My Style: Painted Bird’s Stephanie King Is A Vintage Expert

By Annabel Dickson
Painted Bird Vintage owner Stephanie King's style is an eclectic mix of ideas.

Stylist, sustainability advocate and founder of Painted Bird vintage, Stephanie King tell us about her approach to fashion.

Stephanie King is committed to the concept of “buy once, buy right and make it last”, a mantra that is matched by her commitment (and obsession) with selling vintage and pre-loved clothing.

Painted Bird, named after a phrase to describe a well “turned out” woman, was born out of Stephanie’s passion for hard-to-find pieces, particularly the bespoke styles, cuts and textiles found in premium vintage clothing from the 1940s to the 1970s.

“There just wasn’t a place that you could go without hunting and fossicking for ‘the good stuff’,” she tells Viva. So, spying a gap in the market and consumer desire, she was inspired to start a high-end vintage store of her own.

“I sought out European vintage of quality construction, authenticity of era, fabric uniqueness and only in styles and fit that would serve our special islands.”

Immersed in fashion from a very young age, Stephanie’s style has evolved with lessons learned along the way. She shares her insights and experience with Viva below.

What, in your opinion, makes style?

It’s a reflection of your soul. Money has nothing to do with style or a trend or a brand aesthetic. It’s all about your personality and mood shaped by your own creativity. How you put yourself together from subdued, bold, bright, patterned, over the top, to under the radar — is key. It mirrors your inner confidence, self-value and self-respect. Being who you want to be on the day — a theory that I am still developing and observing as I get older.

Describe your personal style.

Absolute dopamine dresser using a combination of vintage and re-loved pieces. Never a label basher, more a style seeker and local label supporter.

My style is very environmentally dictated combining high-end vintage, some designer, and re-loved pieces. It’s about what’s going to lift me mentally and where or what I am doing on the day. It might be with a client who is a huge fan of vintage, that inspires me to go all out with whatever fun pieces take my eye in the morning. Or with a newbie client dreaming of a more considered wardrobe, after seeing me in gentle mix of vintage, retro and re-loved.

I love showing how easy it is to look stylish wearing what is already in circulation.

Who are your favourite designers and why?

I adore Guo Pei, who enthralls me. I saw the documentary, her work at the Auckland Art Gallery and her interview with Viva fashion director, Dan Ahwa. I am in awe of her thought process and approach to designing what circulates in her head. It’s an absolute wonder to behold — almost otherworldly.

New York designer Daniel Silverstien, founder of Zero Waste Daniel, and Selina Eugenio of Selina Sanders in California have also have caught my eye. They respect the fabric, the original maker and utilise as much as possible of the old piece to then create a fantastic, different and new form from what has gone before. Vintage and second-hand saris and kimono in the work of labels I like was a Sari and Kimono Kollab showcase, a taster of what is possible through the use of existing fabrics.

Tell us the story of your favourite piece of clothing

It’s all about ease, comfort and speed. For me it’s about the dress. Long or short because a dress is best for any occasion. One of my all-time favourite pieces dates back more than 20 years. The life it has borne witness to includes the parties, the sorrows, the adventures and quite literally, soul transformation. It represents a tapestry of my life sewn in my favourite fabric (Thai silk) that has wrapped around me in my journey of weight change and personal development.

Standing as a testament of time to how clothes are more than “just something you wear”. They’re pieces of your history, another’s history — all unique and completely irreplaceable.

Stephanie wearing her mother's silk leopard scarf.
Stephanie wearing her mother's silk leopard scarf.

What piece of clothing have you inherited that’s particularly special to you?

My mother was exceptionally stylish and a bit of a clotheshorse. She knew the value of quality cuts and fabrics. One of her leopard print silk scarves, I treasure. It has succumbed to the ravages of time as natural fibres do but I keep fixing it as it’s been absolutely thrashed by me over the years. My mum gave it to me when I was about 16 years old in my hairdressing heyday!

What do you wear when you want to feel your best?

Red or yellow. Polarising colours I know.

Red speaks of confidence, strength and in general gives me a bit of chutzpah. Yellow for brightening a dull day or a dose of positivity. Fabrics and textures are also important to me and the feeling they create. Soft wools and silks to add a softness to a colour like red. Vintage leathers or suedes when I need warmth as well as adding a chic sassiness in my look. Layering with interesting patterns and tones for interest and as reflection of my personality.

Lastly, the cut improves my mood, giving form, fit and that colourful hit!

Where do you look for fashion inspiration and what or who influences your fashion sense?

I look to the past, the present and the future. Old photographs of my mother, avant-garde examples by designers and hairdressers on social media, garden centres to see what blooming and young designers are creating reusing existing materials.

"Something Italian and fabulous — a favourite," says Stephanie.
"Something Italian and fabulous — a favourite," says Stephanie.

How has your style evolved over the years and what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned?

It’s been 40 years of learning, which has never stopped.

  • Experiment with accessories. When we’re young we’re often influenced by trends and conformity. Try a few bits and pieces to look more “you” — cue the addition of my mother’s leopard scarf!
  • Embrace the real you. It can be stifling, controlling and potentially oppressive not to dress in the way that your heart beats for. Boost your mood by dressing the way you choose — for you.
  • Evolve with conviction. When I was a hairdresser, I used to go nuts wearing whatever took my fancy. Nine times out of 10 it originated from a vintage or second-hand shop.

Later, in a more corporate role sans uniform, my employer discreetly asked me to “tone down” my “creative wear”. I left after a year of wearing what did not feel like “me”.

What has fashion taught you about yourself?

Integrity of being. Always dress like who you are inside and out.

Fashion has taught me that if I dress like me, I’ve already ticked a couple of happiness boxes for the day. You only get one life so seize the moments and opportunities.

Dressing like a trend can stifle. That creative streak lies within everyone — it is just a matter of inspiring it and feeding it to grow and bloom so people can see YOU.

Were you into fashion growing up?

Without question. My grandmother was a seamstress. My mother was a creative fashionista. I was immersed in it! I started saving in earnest and collecting clothing at 16. I recall having holds and laybuys arranged with stores until my next paycheque.

Special, unique, one-off pieces continue to be irresistible!

"My Hunterville Chinoiseires." Photo / Supplied
"My Hunterville Chinoiseires." Photo / Supplied

What is your earliest fashion memory?

Wrapping my Barbie up in fabric scraps, designing pieces and testing combinations in fur, feathers, lurex, lame, silks, and nylons. Imagining outfits in offcuts, buttons, sequins and diamantes all sourced courtesy of my grandmother’s magic trunk of goodies.

How did Painted Bird Vintage come about?

Painted Bird Vintage started nine years ago.

The market wanted a high-end, quality, true vintage store on Auckland’s North Shore, there just wasn’t a place you could go without hunting and fossicking for the good stuff. A niche destination where garments were showcased in all their glory that have stood the test of time that fit your form as though they were made for you.

I sought out European vintage of quality construction, authenticity of era, fabric uniqueness and only in styles and fit that would serve our special islands. It took me over a year to find suitable suppliers that led me to fly to Europe, Australia and buy from private collectors, curating a handpicked collection that I believe is second to none.

What do you look for in a garment when sourcing for Painted Bird Vintage?

The era is key. Is there every indication that it was made circa 1940s to early 1980s before the real glut of fast fashion took hold?

Condition and cut are everything. Are all the fixtures there and original? Is the fabric interesting and in good condition? Is it interesting? Or a timeless style that almost anyone could wear? Is it a natural fibre? Or manmade, looking like it was sewn yesterday? Is it in an average size?

The X factor. I love to save pieces through acquisition so the original owner or designer can be respected and relived again. It’s the cherry on the cake when clients say, “Wow, that is an amazing piece. I love it and we can create some more great history together.”

What are some of the tips and lessons you’ve learned along the way in owning (and selling) vintage/re-loved clothing?

Language matters. Overall, in Aotearoa New Zealand the buyer understanding and the seller description of “loved more than once” clothing is slowly evolving.

To maintain clarity about our stock at Painted Bird Vintage, we say antique is 100 years and over, vintage is at least 30-plus years old, and the rest is classed as second-hand sourced from recycle consignment designer wear resell stores, thrift or op-shop charity donation stores.

It is important because it defines the origins, quality, selection process and availability of the fashion contributing to climate change as well as the price point expectations. In my experience, quality antique and vintage clothing are increasingly hard to find in good condition here in New Zealand.

Authentic repairs are a must. The sad truth is that sometimes you just can’t save a piece in its original form. Fortunately, my mother-in-law repairs the old-fashioned way, often by hand. She uses vintage replacement metal zips, her mother’s antique and vintage button collection and original haberdashery so fixes are authentic to maintain the value of the garment.

Transparency. Greenwashing what is and what is not ethical or sustainable fashion is an important discourse for us all to be aware of — not just those within the fashion industry. Having conversations about the demise of textiles and the true contributors to landfills needs more exploration. Without clearsighted, critical thinking about this we will never move forward.

Dream fashion collaboration?

With Jill Sherman, the genius behind @fashion.biologique. She connects nature with the material world. Imagine us doing a series specifically with vintage! My heart beats for collabs with like-minded souls who get fashion sustainability and the beauty of balance by valuing vintage and secondhand re-loved.

Working with the Viva team too because you’re a benchmark for “good” and a powerful change agent as a result.

A perfect collaboration in our backyard has to be with New Zealand Fashion Week. What a boon for renewable fashion in New Zealand! Showcasing a curated taster of vintage, preloved and ready to love again pieces on the catwalk would bring us into line with similar successful shows held in other parts of the world.

What compels your creativity?

Happiness. Joy. Beauty. Peace.

I love making others feel happy and finding the silver linings in all things. I look equally for peacefulness and amusement as well as an appreciation of beauty and living simply. I believe these are key elements in my environment that enable me to be creative.

Layering texture, fabrics, eras, and adding personality to a look. Photo / Supplied
Layering texture, fabrics, eras, and adding personality to a look. Photo / Supplied

Where else do you love to shop?

Supporting designer recycle shops and consignment stores when I take clients out. It’s important to support the re-wear industry and we usually find exactly what we need.

Shopping malls only when necessary. The smell of the chemicals and the plastics used in fast fashion negatively affects my senses.

When I travel, I look forward to the hunt, camaraderie, and chats so will always try to support fellow vintage store owners along the way if the budget allows.

On visits to Wellington, I’ll visit Hunterville’s and Goldie’s Junk n Disorderly.

What was your most recent fashion purchase?

I have made a point of not buying myself clothing for so long, I honestly couldn’t tell you when I last did. However, the patterns and fabrics of chinoiseries captured me a while back at Hunterville. There was a mid-length teal silk jacket behind the counter. It turns out it was the owner’s. She hadn’t decided if she could part with it so I left my name and number in the hope she would. One year later she messaged me and it was mine.

It is now a prized part of my private collection of wearable fashion art.

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