“I hate to say it, but Jacqueline Kennedy [Onassis] single-handedly wiped out leopards,” says Sammy Davis. “Serious. Look it up online.” The shopkeeper at A Little Wicked and style blogger of Sammy Davis Vintage presses on, unaffected by my apparent look of disbelief.
Davis was right, after all. (Yes, I did a later search online). Spotted in 1962: Kennedy in a three-quarter-length leopard coat designed by couturier Oleg Cassini. The couturier had designed the first lady’s entire 300-piece wardrobe of pillbox hats, stately ball gowns, and wool coats with matching dresses that comprised the “Jackie look”. But it was the leopard fur coat worn by Kennedy that caused the biggest stir. Everyone – everyone who could afford it anyway, wanted her own version. And the demand prompted the killing of more than 250,000 leopards, thereby linking Kennedy to the endangerment of the species. The faux fur industry grew as a direct result, much through the support of Cassini, who was likely plagued with guilt for designing the coat in the first place.
When it came to sixties American fashion, Kennedy was its trendsetter. She was the barometer of chic at a time when most women read magazines for style inspiration. This was not the case in London, says Davis.
“London in the sixties was almost a bubble,” she continues. “We think about King’s Road, a store called Grandma Takes A Trip, Mary Quant… But London style was London style. If you went to the English countryside, people were still wearing their low-heel shoes, their nylons with mid-length skirts and their boring sweater.”
Davis ushers me towards a garment rack at the front of the store. The marathon-running blonde could talk for miles about vintage. After years of road trips to consignment shops and evenings plugging away on her blog after a successful Sammy Davis Vintage sale event, I estimate that her rolodex of vintage suppliers (and followers) is likely longer than the Nile by now. As she tells me about the Beatles’ arrival to the States, she takes a silk floral dress in purple off the rack. It was the same sixties cocktail dress as seen on “Mad Men”. Perhaps I had seen it?…she wonders.
No, I tell her. Since moving to London last year from New York, one of the first things to go was American television.
And then I remember that Davis – who I first met in 2006 as a fashion intern – had studied in London not long after our summer internship together.“I just died!” says Davis, remembering her semester abroad, her blond bob shaking enthusiastically. “I fell in love in with the vintage industry!” Not that Davis’ “op shopping” (as it’s called in the UK) began with her first stay in London. Davis admits that her early days of ‘thrifting’ harken back to her high school prom.
“Have you seen ‘YOUTHQUAKE! The 1960s Fashion Revolution’ (which Sara writes about in an earlier post) exhibit at the Museum at FIT?” I ask her. No, she hasn’t. But with its archive of sixties clothing, accessories and media from both the States and England, she would have liked to see it: “What’s really fascinating about the sixties is that for the first time ever people were influenced by street fashion.”
But while America has the size – with more vintage stores than any other market – England has the savvy. “When the average British girl walks into the store, she has such a knowledge of vintage,” says Davis. “It’s beautiful to see.” They’re more likely to recognize Bill Blass, Anne Fogarty and Edith Head – vintage brands that date back to the sixties and seventies. Holding a brightly hued leisure jumpsuit from the sixties, Davis wishes that the Americans had the same op shop, or charity shop, knowledge.
Together we conjured up possible answers to this question: “Why are Americans and the British different in their style habits? It’s a question that I ask myself daily as a recent implant to the London fashion scene.
Blame the system, I say. Davis agrees. An American in a consumer-driven society might think, “That’s really a cool piece of clothing,” she says. But in a country where experimenting with fashion reigns, clothes are often reimagined and reworked when styled. In an interview with Katie Baron on fashion stylists, I couldn’t find this difference more obvious. And the vintage experience, just like all forms of dress in England, is a transformative process with all sorts of creative possibilities. Davis sums it up best: “It’s about dressing as a character, like you’re playing a part right now’.”