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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
            Back to Open Skies

WilliamVintage, London

29 June 2015

Words: Andrew Birbeck / Images: Greg Funnell

In a remarkably short space of time the WilliamVintage brand has evolved from one off pop-up shop to fashion phenomenon. Indeed founder William Banks-Blaney is now known as the King of Vintage and has been appointed Global Style Ambassador for American Express and Fashion Patron of Oxfam.

Not bad for a man who took his first steps into the world of fashion retail less than five years ago. However, as with many so-called overnight success stories, a compelling and fascinating narrative lies beneath. William’s background lay in interior design, and great design crosses boundaries.

He explains, “As an interior designer I’d often happen across amazing vintage clothes and I started to pick them up along the way as presents for friends.” A turning point came when he was on a Paris weekender with a close friend who needed cheering up. “We hit the vintage shops but it turned into a bit of a disaster. The assistant in one particular shop was unbelievably rude and genuinely upset my friend. I left thinking that there had to be a better way.”

The Parisian experience made a strong impression. William’s idea for a vintage fashion outlet stocking the absolute best in design with personal care and attention top of the agenda continued to form in his mind. “I decided to try a pop-up shop to test the waters,” he tells me.

“I had no idea if anyone would show up but we sold out in hours. I couldn’t believe it.” Encouraged by that initial success William went on to further pop-ups, each one more successful than the last. “The moment came when it struck me that this really was a viable business, then I went about setting up permanently in Marylebone.”

During those early days, and largely by word-of-mouth, WilliamVintage attracted what can only be described as a dedicated following of A-list celebrities, from William’s close personal friend Gillian Anderson to Rhianna, Jessie J, Lana del Rey, Helena Bonham-Carter and Tilda Swinton to name but a few.

William explains the relationships he’s built up, “It’s about day-to-day wear too, not just glamorous occasions. Our first ‘Red Carpet’ was for Gillian Anderson. She mentioned that she had ‘a thing to go to’ and could I source something for her to wear. When I asked what it was she casually replied – ‘Oh, it’s the BAFTA’s.’”

William’s clients extend far beyond household names however. “Our youngest is 17, the eldest 74. They all simply love vintage but may be a little afraid of getting it wrong. We’re here to take the fear out of it.”

Sourcing the very best is essential and William individually chooses each piece. “I guess I’m a bit like an art dealer, always hoping for that forgotten Monet sitting in the corner of the attic covered in dust.”

When asked about those taking their first plunge into the world of vintage William’s advice is simple. “Don’t go over-the-top, for example perhaps your very first purchase shouldn’t be a 1950’s Dior haute couture dress. Start off with something timeless and versatile like a beautiful 1960’s swing coat or a wonderfully tailored suit. You can wear a swing coat with jeans, a jumper, on a dinner-date or picking up the kids from school. Buy something that fits your wardrobe, and your life, and take it from there.”

Somehow in the midst of all this William found time to write his first book – 25 Dresses, an enthralling exploration of women’s fashion in the 20th Century. Bubbling with enthusiasm he tells me, “It’s a process I enjoyed enormously, examining what these iconic designers brought to women’s lives. Superficially fashion may be one thing, but if you scratch the surface it’s so much more.”

25 Dresses: Iconic Moments in Twentieth-Century Fashion by William Banks-Blaney, published by Quadrille

Local knowledge

For endless London moments…
Take in the views from the London Eye. See the Crown Jewels. Stand in the middle of St Paul’s Cathedral

To escape in the city…
Visit Regent’s Park, just a short stroll from WilliamVintage, simply wonderful, and surrounded by John Nash’s architectural masterpieces

My favourite local bakery…
La Patisserie de Reves, Marylebone High Street, packed full of delicious things

One piece every woman should own…
The perfect Little Black Dress, I suggest 1950’s Dior, iconic and exquisite

The best advice I can give…
Work hard. Keep a smile on your face. Learn from your mistakes and don’t make them twice



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