This gorgeous, grey-haired woman is Chiara Menage, the founder of Menage Modern Vintage – an online clothing shop selling collectable vintage and contemporary pre-owned clothes, shoes and accessories. She has a classically cool sense of style and we bonded earlier this summer at Badgers Velvet Underground, when I was rummaging through her clothing rails for vintage Hermés and pre-owned Margaret Howell. (No purchases made, just yet).
Before launching her eponymous business, Chiara was a producer and editor in the film industry for many years, and I was most impressed when she told me that she worked on The Proposition (screenplay by Nick Cave). As a self-confessed sifter, collector and hoarder of clothes Chiara had reached the point where it was time to let some of her cherished pieces go, but wanted to find good homes for them. Embarking on the idea of a website, she subsequently encountered lots of other people whose treasured items had turned into clutter, and realised there was an opportunity to work on commission. After ransacking her wardrobe and raising £300 of seed money on eBay to buy photography equipment, Chiara set up a studio in her basement and launched Menage Modern Vintage, last year.
Here is Chiara Menage’s style profile:
Clothes are very important to me, a daily pleasure as simple as eating well. They are like old friends, I love them, look after them and keep them. I get enjoyment from finding the outfit that suits the mood or the occasion.
When I get dressed in the morning I’m thinking, Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now, or Angelica Houston/Faye Dunaway in absolutely anything. Classical, well-cut, coolly elegant. I tend to wear neutral colours and plain silhouettes, with maybe one special item or detail to make me feel cheerful. I love the Marni dress (in the above photo) because of it’s a great shape, but mainly because the fabric is so beautiful and the colours make me happy. I go for the feel of a fabric; texture is as important as pattern or colour. When scanning a clothes rail, I use my fingertips as much as my eyes. Comfort is important, high heels are a thing of the past and I wear trainers with everything unless I’m going somewhere special. I avoid anything with words, branding or logos, fast fashion, synthetic fabrics and overstated pieces.
When I worked in the film business I used to dress up more and buy quite expensive clothes, though I was never particularly interested in “fashion”. For some years now, with very few exceptions, I’ve only bought second-hand. I prefer finding, to shopping; you can afford much better in terms of design and quality, if you know how to look. I don’t think I’ve worn a new item of clothing for 14 years. Since I started the website, I’ve become increasingly aware of the compelling environmental argument and that clinches it, for me. I’m evangelical about slow fashion.
Menage Modern Vintage was a late career change. I’ve always collected clothes, and it was a friend’s daughter who suggested I start selling my unwanted pieces. I didn’t really think of it as a business initially, but I’ve learnt so much as a start-up. One thing I’m clear about is that I’m not putting any money in, I’m not doing anything – the business has to pay for itself. It’s so piecemeal!
People come to me to find one-of-a-kind items or whole collections. And I sell everything on commission. When I started talking about selling vintage clothing, I found lots of women had clothes they’d collected, or been given when friends or relatives had passed away. They felt quite emotionally attached to them and so wanted to give them to a good home.
The shirt in the first picture is vintage Hermés (exact vintage unknown but probably c.1970s) and it belonged to a very close friend, who died a few years ago. I used to love seeing her in it. It’s classy and fun and optimistic, very much like her. When I wear it I feel very connected to her. One of the things I love about wearing second-hand clothes is their associations with past owners, either imagined or real. I’m interested in the stories behind them, and so I’ve started a blog series called The Secret Life of Clothes on my website. The white trousers are by Loro Piana, they hold their shape and go with everything.. They’re from a charity shop – a real find as the quality is amazing and Loro Piana is usually unaffordable.