Ever wondered what it would be like to design vintage fashion in the 21st Century? Here to tell us all about life as a vintage fashion designer and true vintage advocate is Mary from LeMaitre Design. Today I’m interviewing Mary from LeMaitre Design. Mary is a talented vintage fashion designer who adores fashion, art and vintage! This was a really interesting interview and I am sure you will find it as enjoyable to read and as educational as I have!
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Hi Mary, could you tell Online Personal Stylist readers more about you and LeMaitre Design?
Hi I’m Mary – I love fashion history, the beach and my adopted Bengal cat, Boush. I run LeMaitre Design, designing authentically cut mid-century womenswear, handmade in the UK.
When did you first become interested in vintage?
Since I was little I loved looking at old history books and family photographs, wishing the dresses and hats would come to life for me to try on! Mum has my old infant school workbook and the margins are crammed with doodles of faces, shoes and dresses. It’s a built in thing I guess, I was always the one with my head in the dressing-up box or making paper dolls with extensive outfits. I was that kid who dressed up in quite an assortment for the most mundane things, a trip to my grandpa or following my mum round the Co-Op. I look back on the pictures and cringe, but at the time, in my head, I was a fabulous reincarnation of the March sisters (from Little Women) or Doris Day!
Who are your vintage style icons?
I don’t necessarily have a style icon – it’s more a style ideal that I look for, something which those diamonds of couture: Dior, Fath, Chanel and Balmain epitomised. My design work focuses on the era between 1947-57, where hem lengths were flattering and waists and bust-lines celebrated the female form.
If I had to pick one person I would choose Edith Head, while she was costume designer for Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, 1924-67. Her design ethos produced some of the most iconic dresses in cinema history.
“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”
How do you source inspiration for new vintage designs?
There are obvious factors such as old films and photography depicting the Hollywood ideals of the time which are so easy to copy – I have a lot of requests for the ‘Marilyn Look’ or gowns dripping in Old Hollywood Glamour! There’s still to this day a huge desire to emulate the sex appeal and fabulous opulence of this iconic era.
My favourite method however is to research social history, to go behind the glossy films and look at the audience. I want to know how they were living, what was available to them, what trends were affecting fashion externally – what women were aspiring to and emulating.
I like to talk to older generations (what did they actually think of Marilyn Munroe?!) and read old biographies, noting down the details anytime fabrics and fashions are discussed.
Another source is to read publications printed at the time. Popular weeklies shift the focus from the cinema glitz and glamour that is mainly remembered today, to look at how women were really getting dressed. Real words, real photographs, reveal how ordinary people styled themselves to look extraordinary.
Research like this enables me to capture the essence of the period in my design work, and be true to my clientèle who love the aesthetics and style of a by-gone era.
The women I design for are not just the themed party-goers (though fun to design for!) but fashion connoisseurs as well as living history re-enactors and ‘time warpians’, looking for that distinctive style and cut that isn’t found on the high street today.
What are the biggest differences between the ways women dressed then compared to now?
I don’t see too much difference between women getting dressed today compared with back then – the motive is still the same; to be warm enough, to feel and look our best, and the desire to present ourselves appropriately to suit the occasion, be it work, leisurewear or party. Also unchanged is our incessant need to create and explore, and to find the new, fresh, different, contemporary and futuristic.
What has changed over the past 70 years is lifestyle, social views, aesthetics and technology.
Because of the afore-mentioned drive for the innovative and new, I believe fashion has and always will be forever exploring and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved. That shouldn’t however invalidate what has already gone before, I think it is inevitable that some of us want to revisit fashion highlights, taking time to marvel at and draw inspiration from the art each fashion era created. Vintage clothing reminds me how luxurious natural fibres actually are. I love the quality and feel of a crisp 100% cotton dress! Such fabrics also never seem to date.
At Online Personal Stylist, we encourage reusing items we already owned, so investing in pre-owned vintage items is a great way of encouraging our #WearNotWaste ethos. Do you have any tips on how to choose great vintage items when shopping in second hand stores? How to choose items that we will actually wear? What would you advise to somebody who is wandering into a vintage store for the first time?
The secret to making sound vintage investment is ‘think before you buy’.
Vintage Fashion needn’t be scary or create a façade to who you really are. Take your time to add pieces as you find them, and consider how the item fits with your other clothes. The item should accentuate your personality and tastes.
Like any purchase, you are far more likely to get decent wear and enjoyment out of a piece that fits nicely, suits you in cut and colour, and blends well into your existing wardrobe. For example, don’t go all out on a frilly blouse in neon colours when your current wardrobe is minimalist cut, in the currently popular muted tones, unless you’re ready to do so! However exciting that blouse is at the time, you will probably only wear it once – work with your taste and style and try a vintage clean-cut sleeveless crop blouse in block colour for a subtle statement.
I fully believe there is something for everyone in vintage fashion as it has been catering for all tastes for years, regardless of decade.
If you are just dipping into the vintage scene, a great way to incorporate vintage into your wardrobe is styling older pieces with new. Carrie Bradshaw in the ‘Sex and the City’ series was queen of this!
Carrie was styled in lots of vintage inspired shapes and prints, but all worn with contemporary accessories, hair and make-up, keeping her look up to date.
My recommendation for those wanting to bring vintage into their look, is to try styling one vintage item to your usual outfit, for easy modern-vintage chic.
Top tip; whether in full vintage regalia, or a quirky item putting you fashion forward in the crowd, wear what you are comfortable in. You will be wearing the best styled item that never dates – confidence.
Your smile is your best accessory.
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