When I am half way through my interview with Su Mason, co owner of Blue Linen, a vintage clothing and linen seller I met at Hammersmith Vintage Fair, she almost makes me snort my tea across her kitchen table by telling me she’s a bit put out that Jimmy Savile never groped her. ” I travelled in the back of his Rolls Royce with my friend Carole back in 1975 or 76, when we were about 17 and he never touched us’ she says, ‘Now I know what he was like I’m wondering why he didn’t try it on’. Which in turn gets us reminiscing about what it was like to be a working girls in the 70s and 80s, when you learnt to take care of yourself in the workplace and avoid dodgy male colleagues as part of the working day.
I have a bit of a girl crush on Su because I envy her distinctive style, best summed up as an elegant take on vintage masculine tailoring. She’s a sort of smarter, English version of Patti Smith, without the music or long hair. She’s often dressed in Edwardian mens workwear shirts and ancient woollen britches, made feminine with a silk scarf or (as here) soft cashmere roll neck sweater and always looks amazing.
I am such a magpie with my style, I’m envious of anyone who has developed a really good ‘look’ that they have honed to perfection and last weekend Su and her daughter/work partner Romilly invited me to their Quilter Street studio off Columbia Road to talk about her style and all things vintage.
Su and Romilly’s studio is a small house where every room is merchandised neatly with beautiful vintage textiles (mostly French) workwear, clothes and habedashery. Piles of laundered white embroidered shirts sit neatly next to a stack of colour-organised powder pink camisole tops. Bundles of linen sheets and tablecloths sit on shelves in photogenic stacks, I passionately covet everything my eye settles on.
But what I’m really here to find out is how Su puts together her style. It has helped that she’s come from a long line of family ‘collectors’, all with an interest in vintage which clearly refined her eye and early on she developed a love of quality textiles. Also, she is six foot high and told us ‘ I always wanted to wear the girly stuff but I couldn’t fit into it, I was so tall and it looked silly on me.’
So she slowly evolved a look that she now calls her ‘uniform’, a masculine silhouette with a linear structure which features long creamy silk or crisp workwear cotton shirts sourced from France teamed with jodhpur trousers and maybe a waistcoat or Victorian mens frock coat in a lovely soft tweedy wool. Her colour palette is black and white with the odd navy or grey deviation, but she cleverly throws in slightly beaten-up brown lace up boots -as she is wearing here- or similar to stop everything looking too expected.
When she started to buy and sell vintage fabrics (after a starter career in fashion with the boutique Long Tall Sally) she realised that she couldn’t cope with making decisions about buying textiles in lots of print and colour while wearing it, so curated a pared-back look, adopting the wise words of Jean Muir ‘simplfy and edit’. ‘Not’ she continued ‘to say there aren’t some ridiculous things in my wardrobe -including flounces and frills!”.
We all agreed on loving the adventure and treasure-hunt aspect of buying vintage clothing and how seductive it is to know you’ve got a ‘one of a kind’ buy, ‘With vintage’ said Su, “you get such great workmanship, craft and incredible quality fabrics you just don’t find today, there’s also something very reassuring and comforting about the nostalgia emotion vintage generates too.” Later in the day I find myself agreeing with the nostalgia-as-comfort aspect as a wave of it hits me when I see a set of G Plan dining room chairs similar to ones my parents had, I’m almost tempted to buy, despite being very rude about it when I was a teen.
Su and Romlly are at Portobello Market every Friday morning (under the new white canopy in the middle aisle) or you can visit the studio, but you must make an appointment, go here to their lovely tumblr to contact them or follow/contact them through twitter. They are also at Hammersmith Vintage fair and others throughout the year. If you have specific projects you want sourced, contact them with details and they will try and help, as they make regular trips to France for sourcing.
Now excuse me while I put my entire wardrobe on ebay in order to buy a stash of vintage frock coats and britches. Do you ever wish you could swap your style?