Kate Mallow is also known as the Fashion Maven in Reading Eagle’s weekly Got Club column which I happen to be the author of. She travels with me at times on my club crawls and as such would be a signatory member of the Lange Gange if there was such a thing as signatory members. Half of my closet is filled with clothing from Kate. She was a natural to do costumes for us. Her specialty is “vintage” clothing.
Sue:: Kate, where and how did we meet?
Kate: I recall we met through Vicki & RTP. Yes? It might have been in her kitchen, when you came over for something with Vicki & I was there caring for Abraham. Or maybe at T.E.A. Factory.
Sue: T.E.A. Yes, I think so. Liz Clark was doing a SWOT analysis for Reading Theater Project. If I recall you were egging her on. How did you get started working with vintage clothing?
Kate: I’ve been into all things vintage for pretty much as long as I can remember. When I was a toddler, my parents would go to NYC, from Reading, every fall and spring, for a weekend of Broadway musicals. They’d come back with the cast albums. I was already mad about musical theater and would play the records to death, learn every song, and then create costumes out of old clothes (usually my grandmothers’) for little performances. I can still remember my get-up, around age 5, wearing a 1940’s skirt and an old straw hat with flowers, when I belted out “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” on a suburban patio at a Memorial Day picnic. Thank goodness there were no smartphones back then.
By the time I was in my early teens, I was already such a junkie, my entire wardrobe was mostly vintage, scoured from flea markets and thrift shops. (That was also a “hippie thing” and I was definitely a “hippie-chick.”) But it’s never waned, my love of vintage — including decorative arts, in addition to whatever adorns the body.
In undergraduate school, I studied costume history and fiber arts. I made “wearable art” —hey, it was the ’70’s — often re-purposing vintage materials into my designs. I once made a 1920’s-inspired cocoon coat entirely from 1920’s table linens I dyed, pieced together and then embellished with applique and embroidery. During that time, I also worked for a wonderfully eccentric film and costume company: Apocalyptic Productions. The founder of Apocalyptic had also done work on John Waters’ early films. It was a very “vibrant” time!
In my late 20’s, I began turning my passion for everything vintage into a part-time business, buying and selling antique and vintage clothes, accessories, jewelry, and home decor. Also designing costumes for people in the creative and performing arts. In its current iteration, “Re-Fashion” also offers style consulting and personal shopping.
Sue: What other theatrical and film work have you done?
Kate: I’ve done costuming for plays while I was still in high school (Reading Civic Opera Society and also Genesius, in its infancy). Also costumes and make-up for some children’s theater in Hoboken. An old Hoboken friend was the Costume Designer for The Sopranos and a few pieces from my collection adorned Carmella (one of her signature chain belts, for example). In NYC, I helped costume the play I also acted in: an adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Birds. And of course helped with Reading Theater Project’s Speakeasy. I’ve helped stage numerous fashion shoots over the years. And then for the recent Reading FilmFest, served as Gene London’s assistant for his fashion show of vintage Hollywood Glamour.
Sue: Wow, you’ve done a lot of interesting stuff. What exactly determines if something is “vintage?”
Kate: The general consensus seems to be… If it’s at least 20-25 yrs. old, it’s vintage. If 50+ yrs. old, antique.
Sue: Ah. Is that just for clothing? Antique furniture, I believe, has to be 100 years old to be considered antique. I’d heard. Could be wrong.
Kate: 100 is often used for furniture and decorative arts — auction houses, especially tend to use that gauge. Something from the ‘1920’s, now, would probably be considered an “antique,” though, technically, it’s not yet 100 yrs. old.
Sue: So you collect nothing more than 25 years old. Is clothing older than that even wearable? I mean, considering how textiles tend to break down.
Kate: I’ve long had clothing and accessories in my collection that are far older than technically “vintage.” Personally, I’m a huge Mid-Century Modern fan–especially Schiaparelli, Lanvin, Norell, and Pucci. I also love the ’20’s, with all those unconstructed and drop-waist garments for women. So comfortable to wear and just so very “forgiving” for most every body-type! That’s why I also adore Eileen Fisher–one of my most favorite contemporary designers. Also Miyake.
Leather goods and hats, for example, tend to be more durable than say, lace gloves or silk underwear. Of course a lot of it has to do with how a piece has been worn, cleaned (or not) and/or stored. The latter is especially important. Not only the climate (both temperature and relative humidity), but also the storage materials. I tend to use unbleached muslin as both padding for fragile areas and as covering material. It’s neutral and allows the fibers to “breath,” while also providing a barrier for “environmental elements.” If something is particularly fragile, I’ve been known to carefully roll it in unbleached muslin for storage. Acid-free tissue can also be used, but sometimes interacts negatively, depending upon the constituent components. For example, I had a fabulous purple felt and velvet hat from the late teens (20th Century), that changed color, due to being padded and wrapped in acid-free tissue. It was probably something in the dye that didn’t “like” the acid-free tissue.
Probably TMI. As per my usual.
Sue: You’re fine. Tell me what are some of your favorite movies in terms of costuming and art direction?
Kate: What a great question!
The first that comes to mind: the glorious Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The legendary Edith Head, coordinating a mix of stunning designers’ work. Audrey Hepburn’s gorgeous Givenchy’s — oh my!! But also, Patricia Neal’s Pauline Trigère ensembles. While Trigère’s were less deliberately monochromatic than the costumes I put together for Rashieda’s buttoned-up character in your film, that brown, bonded wool matching coat and dress (from the early ’60’s) evoke the same muted palette and understated elegance of Trigère’s costumes for Neal in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Ditto with the vintage pale gray Les Copains jacket I used for Rashieda’s other costume in your film.
Another favorite is Jean Muir’s costumes for Patricia Hodge in the brilliant film of Harold Pinter’s semi-autobiographical play, Betrayal. Muir has long been another favorite fashion designer. Have you ever seen this movie? It’s really marvelous — esp. the structure
Sue: No, and it’s not on Netflix either. Harold Pinter is not lowest common denominator material.
Kate: And then of course most every Wes Anderson film is loaded with gems, both in costuming and especially art direction. His astutely quirky visual eye is unmatched in contemporary film-making.
I could go on and on…we’d be here all day….
Sue: Yeah, okay. Guess we need to wrap up. Anything else you’d like to mention about A Perfect You?
Kate: I can’t think of anything. Except I tried my best to be attuned to your characters and the story line, so their costumes reflected their personalities and roles. (As is always the goal.) Also to reiterate my thanks for the opportunity to be a part of A Perfect You. You put together a great team of talented professionals for this! Well-done!
Sue: Yes, I’m really happy about the team. Everyone was quite professional. Thank you for being a part of it!
Find Kate Mallow’s vintage clothing page, “Re-Fashion” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Re-Fashion-1611636122404561/