I’ve been obsessed with vintage clothes my entire life. In those hoary days before the Internet, my best source for 40s frocks were the vendors I’d haunt at flea markets and thrift shops. Some go into selling antiques because they’d rather deal with things than people. The technical term for those professionals is “grumpy assholes”. (or in French, “people”. ) Then there are the wonderful people who love vintage clothes and the people who wear them. Or as I call them, “friends”. Their expertise includes both antique clothes and what you like, and they match you with what you like and what will fit. They know the history of clothes and how to creatively put them together so you look cool and stylish and not Grey Gardens-ish. One of these friends is super dame Lulu. Her name is Yardena Lulu in business and on Instagram, but everyone just calls her Lulu. (If she has a last name, I’ve never heard her or anyone use it).
Born in Israel, she emigrated to the United States decades ago to perform in a club and decided to stay and pursue her career as a singer and a bandleader. (She was on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin!) As a performer, she’d always been on the lookout for beautiful gowns and interesting garments to wear onstage. As the years went on, Lulu found she’d accumulated quite a collection of gorgeous, unique pieces. “Having had children and family to support, I needed extra money, so I went back to where I used to buy my clothes to sell my collection, and that’s how it started.”
Lulu’s life as a performer meant she had curated quite the collection of treasures. “Being an entertainer, I had many different styles that were appropriate for the time that I lived in. They ranged from bohemian and rock-and-roll styles to high-end elegance. My style is eclectic and I’m confident in mixing and matching. No rules – I think of it as ‘rock-and-roll with a twist.’”
Lulu soon found that what she liked so did others. Her enthusiasm and love of the clothes was contagious. “The reason why I like vintage clothing is the fact that it survives all these years. The fabrics that were used. The stitches, the patterns are still beautiful today. And even more for the quality, the tailoring. They’re classics. Just like music. Take the Beatles. You listen to them today. They’re still fresh. I still find their music so fresh like it was written today. That’s how I feel about the beauty and the freshness and quality of the clothing. Whether they were from the 20’s, 40’s or 60’s, they speak to me.”
Loving and finding beautiful vintage clothing is one thing – starting and maintaining a success business is another. “Having your own business can be very challenging. You have to be willing to go with the flow of business rhythms. There’s no guarantee for success. It really helps if you have passion for what you want to sell. I feel like I’m as much an advocate as a salesperson.” And if anyone has any fantasies about glamorously lounging about while selling and styling vintage frocks, think again. “This business is veryphysical,” explains Lulu. “It’s incredibly labor-intensive and requires lots of hours of work. It takes a long time to find the items, clean them, fix them, tag them, to set up and break down. You arrive to set-up at flea markets at the break of day and by day’s end you are exhausted.”
Speaking of exhaustion, as one who used to scour flea markets and thrift shops for clothes but who now largely relies on eBay for vintage pieces, I asked Lulu what impact the Internet has had on her business. “The rise of the internet and a lot of retail shops with extremely low prices has young people looking for discounted clothing. They’re not so interested in how the garments are tailored or in the great designers,” sighs Lulu. “Also, the designers used to come to us, but now their interests and budgets have changed, which translates to their businesses changing, which has meant less and less shopping with us.” As Lulu and I are both women over 50, I wonder if she, like me, is largely a consumer rather than a producer when it comes to social media. “I must admit,” says Lulu, it’s not my thing. Although I do play with Instagram or Facebook I understand that it works very well for people that know how to work it. But it’s not my favorite thing.”
As with any entrepreneurial endeavor, there are positives and negatives . “The challenge is you never know. There are no guarantees, there’s no 9 to 5. But then there is independence. You do what you like when you like. And you hope that it will bring rewards.” Lulu’s independent and creative spirit is well-suited to her chosen profession, as is her desire to help other women enjoy the clothes and themselves in them. “As a buyer, I really buy what I like. As a seller, I like to help someone to put together styles they sometimes were not open to. A lot of women don’t feel comfortable with their bodies. I find myself the stylist but also the nurturer. The one who puts the client at ease and make her feel her beauty.”
Talking to Lulu, it’s easy to see that the part of the business she likes best is helping people enjoy the clothes as much as she does. And find themselves in the bargain. “My concept in fashion is wear what you feel makes you happy, loose, comfortable and sexy. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Just express yourself. As long as you know who you are. Fashion is not static. Each day is a new day. And each day you feel different. Be free. Pick according to how you feel that day. Rebel, elegant, rock-and-roll, hippie…whatever works for you that day.” Ultimately, Lulu wants her buyers to understand the clothing’s intricacies and value, and especially, for her customers to know their own worthas well.
“What I do is a service and a pleasure. I discover beautiful vintage clothing; looking for patterns, looking for designs. Like the designer houses, I consider myself the bridge, the bridge that brings inspiration to all that seek it.”
You can find Lulu and her amazing clothes and accessories weekends at the 25thStreet flea market in New York City, on Facebook as Yardena Lulu, and on Instagram as @nyluluvintage. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org