Lillian McKnight • 16 July 2012

In recent years, vintage clothing has come a long way from the mothball scented emporia that sell questionably stained polyester blouses and itchy, oversized jumpers. These days, second-hand has become a curatorial affair— its purveyors are not simply the sort to shove all of last season’s cast-offs in a garbage bag to be dumped in a Lifeline bin. Cara Weinstock, founder of online vintage boutique Cara Mia Vintage, is a perfect example of this new breed.

The assortment of vintage designer wear stocked by Cara Mia Vintage is selected and styled with the sort of savvy and care generally reserved for stores trading in the brand new. Indicative of this is the vibrant new lookbook, styled by Pip Edwards and shot by Steven Chee.

From Chanel bouclé to iconic Versace safety pin dresses, Cara’s curatorial prowess is more than evident. In the latest installment of pages SHOP TALK, we talk to Cara Weinstock about the value of vintage, sourcing her wares and turning a hobby into a business.

pages: What prompted you to open your store?
The short answer is probably that I collected way too many vintage pieces and started to run out of room to store them! The long answer is that I wasn’t feeling creatively fulfilled in my former career (law) and craved the challenges and independence that come along with owning your own business.

The germ of the idea for Cara Mia Vintage was born long ago, but it has taken me quite some time to fully realise the creative concept, and to accrue the necessary knowledge and experience to allow me to offer my clients the absolute crème de la crème of vintage fashion. Every single Cara Mia Vintage piece is unique, high quality and has a real history and pedigree, which in my opinion is what makes vintage clothing so desirable in today’s world of ‘fast fashion’.

What sets your store apart from others?
I think two of the defining qualities of Cara Mia Vintage are the curatorial and styling aspects, which are crucial to the overall experience. When I buy for the store, I am not just looking for a certain era or designer, but for something really special, whether that be a standout piece from a certain collection like the fur shorts from Vivienne Westwood’s 1991 ‘Portrait’ collection, or a piece that really encapsulates the mood of a certain time or place, like the enormous oversized 1960s Pucci sunglasses which always make me imagine fabulous jet-setting socialites in St Barts!

I also always aim to present the vintage pieces in a fresh, modern way that will appeal to a fashion savvy clientele. I often have customers purchase a head to toe ‘look’ rather than a single piece, although I do also love to see how different people will take a piece and make it their own by putting a personal spin on it. I think that when most people think of vintage stores, the first thing that springs to mind is nanas and mothballs, and my aim is definitely to dispel that notion!

What first attracted you to making a business out of vintage fashion?
I have been collecting vintage since I was in my teens, and as I travelled the world and learnt more about different designers and eras my ‘hobby’ became a full-blown obsession. Every new city I visited, one of the first things I would do was to check out the local flea markets and op shops looking for treasures. I would find things that weren’t even remotely my size or style but fall in love with them and simply have to have them!

One of the things that I love the most about vintage pieces is that they are literally relics from the past, so I like to think of myself as a fashion archeologist on the hunt for sartorial rarities – kind of like Indiana Jones but with cuter shoes.

How do you go about sourcing such high-quality, haute vintage?
I honestly find things everywhere – I am one of those freaks who will walk up to a rack of sad secondhand discards and pull out the one designer piece in the bunch, which always annoys my friends! But I think that happening across those kind of pieces is a combination of being in the right place at the right time and having the knowledge to identify those pieces when you come across them.

One of my favourite writers, Malcolm Gladwell, describes his ’10,000 hours’ theory in the book Outliers, which basically says that anyone can become an expert at anything if they spend 10,000 hours practicing that discipline. While it may be strange to think of buying vintage in those terms, I think it is because I have literally spent so much time searching eBay, researching designers from different eras and reading old fashion magazines and books that I am able to pick out a piece that is ‘important’ amidst a room full of junk.

What criteria do you follow in selecting your stock?
I am attracted to beauty, quality, uniqueness and great design, and of course I am a sucker for labels, particularly European, and most particularly anything emblazoned with a double C logo!

What are your top three product picks?
The Alaïa butterfly leotard is killer and very evocative of the whole Christy/Cindy/Naomi 90’s supermodel era. The Chanel pastel tweed jacket is an absolute classic but done in such a unique and rare colour way – it’s like Minnie Mouse and Karl Lagerfeld had a one-night stand and this was the result. The Versace safety pin dress is another piece that is just so rooted in a certain time and place but looks just as fresh today as it did twenty years ago!

pages picks: Hoop logo earring by Chanel, cropped jacket by Emanuel Ungaro and sunglasses by Emilio Pucci

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