Welcome To “The Glam And Cheese Corner”
Todd Lyon has a name for the corner where Whitney Avenue meets Trumbull Street. On one end sits Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro and its small, fragrant basement cheese shop. Around a tight corner is the hair studio The Hive. And in the middle is her own slice of it: Fashionista Vintage & Variety, which she opened in 2010 with business partner Nancy Shea.
Enter “the glam and cheese corner.” At the very sharpest point of it is the store, where the windows are filled with a variety of outfits, and message by the door reads “the only thing that should be separated by color is laundry.” Inside the building is an airy room with a thrift rack with items for sale in a range of $2- $12. A map, flaunting the locations that each visitor comes from, hangs on the opposite wall.
Stepping from the hallway into the shop is a sort of magical experience. Under soft lights, a vast array of patterns and tones dance. Oldies play softly in the background.
Fashionista began with Lyon and Shea selling their own things every few months out of Shea’s apartment. As the business kept expanding, they became overwhelmed with merchandise, and started renting a place on Church Street by the month.
But that got out of control too— people got wind of their vintage experiment, and business exploded. The owner asked for a long-term lease. Lyon and Shea said they were ready to take that plunge when they saw a property on Whitney, and pounced. They have been there for eight years now.
The two said they consider themselves “true second hand.” As they see it, new, often synthetic fabrics are incredibly toxic, practically made to be thrown away. Second hand status means quality—putting whole, luxury fabrics to use until they really can't be enjoyed anymore.
“You’re not going to see stuff in here that came from other shops,” said Lyon. “We want them directly from the source ... the people who bring stuff to us know that we are running a big orphanage here for clothes, that we’re gonna find a love match between their item and a person."
“That's our goal anyway,” she added. “It doesn't always work that way, but that's our goal.”
Everything in the store is hand-picked from all types of clothing that are brought in, by appointment only. Since the store maintains a primary focus on costumes, they ask for clothing from between the 1930s and 1980s—pieces from before that period are too fragile for the store. They are also selective in their search for 80’s clothing, specifically choosing items that are "wild"-- punky, poppy, arty, extreme.
Their directory for selling clothes to the owners states that they tend to buy estates. "That is, large numbers of items at a time, which usually come from stylish retirees who are downsizing; a relative who has gone to the great vintage store in the sky; or a vintage collector who is liquidating his or her collection,” said Lyon.
The two said that they are very proud of their ever-growing collection. Most of their business comes from rentals “for theater companies, burlesque shows, rock bands, drag queens and kings, decades parties, and of course Halloween and masquerade parties,” said Lyon.
She added that they are “keenly interested in dramatic, outspoken pieces – costumey items – as well as actual costumes from any era, but especially if they’re older or vintage.”
They are forensic scientists, with the amount of research that goes into their collection. And they try to stay affordable to New Haveners. Sometimes they find items by a designer or with the same style selling elsewhere for extreme prices, but pass it up because they think it’s too pricey.
“It's just not our market,” said Lyon. "We have New Haven prices. If someone thinks it’s an insane bargain, good for them! We know people flip our stuff, it's not doing anybody any good just sitting in a case somewhere. If they have a better scene out there for selling it, well good for them. That's fine, We let it go."
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