Byronesque Online Vintage Company, Timeless Quality
Byronesque Online Vintage Company features everything from personal shoppers, interviews with people such as Boy George and Vivienne Westwood, unique and original items for sale from YSL, Thierry Mugler, Alaïa to Chanel pieces - and many more. Their byline is: "We're not borrowing from the past, we're the future of fashion." And Byronesque are on a mission to break through the one-size-fits-all mentality of fast food fashion, to offer the public something of timeless quality – as Creative Mapping found out from founder Gill Linton.
Recycled clothing and accessories have - particularly in the last two decades - had something of a renaissance, not least in part to fashion icons such as Kate Moss becoming famous for her unique style, mixing and matching vintage with new and old world classy with rock. But it’s not just down to following style icons, recycled – or rather the more aptly named, vintage clothing – makes sense both environmentally (no waste is created as old clothes find new owners) and style-wise. In a world where we’re shown what to wear and how to wear it, vintage clothing and accessories allow us to be more unique and expressive in the face we show the world. It’s about originality, creativity and great style.
Byronesque Online Vintage Company: "We're not borrowing from the past, we're the future of fashion." Gill Linton
CM: Tell us briefly about your company and what you do.
Byronesque is a combined editorial and e-commerce website that treats designer vintage fashion with the same progressive creativity as contemporary fashion magazines and boutiques. Although we are a site dedicated to vintage fashion, we consider ourselves to be in the contemporary fashion business.
It came about from a personal frustration about the banality and homogeneity of fashion and how ‘vintage’ has become an abused marketing buzzword misappropriated by faux-vintage brands, thrift stores and resale boutiques.
Despite its growing popularity, the vintage fashion industry is outdated and difficult. Vintage stores are scattered around the world and poorly merchandised, on and offline, and the experience is an unsophisticated, and uninspiring rummage, marketed around clichéd retro imagery. For a sophisticated online fashion shopper, the ‘you never know what you might find’ associated with buying vintage is actually a very frustrating and unrewarding experience. Byronesque provides a discreet and carefully edited selection of authentic vintage apparel and accessories from retailers and private showrooms around the world, that consumers, stylists and designers, who rely on vintage fashion for inspiration, would otherwise not have easy access to.
Ultimately, we exist to challenge fashion and popular culture mediocrity and push people’s imaginations, so we don’t all look the same without adding more waste to the planet. Our editorial pays intellectual homage to the lives and minds of the most important people in fashion history, and the vintage we sell is edited from a growing network of the best vintage stores and private showrooms from around the world.
Right now the dominant culture is ‘fast’ and I wanted to slow it down and create something better, something polarizing. Fortunately so did our creative director, Justin Westover, and so here we are.
CM: Have you always had a passion for fashion?
God no, I used to be a tomboy, but I did do the ‘80s really well - I looked ridiculous. The older I got, the more I recognized that fashion is culturally important. I definitely cultivated my interest and taste in great design and design talent.
CM: Tell us about Byronesque – what your manifesto is and how you came about?
We live in a culture dominated by fakes and fast fashion. Where the authentic, original and vintage is stuck in the past and credit needs to be given to the people who did it better the first time around. Byronesque is the first combined editorial and e-commerce website that treats vintage fashion with the same progressive creativity as contemporary fashion magazines and boutiques. Our editorial pays intellectual homage to the lives and minds of the most important people in fashion history, whose work inspires us to challenge fashion and popular culture mediocrity. And our vintage is curated from the best vintage stores and private showrooms in the world. The clothes and accessories we sell have their own history, and their scars are their own unique stories.
We exist to provide a more meaningful alternative to bland, aspirational consumerism—an antidote to fast fashion and out-dated, nostalgic vintage that pushes our imaginations and inspires us to buy better clothes so we don't look like everyone else, without adding more waste to the planet. We’re subversive and irreverent, dark and discreet, intelligent and androgynously chic—everything you don’t expect from a brand about vintage fashion.
We are a community of creatives, designers and vintage retailers with a passion for well-made clothes by designers who challenged and pushed people’s imaginations 20 or more years ago. Nostalgia is the enemy of progress. We’re not borrowing from the past. We’re inspired by it to move things forward. That’s why vintage is the future of fashion.
CM: Who are some of the creative people involved in Byronesque?
Justin Westover is our Creative Director and he leads all our creative collaborations. So far we’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing people like Jake Chapman who wrote the introduction to still life photographer Brendan James’s work, which features scarred vintage items and the possible causes of their injuries.
20/20 is a talking head series featuring the people who created and champion subculture talking about their vintage inspirations – the people who did things better the first time around. The series kicked off with fashion film doyenne Diane Pernet, The Face Mag/Buffalo Boy icon Felix Howard, Unisex designer Rad Hourani, Neneh Cherry and Boy George.
Photographer Boris Ovini shot our John Galliano story celebrating his graduate collection and mourning the demise of fashion trouble makers:
On the writing side, we’ve worked with Diane Pernet, who wrote a brief history of the fashion critic for us, poignantly called “Who Watches the Watchmen” a nod to that state of true fashion criticism today.
Roger Burton is the savior of vintage subculture. He supplied and styled the cult movie Quadrophenia, launched PX in London, worked closely with Bowie to style his very public image, and designed The World’s End store for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Not to mention he’s worked with Depeche Mode, Culture Club, Blondie, and The Human League. None of this even begins to capture the magnitude of Burton’s contribution to and creative influence on popular culture. Featuring rare footage of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood filmed by Burton himself, The Contemporary Wardrobe is the first chapter of Burton’s autobiography written exclusively for Byronesque.com. We love him.
“It really has been an incredible journey, and with each encounter there is a story to tell. I am extremely flattered that the editors of Byronesque.com have asked me to relate a series of my personal tales, with all the twists, coincidences and discoveries I made along the way.
Subconsciously, I must have always sensed that old clothes, like buildings, are permeated with a spirit, memory, and presence of their previous owner. The creases, the scuffs, the wear marks, snags, stains, and battle scars found in vintage clothes give each item a unique history, and it is precisely this history, or provenance, that collectors like myself instinctively recognize and want to possess. Using vintage clothes merely as a tool to reflect history is all well and good, but I also believe that they should have a fresh life, and thankfully there are a growing number of us who are passionate about reinterpreting the way classic vintage items can be worn. I am excited to say that this will be the main thrust and styling direction of the editorial pages in Byronesque.com.” - Roger Burton.
Among other things, we recently commissioned a cover of “I think we’re alone now” by Tiffany, by Zebra Katz which is released on his new mix tape. We’re about to release an interview with Vivienne Westwood about her latest revolution and also a talking head interview with Irene Silvagni who worked alongside Yohji Yamamoto for many years.
CM: Tell us more about Creative Director Justin Westover – he’s already had an impressive career:
After working for artist Matthew Barney in New York, Westover returned to London to work for the Anthony d’Offay gallery. It was at the gallery in the early 1990’s that he befriended a number of young British artists that would come to define that period. He eventually left the gallery to pursue his own photography. He began by taking portraits of his artist friends in their studios and soon progressed to making photographic works in collaboration with them. Those artists include: Sam Taylor-Wood, Mat Collishaw, Jane & Louise Wilson, Philippe Bradshaw, Adam Chodzko, Cerith Wyn Evans, Darren Almond, Rachel Whiteread, Abigail Lane and Jake & Dinos Chapman. Westover continues to work with many of these artists, often creating collaborative projects with them. He collaborated with the artist Mat Collishaw on the Autumn/Winter Campaign for Vivienne Westwood. He joined forces with British artists Jake & Dinos Chapman to complete a fashion shoot- come Savile Row food fight for Esquire magazine. He created a piece with Paul Noble for Noble’s recent show at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. He worked extensively on projects for RS&A in London with the artists they represent- Maurizio Cattelan, George Condo and Damien Hirst, among others. He’s also worked with other international artists including Marina Abramovic, Paolo Canevari and Paul McCarthy.
Westover is an accomplished photographer. His work has been featured in the pages of many leading international fashion, style and music magazines including Dazed & Confused, Another Magazine, Rolling Stone, and GQ as well as numerous commissions for the Independent on Saturday, Guardian Weekend and Sunday Times Magazine. In the course of his work as a fashion and portrait photographer he has worked with bands and musicians including: Moloko, Jay Kay, Paul Weller, Bobby Gillespie and Skint Records. Westover also shoots portraits of artists for magazines, catalogues and galleries.
CM: What inspired you towards vintage clothing?
We’ve been conditioned to expect things faster and cheaper and it’s spiralling out of control. If you can buy a complete outfit for £5.00, someone somewhere is getting royally fucked. Not only is it morally wrong its killing creativity and the planet. When was the last time you had that moment when you knew you had witnessed something important in fashion history that is ‘future vintage’? I’m going to come out and say that democracy isn’t good for the fashion industry, on many levels. To that end, we launched Byronesque with a fashion film called “The Common Herd”, inspired by the imposed herd mentality of George Orwell’s “1984,’ and the 19th century poet, Jens Peter Jacobsen who wrote about a “company of melancholiacs,” “a secret confraternity…who by natural constitution have been given a different nature and disposition than the others…that wish and demand more…than that of the common herd.” The film, directed by Simon Burrill and featuring an original track written for us by New York band, The Black Soft, depicts clones in blue overalls, similar to those worn in Orwell’s “1984”, and wearing red masks to emphasize the anonymity of contemporary culture. ‘90s super model Eve Salvail literally tears the herd a new one, while wearing authentic designer vintage that is available to buy exclusively on Byronesque.com.
There aren’t any subcultures anymore. It’s easy for people to dismiss fashion as being frivolous and superficial (frankly most of it is) but when you look back at some of the most seminal subcultures in history, how people dressed played an important role in shaping identity, attitudes and beliefs. You only have to look at teddy girls, mods, punks, skinheads and new romantics etc. They all had a point of view and you were either with them or against them. It created diverse groups that creatively inspired each other – it’s how subcultures morph, bifurcate and grow.
But fashion has become so driven by ‘corporate profit first’, that it’s hard to be really inspired anymore. We launched “Out of Hand” during fashion week this past February, a campaign about the current state of the fashion industry that features thought-provoking quotes by some of our cultural heroes.
• “It’s getting out of hand”- Ian Curtis
• “Buy less, choose well”- Vivienne Westwood
• “Your future dream is a shopping scheme”- Johnny Rotten
• “I never think that people die, they just go to department stores” – Andy Warhol
Of course, Curtis wasn’t originally speaking about the fashion industry— it’s from his 1979 song ‘Disorder.’ But placed in the context of Fashion Week, the complete line from the song, ‘It’s getting faster, moving faster now, it’s getting out of hand,’ perfectly describes our point of view as a vintage retailer that promotes authenticity and originality over the mass market consumerism and ‘fast fashion’ that dominates the industry. Designers are under pressure to create too many collections each year, only to be copied in mass quantities by the high street. The pillaging of vintage archive looks and designers' ideas has become the accepted order of business, when we should take inspiration from the people who did things better the first time around and create something authentically new. Instead, we're going around in fast creative circles rather than making progress.
Fashion week should be a privilege. Only for the most creative, inspired minds. Who push our imaginations and challenge today's overly commercial fashion mediocrity. We created #OUTOFHAND for the fashion troublemaker’s.
I also have a romanticized ideal of designers and their creative process from 20 years ago or more, long before fashion was more like a commodities business.
CM: How do you source your vintage finds?
We partner with vintage retailers and showrooms around the world that share our sense of style, that only deal in authentic vintage and who have unrivalled access to private vintage sales and auctions. We’re tapped into a pretty impressive network of vintage experts, which is what inspired our personal shopper service. Authentic vintage is 20 years or older—we’re establishing the first global standard for authentic vintage fashion that is defined by the design quality, craftsmanship, provenance and heritage of a piece. The designers and designs we carry have had a significant impact in fashion history.
There’s a misnomer in the industry that ‘just because it’s old, it’s good’ which isn’t true and it’s why people often look like they’ve stepped off the set of a period drama. Other than the obvious quality standards, we look for items that aren’t easy to date and can easily be worn with contemporary designs—we provide style notes for every item we sell.
Initially, I spent a lot of time going to vintage retailers across the main fashion capitals, narrowing down the real vintage from the thrift and the ugly. We only partner with retailers and showrooms that share our sense of style, that only deal in authentic vintage and who have unrivalled access to private vintage sales and auctions. Our head of merchandise, Renee Bejil, is also the owner of The New World Order. He closed his store to join the company and to sell exclusively through Byronesque. He has a very contemporary approach to vintage and a lot of experience buying from global markets—being a very successful retailer himself makes him an invaluable resource for our retail partners. I’m happy to say we get a lot of compliments about our merchandise selection.
CM: How does your ‘Back Room’ concept work?
“The Back Room” is a paid for subscription for fashion designers. Our initial research told us that very creative, avant-garde fashion designers, and stylists, who don’t follow trends, are massively underserved online. The best vintage stores and showrooms have a ‘back room’ where they keep their really special pieces. Often these items aren’t for sale but are an important source of knowledge and inspiration for designers. A subscription to ‘The Back Room’ gives designers unique access to inspirational vintage and editorial content, without having to invest significant amounts of time and money on research and travel.
As a subscriber to ‘The Back Room’, designers get:
- First refusal on all new items and private sales before anyone else
- Rentals on special and rare items
- A dedicated collection of inspiration pieces for designers only
- Exclusive design specific inspirational editorial content
- A growing archive of beautifully photographed vintage items
- A service sourcing items from our network of global retailers based on a design brief
We’re not driven by trends—that b2b market is very well catered to and Byronesque is a complementary service not a replacement to that market. The difference is that while most trend sites report and forecast mainstream trends our editorial and product inspiration is based on hidden or forgotten subcultures told in a very contemporary way and designed to engage design teams, not the marketing or sales departments. They have very different needs.
Our writers and the people we feature on the site did things better the first time around. If we haven’t been inspired or surprised by a story or item then we won’t run it or sell it. We’re not concerned with reporting what every else can see, we’re a creative solution and our priority is to inject creativity back in to the fashion industry by supporting real designers.
It’s my hope that we’ll provide directional designers and stylists with the inspiration and tools to be the next fashion troublemakers, because without them the fast guys will win.
We don’t knowingly sell Back Room subscriptions to fast-fashion brands.
CM: ‘Personal shopper’ is another concept unique to Byronesque – tell us more:
Everything we sell has been carefully merchandised from the most credible vintage stores and showrooms in the world who have unrivalled access to private vintage sales and auctions. This means we’re tapped into a pretty impressive network of vintage experts. If you’re looking for something in particular, or an item isn’t your size or has already sold, we’ll do our best to find a similar item for you. Obviously everything we sell has it’s own unique story, so we can never find the exact same item, but that’s why we wear vintage.
CM: Your clothes and products are high end – has the global recessions been a challenge?
No. As a small niche brand, the real challenge is standing out from celebrity driven fashion mediocrity.
CM: What has been the highlight of your vintage finds so far?
It’s usually the pieces they wont sell – which is why we’re launching rentals with the Back Room at the end of the year. The most surprising thing has been how emotionally attached the retailers are to certain pieces. I’ve had to fight them for some, only for them to take it back—it’s like giving away their first born for some of them. While we want to sell these kinds of pieces on the site, at the same time, I admire their respect for the heritage and stories behind them. We’re currently running a two-part story called “L’Incroyable” featuring rare pieces from John Galliano’s graduate collection from our London retailer – it’s definitely a highlight for me. We’ve had many requests from collectors to buy it, but the only person Jeff Ihenacho, who owns One of A Kind in London, will ever sell them to is Galliano himself. You have to respect that.
CM: How can you be sure a vintage piece is authentic?
The retailers we partner with are very experienced and have been buying and selling for decades. We also have a team of fashion historians who research and authenticate every item we sell on the site. The real fakes are faux vintage knock offs, resale and thrift masquerading as vintage. As I mentioned, authentic vintage is 20 years or older, but because “vintage” has so much fashion cred today it’s become an abused marketing buzzword. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good either—it’s why we’re establishing the first global standard for vintage and in doing so we hope people will buy less fast-fashion.
What are some of the challenges you face in your unique line of work?
Without question, the biggest challenge has been integrating an international shipping platform. The carriers are so far behind online retail, it’s a joke. And standing out from banal celebrity culture. But then that’s why we exist.
CM: Do film companies and TV companies and magazines approach you to use your clothes for shoots and editorial? Can you tell us who they are?
We get requests all the time, mostly from stylist. We tend to loan out to a trusted few who we know will take care of these one of a kind pieces, like Havana Lafitte who we recently interviewed – look out for that story coming out soon. She’s awesome, one of our favourite people to interview.
CM: Who are some of your more famous clients?
We recently sold a leather biker dress as worn by Grace Jones to the F.I.T archives, which is the perfect public home for it. Otherwise, we don’t talk about celebrity culture or clients.
CM: Who is your favourite style icon past and present?
I’m generally drawn to designers who really made a difference. It might be something I wouldn’t wear myself, but the designer did something to really move things on, something culturally significant. I started Byronesque because most people who wear vintage look like they've stepped out of an Austin Powers movie or Mad Men, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but I find the nostalgia of vintage really ugly. I’m much more interested in dark, mysterious pieces that can’t be figured out and that can be from the ‘30s or the ‘90s. But having said that, I am a total sucker for a Seditionairies T-shirt, so anything from Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex and Seditionaries collections. You can feel their “fuck you” and “anything is possible” attitude. It’s visceral and very inspiring.
CM: What inspires you about living and working in New York?
Culturally, the U.K expects you to live the lives of Eastenders, (being a Brit abroad, I can say that.) In New York, people want you to succeed. Although I wish they were less risk averse when it comes to fashion. But that’s also why we exist.
CM: What would a dream creative collaboration be for you?
Galliano. We’d re-launch him if we could.
CM: 5 favorite music tracks that help you work?
Between me and Justin, we’re currently listening to;
1. Ultravox – best of
2. Demitiris does Disco
3. Aphex Twin – Windowlicker
4. Tristesse Contemporaine - I Didn't Know
5. Prince - all the critics love u in New York
CM: If you had to live another life entirely, what would you be doing - and why?
I’d rescue dogs and give them an awesome home.