hat that belonged to Bob Marley, given to me as a gift; a G-string that Zorita, one of the great 1940s burlesque queen subjects of my book, 'Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens', made for me; a pink Versace lace up corset dress in the Vestiaire sale that I wore to the premiere of my first film (also on burlesque) Pretty Things at Lincoln Center in New York. I bought it specially to wear to the premiere and have one of my favourite photos of me with my father in it — he was so proud of me and I was also proud of myself and of what I had accomplished on my own. The dress defined a moment of complete empowerment of my own sexuality. I'm sad to see it go, but pleased that will live another life with a new owner and benefit for a good cause. Dress for Success, which is receiving proceeds from the Vestiaire Collective sale, helps women gain economic independence.

How did your love for vintage clothing come about?
I started wearing and collecting vintage clothing around the age of 13. I used my allowance (which I earned from recycling!) on 1920s and '40s dresses. My friends and I would go swing dancing in our old dresses and pretend we lived in another era. Maybe it was the nostalgia of living in Hollywood, but retro culture was celebrated in the 1990s amongst my peers.

And it's celebrated again now.
The first designer piece I bought was actually one of those I am selling at Vestiaire Collective. It's a cream satin skirt from Courrèges I found in the garment district in Boston, where I attended high school. I remember seeing the label and knowing it was something of value. It was under $20 at the time. I wasn't conscious that I was actually "collecting" until I started working for Sotheby's Fashion Department in New York at 17 and realized that I had already begun to acquire a collection, including some accidentally valuable pieces.

What do you love most about vintage clothing? 
I don't like to wear what is "on trend" or mass-produced, so vintage is a great way to express individual style and have things that no one else does without having to pay a fortune. Don't get me wrong — haute couture can be amazing and if I could, I'd have my underwear custom made, but I love that vintage allows everyone the opportunity, regardless of budget, to dress in their own fantasies. My first vintage item was one of my mother's Yves Saint Laurent 1970s dresses and the first vintage I owned myself was a 1950s boucle wool black and white coat with a black faux fur collar my mother bought me in a vintage store in Los Angeles.

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What fashion trends do you love now? 
Sustainability, ethical production, consumers considering carefully what they are purchasing and who from. I like things that are built to last. And I'm always a fan of pink sequins.

What fashion trends do you want to see go?
Waste, conspicuous consumption, high heeled sneakers.

How do you see vintage clothing playing a bigger role than it currently does — environmentally, socially, economically?
I first started buying vintage alongside earning my pocket money from recycling, so these two ideas — fashion and recycling — naturally went together for me. I'm someone who picks up trash on the beach when I am on vacation, is constantly aware of my own impact on the earth and how much industrialisation (including the mass production of fashion) has polluted our natural resources. Yes, I love beautiful shiny shoes, dresses and lingerie as much as the next person. I still adore new clothes, new designers and do purchase from current seasons, but I am cautious and conservative of what I buy that's new, as opposed to vintage items. That said, we as a global community have to consider how much excess there is currently being pumped out every season and how much of any given designer's collection which doesn't sell contributes to landfills.

What was the last thing you just bought?
I live for online shopping! My Amazon app is in constant use. Most recent online purchases include the limited edition Vans x Disney high top sneakers with moon and stars on them for my boyfriend, and a 1998 pink sequin Comme des Garçons dress I wore to the Vestiaire Collective dinner in Paris celebrating my archive sale. I couldn't afford it when I was an art student in New York when it first came out!

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Tell me about your pieces on Vestiaire Collective. How did you begin to curate? How did you decide what should get a second life?
I had been pulling things aside for a few years thinking about doing a sale, so at a certain point, if it was on the "to go" rack, I couldn't look back. Even now there are things that I wish I wasn't selling, like the Mr. Blackwell black velvet opera coat with hot pink satin lining I am wearing in the campaign images (first picture in this article), and an Angelo Tarlazzi cocktail dress with a pillow "heart" on the bottom, but I remind myself of the joy I had in finding them, owning them, and how they might empower others.

Do you have a favourite piece from your collection? Why?
Impossible to choose one! The early Nicolas Ghesquieres for Balenciaga are very special to me, and I still have some in my collection. Also, the three Mr. Blackwell pieces — the bulls eye dress, the black velvet opera coat, and the floor length evening dress in brocade with lime green flowers and a matching coat. I hope one person gets all three, so they can stay together!

Buro's picks:

Liz Goldwyn's archival pieces will be available on Vestiaire Collective from 25 October.