Vintage shops here tend to be a catch-all collection of contemporary castoffs, Hawaiiana, hippie chic and a hodgepodge of whatever finds their owners might come across — with a few true vintage pieces thrown into the mix. Finding something worthwhile often takes a lot of digging.
But mod.vintage stopped me in my tracks. It was closed at the time, but peering through the windows, I could see the makings of Honolulu’s first curated vintage boutique, with every piece carefully chosen to fit its owner’s aesthetic.
It turns out to be the work of Silvana Alfonso, whom downtown denizens already know as a DJ about town, and whom others may know as a freelance stylist for Armani and other companies.
MOD.VINTAGE FASHION SHOW
Part of the Epiphany: Multi-media Arts Event
» Where: TheVenue, 1146 Bethel St.
» When: 10 p.m. Aug. 31; events start at 8 p.m.
» Admission: $10; must be 21 or older
» Note: Events include music by Taimane, Tavana and DJ Mortadelah, art by Loren Shaw and The Illnomadics, dance performances and food
1. Check the label: A designer label adds cachet and, often, value.
2. Check the fabric: A wool coat may be beautiful but not practical for Hawaii unless you plan to travel to cooler climates. Also, make sure it is in good condition throughout.
3. Don’t go by the numbers: Vintage sizes run much smaller than today’s size charts; a 1970s American size 8 is today’s size 2.
4. Consider alterations: Sometimes a little alteration can make a vintage item look modern and trendy, so be open to possibilities that will make a piece more comfortable and wearable. A simple hem job can make a big difference, whether making a long dress short, cropping pants into shorts or turning a long-sleeved garment into a sleeveless one.
5. Treat with care: The fabric on vintage items may be delicate, so a gentle hand-wash is recommended.
6. Be cautious with shoes: The glue holding pieces together can be very old. Only high-end brands, such as Salvatore Ferragamo and Bally, are likely to withstand wear and tear over time.
Source: Silvana Alfonso
"For me, fashion and music go hand in hand. I was DJ’ing as an amateur as a teenager. Wherever there was a turntable, I’d go on it. I bought my first turntable in Brooklyn 18 years ago," she said.
Alfonso grew up in Rome, where she also developed her eye for fashion as a child.
"In Italy the culture is different. Everybody’s so fashionable, and you felt like you had to keep up with everybody else. We grew up with the names Fendi, Gucci, watching all the trends, and we were very aware of them, even if we couldn’t afford them.
"At the time, Fendi and Gucci were only doing leather goods. Even Prada didn’t start adding clothes until 1989. Design was mostly accessories, but manufacturing was always of amazing quality and durable. We always had something you keep for a long time, not like today where you buy and replace every two months, and that’s why with vintage the quality stayed until now."
Confronted with a roomful of clothes today, she said she is still drawn to fabric first, and given a full rack, will zero in quickly on the one best piece.
"I don’t look for the clothing. They come to me. They’re like, ‘Take me, take me!’ It’s like a gift, in a way. There are pieces I cannot pass up, even though I can’t wear it because it’s a size 00," said the size 2 Alfonso, who pulls a pair of size 00 red leather pants off the rack.
Her shop is built around a lively Marni- or Miu Miu-meets-vintage, funky-cool look that’s more quirky and arty than most girls and women are accustomed to. Given that women tend to gravitate toward the pretty, beautiful or glamorous, and both Miu Miu designer Miuccia Prada and Marni’s Consuelo Castiglioni are known for off-kilter, ugly chic, focusing on one particular aesthetic may narrow MOD.vintage’s audience.
"I love these pants," she said, pulling out a high-waisted chartreuse example that we laugh over, knowing it will have to be a special person who can pull off the extreme look.
"A majority of people who come in say, ‘Omigod, everything is so cute.’ So, apparently, they like it. The problem I have is with vintage sizing. It’s very small, so it’s challenging for people who need a bigger size."
In a nod to reality, she does offer a few racks of contemporary apparel for more popular appeal. Although she will accept some trades, she tends to be very picky about what goes into her shop, so it’s not likely that common threads will fly.
She does most of her buying on trips to New York, Los Angeles and Rome, all cities with which she’s well acquainted. She started working as a stylist in L.A., working on music videos, commercials and underground films before moving to New York and working for Giorgio Armani.
"I was doing the styling for window displays and lots of shows, like the Guggenheim’s Giorgio Armani retrospective," she said.
"When I moved to Hawaii, I continued styling but wanted to take all this experience I had to build something of my own."
She was determined to find a site outside of the boutique-saturated downtown Honolulu Arts District.
"While living in L.A., I saw Echo Park before it became the place it is today. In New York I saw Williamsburg before it became a little more hip, where it’s becoming like a little Village."
She’s set her sights on helping to make Kaimuki a destination every third Friday of the month, beginning Sept. 21, when shops and restaurants from 8th to Koko Head avenues will open their doors to those in search of art, music, food and unique shopping experiences.
"I think Kaimuki is one of those places where there’s a feeling of community, and I want to help raise awareness of what’s here."
MOD.vintage shop is located at 1154 Koko Head Ave.