A publication featuring student work from the Department of English and Communications at Salve Regina University.
BY LINDSAY LACHAPELLE
A light golden brooch engraved with delicate leaf designs, studded with bright emerald stones, and sprinkled with iridescent diamonds sparkles from inside a glass display like a single dewdrop in a sea of grass. Surrounded by an array of other jewelry–pearls, sapphires, crystals and opals– this brooch captures the attention of the savvy collector. For etched across the back is the true gem of the piece: a single name written in tiny, messy letters. Eisenberg.
To the average shopper, the name Eisenberg may not inspire excitement, but for the vintage collector, a piece of jewelry signed with the designer Eisenberg’s name signifies great value because of the piece’s gold-karat quality. Vintage treasures like this emerald broach are plentiful in Vintage to Vogue, a unique shop located at the Long Wharf shopping mall in Newport, R.I.
Eleven years ago, Shana Gaines opened the first Vintage to Vogue store on Christie’s Landing. Originally called “Conversation Pieces,” the store carried strictly vintage merchandise. Although the term “vintage” technically applies to anything older than 10 years, Gaines’ store specializes in vintage pieces from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Today, in its fourth different location, Vintage to Vogue sells an eclectic mix of new high-end designer products and vintage items including clothing, shoes, handbags, hats and jewelry. The store caters to special occasion shopping. In fact, Gaines frequently outfits the guests of themed parties that are held at Rosecliff mansion. Some of her most famous clientele include Diane Keaton, Barbara Streisand and Meryl Streep.
“Anything girly. That’s what the store is all about,” Gaines explains. “A man comes into the store and feels very out of place.” Also an appraiser on the PBS series, “The Antiques Roadshow,” Gaines specializes in jewelry from the Art Deco era. Art Deco jewelry, according to Gaines, consists of “glam” pieces of costume jewelry from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.
“I want whatever anyone buys from me to be a conversation piece,” says Gaines. Although she is aware that most shoppers will not dress head to toe in vintage clothing, Gaines believes that a single vintage piece can complete an outfit. Vintage items tend to stimulate conversation because they are distinctive and usually have a history behind them. “People want the sizzle, not the steak,” says Gaines. She knows that her customers are just as interested, if not more, in the story behind an item as they are about the aesthetics of it. Having been in the vintage business for more than 30 years, Gaines has heard countless captivating stories about the vintage items she has encountered.
One of Gaines’ favorite stories is about Caroline Thorn Binney, a famous ballerina who danced for the Metropolitan Opera Theater in New York and the Royal Ballet in London. In the summer of 2013, Binney passed away, leaving her estate to her daughter. Gaines was asked to visit the estate in Barrington, R. I., to sort through Binney’s belongings. According to Gaines, the house was unlike anything she’d ever seen. Roughly the size of the Breakers Mansion, the house was filled with gigantic rooms and closets, all overflowing with shoes, dresses and handbags. After searching through all of Binney’s belongings, Gaines left the estate with almost 300 pieces.
That summer, young girls flocked to Vintage to Vogue to buy Binney’s vintage cotton dresses and handmade embroidered skirts. What made Binney’s clothing especially valuable to Gaines’ customers were the tags sewn onto every piece which read “Custom made especially for you by Caroline Thorn Binney.” To honor Binney’s memory and celebrate her success, Gaines created cards with Binney’s picture and her obituary to give to whoever bought one of her pieces.
Vintage to Vogue is filled with stories waiting to be told. Shoppers need only find the piece that speaks to them and let the conversation begin.