10 Favourite Things: Vintage glamour

By Zoe Walker

Rachel Pilcher of vintage store Rita Sue is a champion of the kitsch and classic

Rachael Pilcher is inspired by retro fashion. Photo / Babiche Martens
Rachael Pilcher is inspired by retro fashion. Photo / Babiche Martens

Inspiration from the past is a constant in fashion, food and design - a trend that has been bubbling away for years but went mainstream and high-end this year with singer Lana Del Rey and designer Miuccia Prada pushing the retro agenda with a focus on mid-century Americana. It's a concept that combines the contrasting innocence and rebelliousness of the mid-century, but given a modern makeover.

Rachael Pilcher has been a local champion of vintage style for years, starting her retro, rockabilly, pin-up, psychobilly, burlesque, hot rod and vintage clothing business Rita Sue as an online store in 2006. A physical store in the Art Deco Ambassador building in Pt Chevalier, opened earlier this year.

As well as kitsch homewares, cherry and polka dot swimwear and rockabilly capris, the store hosts a beauty bar in store for Friday night vintage makeovers, including retro hair updos and makeup from retro makeup brand Besame (the store will also host a vintage hairstyling workshop on Sunday, tickets $40). Described as vintage inspiration "for the modern femme fatale", it reflects Pilcher's own all-encompassing passion for the style of the past, from classic cars to Hollywood starlet curls.

Rita Sue, 1220 Great North Rd.


1. Vintage style

This has really taken off in New Zealand since I started Rita Sue in 2006. It's great to see markets, events and workshops popping up all around the country to bring vintage enthusiasts and like-minded small businesses together. The demand for creating looks from the 1920s to 60s is big, in clothing, hair and makeup - and it's a sheer joy to me to see women and men dressing top to toe for the occasion. If you need an excuse to get dolled up, Art Deco Weekend and Beach Hop are at the top of the list, depending which era you most relate to.

2. Classic cars

What's not to love? Late 1950s and 60s space-age shapes, bright colours, huge engines and some novel little quirks and gadgets built into them by the designers. Also a lot of fun to drive! I love getting out to all the summer shows in my Buick to do some car and people-watching.

3. Family

My partner and daughter motivate and inspire me every day. My daughter often spends time with me in the shop on a Saturday and wants to be a fashion designer, so I'm hopeful that inspiration works both ways!

4. Vintage animalia

I collect salt and peppers, planters and wall art from the 1950s and 60s - some of these are just so cute, deer, siamese cats, monkeys, mermaids - but they also have a creepy air about them. It's easy to understand how contemporary artists like Mark Ryden draw inspiration from them in their work.

5. Pin curl clip

The humble pin curl clip, fondly remembered by everyone's mother and grandmother, this tiny clip is capable of producing knockout Hollywood starlet curls - you just have to give it a go.

6. Starburst clocks

I snap these up when I can find them; thankfully opening a shop gave me more space to display them because home has completely run out of walls. Their designs and sheer size lend them to being a focal point in a room and they always get lots of comments from visitors.

7. Ivory wishing elephant

My late grandmother asked me what of hers I would like before she died, and I asked for the tiniest thing she owned, something that had fascinated me since I was little - a miniscule and perfectly carved ivory elephant inside a plant seed, with a little ivory stopper keeping it safe. It was - and still is - a very precious and magical thing to me.

8. Cookbooks

I am obsessed with food, and finding a new cookbook with glorious new recipes and photos delights me. I love to go home and study them and flag the best recipes with little Post It notes so I remember to make them (mostly, this doesn't happen!). I have about four shelves of books and more in the basement, oh and many clear file folders with photocopied recipes - best buy of the year was the Little & Friday cookbook, from my favourite Sunday morning cafe.

9. Petticoats and shapewear

Vintage foundation garments are the key to any retro look. I firmly believe every lady should own a good ruffle petticoat if they have any full circle skirts or dresses in their wardrobe. Never underestimate the radical change they perform on your figure - instantly giving a more nipped-in waist and hourglass shape to your silhouette. Cinchers and corso-lettes worn under dresses create a magically slimmer figure and the modern versions of these are comfortable enough to wear all day.

10. DON Furniture couches

Sleek, stylish and still practical after all these years, easily converting to a double bed with a quick flick of the wrists. I think everyone's family had one of these, or a similar style, back in the 1960s or 70s. I have the best intentions of getting mine re-covered one day but I also like the ugly, stitched up, original bobbly green fabric on the cushions.

- NZ Herald

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