At first glance, some might not class William Banks-Blaney as an egalitarian. From the posh accent to the tailored suits and impeccable manners, not to mention the fact that he makes a living selling fantastically beautiful vintage haute couture out of his by appointment only Marylebone shop. The press have even elevated him to fashion royalty, lending him the grand title “King of Vintage”.
They would be wrong, however. There’s no room for elitism at WilliamVintage, Banks-Blaney’s eponymous vintage emporium. Prices start at £175, ensuring that any and all vintage shoppers will find something to suit both taste and budget. “One of the reasons I got into the business is to create an enjoyable shopping experience, “ he says. “You can get really jaded with shopping, and I wanted WilliamVintage to be different. We’re very helpful, we’re friendly, we’re not snobby, irrespective of the price of the pieces you might buy.
I think there is an inherent magic to vintage pieces. Most of our clients love the fact that it’s a one-off, something that others don’t have, but also that there’s that sense of history behind it.
“Somebody can come in feeling a bit disillusioned with the process of shopping, and hopefully by the time that we’ve given them a drink and they’ve tried on a few dresses and found something they like, they can fall in love with fashion again. I think one of my biggest buzzes comes from seeing a woman come out of one of the changing rooms wearing a dress and her head is held a little higher, there’s a little bit more of a spring in her step, she’s really appreciative of her reflection, and is really inhabiting the dress.”
History In A Dress
Banks-Blaney insists the shop offers something for everyone. “I think there is an inherent magic to vintage pieces. Most of our clients love the fact that it’s a one-off, something that others don’t have, but also that there’s that sense of history behind it.”
Sure, there are the historic Chanels, the highly collectable Balenciagas and the seminal Yves Saint Laurents, but on the other hand, “some dresses are made by labels that are long forgotten, which we call the Great Unknowns. They can be real knock-out dresses, beautifully made, but without an attribution or a label, so they’re very price competitive.”
In his recently published book 25 Dresses, Banks-Blaney brings even the most exclusive vintage pieces back down to earth. “I’ve loved fashion for so many years, but we can all be led quite quickly to believe that fashion is terribly creative, erudite and removed from real life. Of course the greatest haute couture confections are – it’s their role to inspire – but I wanted to show they are all a part of the language of fashion. You can buy a vintage Dior Little Black Dress, you can buy a new one today, but you can also find a dress inspired by it on the high street. That’s how you should approach fashion – regardless of whether it was designed this season or 50 seasons ago.”
The Secret To Vintage Shopping
So how should vintage treasure hunters go about sniffing out hidden gems? According to the Vintage King, “the most important thing when you see something that draws your eye: try it on. Vintage and particularly vintage haute couture pieces were designed to look wonderful on the woman’s body, not on a clothes hanger. These are pieces that were made so that, when you put them on, you look like a million dollars.”
Second is condition. “I remember when I was first cutting my teeth in vintage, I would see a fantastic dress that might have three buttons missing or a rather large area of bugle beads that had fallen off. It’s very easy to get carried away with the beauty of something that’s not in a great condition, but often it’s nearly impossible to match a button or to find those beads, and it can be quite specialised work carrying out those repairs. Try it on, and make condition your priority above all else.
Particularly haute couture pieces are made so well because they were made for life.
“When you turn a dress inside out, you immediately see a lot more of its history. You can tell if the way that the hem has been folded looks to be of the same quality and finish as the rest of the dress. Then you’ll know if you’re buying something that started life at dinner length and is now being sold as a cocktail dress. You can tell if it’s been taken in or let out by the amount of fabric left in the side seams.
“Particularly haute couture pieces are made so well because they were for life, really.” …and once they’ve passed through WilliamVintage, they are lent a new lease on life.
When Banks-Blaney sees a prized garment walk out the door with its new owner, he likes “knowing that it’s in safe hands and that it’s going to a woman who will fall in love with it all over again. It’s a really nice continuation.”
William Banks-Blaney is the American Express Style Ambassador.
Article by Fiona Brutscher
What is your personal take on vintage fashion?