In our ‘My Vintage Life’ mini series we spoke to three women who are truly mad about vintage. In our second instalment, we spent the day with 34 year old embroidery artist, Milou Stella who collects beautiful garments from the 1970s. Many of Milou’s clothing has been handmade by her great-grandmother, including a dress that was made during World War II.
My Vintage Life: Milou Stella
Occupation: Artist and Embroidery Teacher
Tell me about yourself.
I’m Milou and I’m an artist who lives on a houseboat in Hackney. I collect a lot of vintage items – my whole life is very much based on DIY principles and always considering second-hand first. I love collecting handmade garments and also love the art of embroidery, a skill I always try to transfer onto my clothes. I actually worked in the vintage industry for three-and-a-half years, where I learnt a lot about vintage clothing.
Why do you like vintage clothes?
At first vintage was something I enjoyed when I was younger because it was affordable. Living in Italy, you could find plenty of vintage clothing in second-hand shops – much more than you can find now. The aesthetic of vintage clothing also attracts me. I like to mix vintage with contemporary which makes my look more individual. I’ve been inspired by the music and literature of the 1970s, and I feel you inevitably begin to adopt certain styles when you get to know the era more. Also, I think vintage is a way in which I can satisfy my curiosity towards clothes but also not buy into fast fashion.
Why do think vintage is experiencing a revival?
It may sound strange, but I don’t feel like vintage is experiencing a revival. I think what’s happened is that vintage clothing is becoming more and more mainstream. It is no longer just an alternative style adopted by subcultures. I also think that with the current textile crisis, people are becoming more aware of the impact their clothes have on the environment. Vintage is a more acceptable way to avoid waste.
What is your favourite era and why?
It definitely has to be the 1970s, although I also really like the 1920s. I love colours that can be found on clothes made in the 1970s. Bright bold colours are my thing, which is good because colour can be found everywhere! I find that the decade is an era of contrast, especially with all of the patterns and designs that were mixed on the runway. Back to the 1920s, I actually believe that the two eras cross over. Design elements, particularly the more ‘hippy’ items, have definitely been influenced by 1920s couture.
Any tips on how to identify era-specific clothing?
I think garments from the 1970s definitely have certain shapes, so look out for design characteristics such as flares, frills and low-waist dresses. I mentioned bright colours previously. If it looks slightly minimalist, then it’s definitely not from the 1970s. Big collars and flared sleeves are also a typical characteristic.
What advice would you give to people who want to start buying vintage?
I’d recommend that people do research online and try looking at clothing from that era. Look for specific details and try to spot them in charity shops. You never know what someone might have missed. I also recommend buying from independent businesses as much as possible. I find that bigger brands add on extra charges to their clothes – I really discourage people from buying a dress that is sold for £100 even if it’s from the 1970s. The actual price is usually around £40-60. Depop and Instagram are a really good alternative.
You can also start loving vintage just by looking at the clothes your family own. Hopefully, they’ll also have cherished items that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Favourite vintage item?
Oh, I can’t choose one – I love every single item of vintage clothing. However, I feel very attached to the pieces my great grandmother made that have been passed down to me. My great-grandmother was a seamstress during World War II and made a living through garment making. This means that most of her wardrobe is handmade and one-of-kind. Going through her wardrobe is mind-blowing – it’s like looking at a time capsule!
I do actually have a green dress given to me by my grandmother which I love. It was actually put together by putting together two pieces of material in the front. You can see how simple the stitching is. The dress has really bright geometric prints that merge together and lots of interesting details. I love the way the strong contrasting colours work – everything is so bland compared to this!
Oh, I’ve managed to get many bargains in my life. I’ve got an original Afghan coat for something like £25. These coats, which originated from the Ghazni province near Kabul, usually go for at least £350. People always stop me in the street when I wear the coat – it’s got this amazing handmade embroidery that goes from top to bottom. It really is something out of this world.
Follow our ‘Mad about Vintage’ series this week to find out more about the eclectic world of vintage fashion. #MadAboutVintage