That’s Why the Lady is reVamp!
What if you had an interest that made some people think you were weird (and made other people think you were awesome)? What if you could take that weird/awesome passion and turn it into a successful business where you called the shots? AND…what if you had a super cool look to boot? Well then, you’d probably be Annamarie von Firley, the owner and designer of reVamp. creating fine reproduction vintage clothing focusing on 1910-1957 for both men and women. (Um, did I mention even her name is pretty groovy?) The sexy secret agent name, the cool Louise Brooks-on-acid look, the amazing business incorporating her passion for vintage clothing – it seems too good to be true. I, for one, am envious, but I’m even more incredibly inspired. I have been into 40s clothing for a loooong time, and was a big-time swing dancer, but all I ever did was shop, and the lindy hop. As a Goodwill-trolling vintage clothing freak, I gobbled up Sophia Amuroso’s #GirlBoss and learned how about how I missed the ball and how she ran with it. (Seriously, check out #GirlBoss, great book!) And while I didn’t get it together to start my own vintage clothing business (I suck), I was savvy enough to be a reVamp customer, and smart enough to catch up with Annamarie and get the goods for us all: How did you get interested in vintage clothing? ANNAMARIE: I started collecting in high school. I would go to the Salvation Army and buy 1950s ball gowns for $25 each. I did not really know what I was doing. I just bought what I liked. In my 20s, I met a group of people who were really into vintage clothing and culture. I started collecting vintage more deliberately. I collected vintage magazines that informed me about the periods from which the silhouettes I owned and ones that I responded to. It helped me to identify the difference between 10s and 20s clothing or 30s and 40s silhouettes. What does dressing vintage mean to you? ANNAMARIE: I respond silhouettes from 1910-1957 because they celebrate the female form. After 1957 designers start to deconstruct the female form. The designs are less about making the wearer look the best that she can, and more about the designer flexing his/her design muscles. Before 1910, there is too much body modification. This window of time was the Golden Age of Fashion to me. I wear clothing from this period because the designs are fascinating and flattering. Although the designs are at least 50 years old, they have a timeless quality to them. ANNAMARIE: Why do you think women like to dress in vintage clothes and accessories? Because the designs are figure flattering and have design details lost in modern garment design. Design is always a balance between Form and Function. There are periods of time where design is all Form and no Function like the Victorian period. Now design is all Function and no Form. Clothing is designed exclusively for comfort and not to make you look good. Are there particular vintage role models or icons that resonate for you? ANNAMARIE: My favorite film is “My Man Godfrey” (1936) with William Powell and Carole Lombard. I can watch that movie 100 times and find something new that is funny that I did not catch before. Carole Lombard is also one of my favorite actresses. She is funny, smart and playful. You can see that she is having fun which is great to see. She portrays characters that are both strong and vulnerable. Lending a complexity that is fascinating to watch and aspire to. If you are asking about designers who I admire from the past, then, yes, I think Vionnet was a genius. If you are asking if there is anyone today who "lives vintage" in a way I find admirable, then I would say no. I think that if you dabble in vintage that is great and if you are a "vintage immersive person" that is great as well. I wear vintage everyday, but I would not say that it makes me more or less interesting than anyone else. Why this fascination with women and style of yesteryear? ANNAMARIE: I am fascinated by it because it is elusive…like ghosts from the "silver screen" dazzling us with a version of history that was not and will never be. We cannot go back in time. But we can hold the artifacts from the past like books, magazines, garments, shoes, purses, etc. They are touchstones to the past. Vintage garments are fossils skins of women who no longer live. I like to imagine the woman who worn them before. Whose body was just like mine. Was she a Gold Digger, mother of 5 or a secretary in a law office? What did she do while wearing this dress, these shoes, or while holding this purse? Did she fall in love, see a play with her lover or find out that she is now a young widow. You can imagine, but never know. Fascinating. For women who don't yet know how great vintage style is, what would you tell them? ANNAMARIE: Once you realize that you can have a garment that fits you properly and celebrates your best assets, it will be hard to go back to contemporary designs. Vintage clothing does not necessarily need to mean uncomfortable, stained or stinky. There are companies, like mine, that bring back the past. We offer historically accurate vintage clothing without the vintage DNA. You can wear it without contributing to its inevitable destruction. It is all out there. Now is a great time to enjoy vintage style. You can have your cake and eat it too. OK, now that everyone's psyched to rock a vintage look, can you tell us more about Revamp. How'd it start? ANNAMARIE: I was Swing Dancing on the USS Jeremiah O’Brien with a friend. We were lamenting on how poorly people were dressed. She suggested we start a company that recreates vintage clothing. Initially I said no because I worked for a start-up -and saw that my boss never got paid. But, soon after the business was sold and I did not want to go with it, so since I was between jobs, I decided to give her idea a shot. How did you grow Revamp, what were the "steps" you took? ANNAMARIE: reVamp was founded in 1998. We always had a website; you might say we grew up with the Web. As more people became comfortable with purchasing clothing online, so did we. Our growth was organic. We tapped into the peak of the Swing Scene in the 90s where there was pent up demand for vintage reproduction clothing. For about 10 years, we and a couple of other companies pretty much owned the market for vintage reproduction clothing. We never needed to work hard to get sales or hits on our website until Google’s “Penguin update” in 2012 (see below). Now we have to do all of the social media, blogs and website optimization like everyone else. At the time reVamp was opened, there were only 3 companies making vintage inspired clothing: Stop Staring, Dixie Fried, and us. Stop Staring grew a lot because they wholesale their clothing. We are not as big because we retail clothes made here by our own in-house cutters and sewers and have no economy of scale. It costs us the same amount to make 1 garment as 100. So our wholesale price is a full 2/3 of our retail price. This makes us too expensive for most stores to carry our line, so we mostly sell directly to the consumer -- plus museums, theaters, TV, movies and national parks. We do a lot of bridal as well. Since we aren’t really set up to wholesale, we are really limited to how much we can grow. What kind of clothing is most popular? ANNAMARIE: When I started reVamp in 1998, we sold about the same amount of clothing to men and women. Originally we catered to Swing Dancers. Men in the early Swing Scene dressed the part. Then in about 2003, they didn’t. I sold mostly women’s clothing. Now I think I sell more men’s clothing than women’s. Is this surprising to you? ANNAMARIE: Yes and no. Yes because I don’t see more men dressing vintage and there isn’t a “scene” that I can see that they are attaching themselves to like the “Swing Scene” or “Cocktail Culture”. There are some great period shows that might have pique their interest. But it seems that these men are buying because the recognize great design. It is not that they are vintage junkies. As far as the “no” part of my answer, there are way more companies making repro vintage dresses now. When I started reVamp in 1998, there were three. Now there are a whole lot more plus sellers on Ebay and Etsy. However, there are not so many focusing on men’s vintage. So I seem to be in the "catbird seat" there. I know we all benefit from the clothes you make, we "vintage vixens" out there. What are the biggest rewards in doing what you do? ANNAMARIE: Seeing my designs on the big and small screen, on a happy bride or on a satisfied customer who has sent me a photo of herself in reVamp clothing! My favorite part of my business is doing the research for new designs. I have 1000s of vintage patterns as well as 1000s of vintage garments in my private collection, hundreds of vintage magazines and fashion plates. I love to pour over them and decide what extinct design I want to reintroduce to the world. It is like bring new life into a dried flower.
--------------------Clearly, Annamarie never rests on her adorable laurels; she’s coming up with new ideas and strategies to not only superserve loyal customers and keep them coming back, but to make her products more accessible and desirable at multiple price points. Not rich – use the payment plan. And for those who can afford it, now vintage repros can be as exclusive and luxurious as a couture item. P.S. Interested in learning the biz? Annamarie and reVamp have an Apprenticeship Program where I train people in Sales/Marketing, Patterning/Grading, Cutting and Sewing. Each section is 3 months long, and the apprenticeship lasts one year. Go to the reVamp website to find out more!
Photo credit: Jon Lile
Parts of this interview were also published in LikeaBossGirls.com