On St. Mary’s near Southtown sits a lively storefront presided over by a flirty mannequin wearing a voluminous yellow skirt and striped tube top. She seems to be enjoying the fleetingly cool weather. Beside her stands a rack of summer dresses waltzing in the wind, waving to the cars as they pass by.
The petite brick store, labeled with a lime-green and yellow decal, was founded by San Antonio International Academy of Fashion and Design students Crystel Franco and Karla Ramirez. Despite its parking obstacles, it remains in business after two years, and has developed a reputation for its exquisite collection of vintage dresses, and just as elaborate collection of ponchos.
The shop itself is handmade, in a way — established by vintage collector Ramirez in the late ’90s out of the trunk of her car in Monterrey, Mexico. Ramirez’s thirst for affordable, unique trends as a teen living in Monterrey, and the feeling that she wasn’t alone in this, prompted her to open a store in the city’s artsy district, Barrio Antigua. Praise and encouragement from her customers inspired her to open shop in San Antonio in 2008 while attending school.
“We offer one-of-a-kind pieces,” says Ramirez. “The appeal of vintage is its uniqueness.”
A string of purses dangle on a tall hanger to the right of the entrance. A handmade, Mexican-designed, crossover leather purse with a broken latch catches my attention, even with its handicap.
Just inside the narrow hallway artworks by local artists hang above a couch and coffee table which, instead of books, bears the weight of suitcases stuffed with scarves and shoes. Patent-leather clutches and elastic belts lie in cases sitting side by side and resting against the magenta walls. After close inspection, I realize the purses are in nearly new condition despite their apparent age contours.
The shop is segregated like a department store; in the middle you’ll find everyday dresses from an array of decades, while towards the corner prom gowns from the ’80s and ’90s brush the floor. Beside them sway heavy embroidered evening cocktail dresses, their hand finishes, unusual buttons, beading, and knits in immaculate condition.
To the right of the entrance, you’ll find the men’s department, composed mainly of blazers, sweaters, and long-sleeved shirts — but it’s what’s beside them that catches my attention: ponchos. Granted, I’ve never actually seen anyone wear one during the summer, but shop girl and vintage curator April Gerloff maintains that the poncho is one of their most popular items, as well as the apron.
To the left you’ll find cardigans and faux fur vests, and blouses glistening with sequins. Near the register, spot a fine collection of leather gloves and hats, with lace poking out of them but stacked neatly on top of each other.
Perhaps more special than Vintage House’s dresses is the collection of accessories in the bold colors of the late ’80s and early ’90s — hot pinks and electric blues — and grandma-style reading glasses that still have the prescription lenses in them.
The store’s collection embodies the personal style of its owners. Ramirez shrieks Blondie and Pat Benatar, complete with puffy sleeves in an avant-garde ’70s style, while Franco embraces the younger, edgier look of the Lady Gaga generation, though her favorite pieces include ’50s dresses, fitted at the waist with a lot of flare. “I’m a really big fan of designer Emanuel Ungaro, and Björk,” says Franco.
When it comes to choosing their merchandise, they’re impulsive. Everything is handpicked from everywhere and anywhere. “I just grab things. I pick a lot of wearable clothes, things to go out in every day. A real treasure is form-fitting design that you don’t need to alter,” Ramirez says. They plan everything in the store to coincide with current trends; they do their research.
Vintage House has a couple of shoppers who scour Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, but the real search for vintage stretches far beyond, including online shopping for the newest-oldest pieces, miles outside of Texas.
Franco and Ramirez just received a shipment of back stock from the 1960s. We’re talking necklaces that never went out on the sales floor, carved with portraits of women’s profiles that double as brooches, in bronze, gold, and soft pinks and blues.
The Vintage House inventory changes constantly; they never have anything in the store for longer than four months. Ramirez, Franco et al. buy anywhere from 300-400 items monthly; the prices range from $7 to $40, and everything is at least 20 years old.
Big things happen outside of the quite narrow walls of the shop, too. Every First Friday, Vintage House holds a party featuring a variety of musicians and a fashion show. The proprietors like to think of it as a once-a- month networking event — not only for fashionistas, but for every music and art lover. •
628 S. St. Mary’s
Open Mon-Sat 1-8pm