Thursday, April 5, 2007

Vintage Triangle

by Anita Sarko

Nestled along the northern-most border of Gramercy (an area not yet Murray Hill, but melding into what’s jokingly referred to as Curry Hill) exists a treasure trove for thrift aficionados. The three points of light are Housing Works Gramercy (157 East 23rd St), City Opera Thrift Shop (222 E. 23rd St.) and the redundantly named The Vintage Thrift Shop (286 Third Ave.)

Do not be put off by either the characterless nature of the area or the presence of a Salvation Army and a Goodwill; the aforementioned oases of fabulousness have zero in common with those well-meaning, but dingy and mothball-scented, dumpster-diving emporiums. For example, I once donated a huge couch to Housing Works and, despite the clean and professionally created slipcover, I had to prove that what lay beneath was in pristine condition. The same happened when I TRIED to donate my husband’s worn-out Hugo Boss shoes to City Opera. They very sweetly pointed me to the Salvation Army next door.
Wooden Desk ($165), Gramercy Housing Works.
Chest of Drawers ("Just In: To Be Priced"),
Gramercy Housing Works.
Because Housing Works is so well known, I will say the least about them. It is best to access their extraordinary windows through their online sites because the items within are always up for auction. The items inside the shop are, for the most part, for sale. The best items in any Housing Works store are the furniture and household staples, like dishes and glasses or serving pieces.

Most recently, I scored some gorgeous Chinese silk-covered legal-sized boxes ($12 each), that are great holders for unsightly papers, and Copco stainless-steel pots and pans that were in perfect condition and a fraction of their worth. However, the women’s clothing, unless you’re very lucky at auction or with whatever was donated that week, usually runs towards Power Suits and Sensible Shoes.
The only wondrous clothing item I’ve been able to score there, except for the occasional denim skirt by Ralph Lauren, was a spectacular cashmere-blend sweater jacket with fake fur collar by Joseph ($75); I never took it off all fall and most of the winter. The men’s wear is a BIT better, especially if your taste is preppy or you’re feeling sentimental for Bill Cosby sweaters.
L. to r.: Boudoir Chair ($150), Gramercy Housing Works; Daniel Hechter Wool Coat ($65), Gramercy Housing Works.
Ralph Lauren Cashmere Blazer ($125), City Opera Thrift Shop.
City Opera Thrift Shop is unbearably addictive. It’s great to get there when one mysterious donor sends in her barely worn (if worn at all) Manolos from the previous year that she refuses to keep for the following years. You’ll find tons of Ralph Lauren (like the recent full rack of never-worn tuxedos for men), Escada, Armani, Sylvia Heisel, Theory, oddball French labels and the occasional Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander and agnes b. I’m loving my Heisel cashmere Chinese-collared column coat I found for under $100, the never–worn Escada gold alligator court heels ($150) and a never–worn late Sixties/early Seventies metallic-shot glen-plaid high-waisted wool maxi-skirt from Biba ($125).

I later found a photo of the matching coat in a book about Biba’s glory years, so that skirt is, obviously, quite the collector’s item. City Opera’s furniture is lovely, there are monstrous cookbook invasions and, needless to say, the music for sale (and played) is wonderful.
Spring Suit Jackets ($35-$65), City Opera Thrift Shop.
Summer Porch Couch ($450), City Opera Thrift Shop.
Special occurrences are the arrival of VINTAGE (as opposed to just old clothing…and no matter how elegant), the coat sale (they have GREAT coats) and the opera costumes that appear in time for Halloween (heavy on capes and military garb). Though they carry petites, there is an entire section devoted to the more bodacious form. Remember, “It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings!” and City Opera ain’t exactly a strip joint!
L. to r.: Bonwit Teller 60's Wool Coat, The Vintage Thrift Shop; Azzedine Alaia Two-Piece Knit, The Vintage Thrift Shop.
Chaise Lounge ($450): The Vintage Thrift Shop.
The most surprising of the three is the easily missed The Vintage Thrift Shop. The dreary entrance might confuse you into thinking this is rather low-market, but it’s well worth fighting your way past the initial jumble. Everything is identified by decade and they really know their stuff. The biggest finds are from the Sixties and Seventies, especially if you are young and/or slim enough to look ironic wearing what cool moms and dads wore back then.

Along with the high-end department store labels you’ll find clothing with either no labels (meaning that they were made by dressmakers) or torn-out labels (meaning that they were bought in Europe and the buyer didn’t want to declare them at Customs). For the rest of us, there’s great surprises from such gems as Burberry, Courreges, Lacroix, Geoffrey Beene and Prada.
I once found an odd boiled wool and vinyl Prada skirt for $28 because the vinyl panels were cracked. I replaced them with jet beaded-detailed sequined panels and it looked spectacular. Later, I found a piece from this collection on eBay with a price tag north of $1000.

Squeeze yourself through to the rear of the store to check out the furniture and tschotskes. The furniture generally falls into two niches: Custom-made for a wealthy Long Island abode or hipster mid-century. Knick-knack-wise, there are a lot of crystal and silver serving pieces, Israeli souvenirs and ancient household treasures (how about a complete orange carnival glass punch bowl and cup set from the Forties for $40?). The music gears towards the Sixties, the book selection is eclectic and the art is a kitsch-fanatic’s dream.

Depending on your financial circumstances, you’ll either love me or damn me for the above advice. At the VERY least, it's a fun way to while away a lazy weekend afternoon, n'est-ce pas?