Burbank shop owner Katie Echeverry remembers hunting estate sales, thrift stores and flea markets for one-of-a-kind vintage garments, which she'd repair and resell online.
"Most vintage is really tiny," she says. "If I found something cute in a size 6, it was a gold mine. Anything bigger than that was usually a muumuu."
But retro lovers who drop by her newly opened Unique Vintage shop would never know it.
Inside the brick-and-mortar offshoot of Echeverry's seven-year-old Web-based boutique of the same name are racks of all the hottest looks from decades past and in a range of wearable sizes, including cinched-waisted "swing" frocks, body-hugging "wiggle" dresses and swimsuits that recall the days of "Million Dollar Mermaid" Esther Williams.
Of course, none of these pieces is authentic.
Echeverry, a 35-year-old jeans and T-shirts kind of gal with a keen eye for the classics, stocks only reproduction vintage - a growing trend that in recent years has exploded across runways and into the fashion-forward wardrobes of young celebrities.Paris Hilton, Rihanna, and Zooey Deschanel all have been spotted recently in the vintage-inspired brand Stop Staring. And just last week, New York Fashion Week saw a blizzard of corsets hit the catwalk in the spring '09 collections of Betsey Johnson, Monique Lhuillier, Proenza Schouler and others.
"Designers are definitely looking to the past for inspiration," says April Stage, a 27-year-old "lifelong vintage enthusiast" who runs one of many Web authorities on all things retro, www.Miss-Vintage.com. "
"Months ago, the dropped waists of the 1920s were all the rage, and now it
looks like the hourglass silhouette of the '50s and '60s is ruling the runway," she says.
This doesn't surprise many insiders, who credit the surge to a growing demand for authentic vintage garments, thanks to eBay, red carpet fashion and highly stylized TV series such as "Mad Men," which tackles the world of Madison Avenue ad men and is set in the early '60s.
Hollis Jenkins-Evans, founder and operator of the Web-based retailer Past Perfect Vintage and a member of the Vintage Fashion Guild, points to another groundswelling example.
"When `Titanic' came out, anything that looked vaguely like anything worn in that film just went off the market," Jenkins-Evans says. "So, when a period film or television series starts up, the dealers keep an eye on them for, `Well, is that one going to catch? I'd better get that stock ready."'
But good-condition vintage fashion is no longer as readily available or as affordably priced as it used to be - especially for the average woman who can't afford to spend $1,000 or more on a designer vintage name. And prices keep rising as these surviving pieces, with fabric that isn't worn or stained, become all the more rare.
"It's so saturated now and the clothes so overpicked that it's hard to find a great vintage piece," Echeverry says.
And so, the next best thing is reproduction.
As she moves through her boutique, decorated with two-tone walls and hanging chandeliers, Echeverry stops at a rack and removes a hanger on which hangs a flirty '50s-inspired red halter dress under the Unique Vintage name.
It's an update on designer Alfred Shaheen's classic sun dress, minus the screened floral print that made him the king of Hawaii's manufacturing industry.
"I always loved this body, so we reproduced it in more wearable solids, cherries and black-and-white polka dots," Echeverry says. "If there's something that I just loved, I'll reproduce that if I know I can sell a lot of them. Other than that, I like to rely on my designers."
She points out '40s-inspired secretary dresses, '60s-style baby dolls and a variety of reproduction peep-toe pumps, Lucite flower rings and petal swim caps.
Still, some purists may never be sold on reproduction vintage.
"To me, the best thing about wearing vintage is the fact that no one else will be wearing my outfit," Stage says. "I love the uniqueness of it all."
Sandra Barrera, (818) 713-3728