Throughout our discovery of the greatest vintage stores, we spoke to Karen Clarkson, who took up the role as one of the coolest vintage experts by pure surprise, led by her spontaneous nature. As a high profile Stylist she has been a forceful presence within the fashion industry: dressing the likes of FKA Twigs, styling the pages of i-D and V magazine, and working with a pretty impressive list of photographers from Juergen Teller to David Simms. With a closet overflowing with one-off vintage pieces, turns out she had, quite literally, more to give to fashion. So, one day she decided to clean out her closet and created a Vintage Store, originally below her apartment and now a few steps down the road. Visiting Karen and her store, located in the heart of Vintage clothing, Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill, she told us about her love for the odd, her absolute favourite pieces, and her take on vintage as a souce of sustainable fashion.
Tell us about Found & Vision and how your of vintage first started?
Found And Vision really happened by accident. I live on Portobello Rd and about 5 years ago the shop below my flat became empty and I thought what heaven it would be if I had an amazing vintage shop just downstairs! I spoke to a few traders I vaguely knew from Portobello market on a Friday (which I've been frequenting religiously for years) and suggested they should come and check out the space. Without any real consideration or having ever sold vintage before I thought it could be really fun to be a part of it rather than just be a customer. I had an enormous archive of clothes that I'd been collecting since I was a teenager, basically enough clothes to open a shop - and I knew it was time to let go of some of them. So on the Friday we checked out the space and on the Monday we moved in with whatever rails and mannequins etc that we happened to have between us. We were more or less strangers so the experience was kind of like a cross between The Apprentice and Big Brother. We called it The Squat as we didn't know how long the landlord would let us stay and it had a very D.I.Y vibe. The Squat lasted for 2 months before the landlord needed the space back but fortunately I was offered a shop space just a short distance away on Golborne Rd and my new friends Oxana and Rosie who had been a part of The Squat joined forces with me to create Found And Vision.
How did your love of vintage start?
I always loved second hand clothes, long before 'vintage' was even a fashionable word. I went to school in Cheam village in Surrey, which had so many amazing charity shops, I was pretty obsessed with going to them every day on my walk home from school. This was the 90s - pre ebay - and I used to find amazing things, original 60s gowns and coats etc, 70s disco suits, everything. I liked things that were a bit on the edge of bad taste...things that weren't really fashionable amongst my school friends and I guess the charity shops had all that to offer and more. I found an amazing Paco Rabbane coat for £10 in Save The Children which I still have today.
Where do you source your pieces? And what was the most amazing piece you have found and sold?
My first and favourite place is still Portobello Rd on a Friday morning, its just the best and you never know what you will find. We also are fortunate to have people coming to the shop to sell us clothes - we once had the opportunity to buy a number of beautiful 60s and 70s pieces from the late Margot Fonteyn's collection - she had exquisite taste.
I also travel a fair bit with my styling work and so make a point of looking up the flea markets or vintage shops in every city and country I visit - LA is particularly great. When I drive around London, I pull over and run into charity shops - most are pretty depressing these days, filled with second-hand Primark, but there are a few shops which still sometimes have great things. I'm giving away my trade secrets here but The Trinity Hospice shop on Kensington Church Street is my favourite and also the British Red Cross shop in Chlesea is quite exciting. Even if the clothes in these shops aren't super cheap, it’s always satisfying to know that the money is going to a good cause. I also go to auctions, Kerry Taylor and Chiswick are great. I love the surprise element of Car Boot Sales - my best ever find was an 80s Judy Blame beret which I found at Battersea Car Boot sale for £30. It was just a beret with a bunch of keys and chains and pins sewn on, with no label and it could have easily been mistaken for a bit of scrap but luckily it was just sparkling into my eyeline! I kept it in the Found And Vision archive for a while and eventually agreed to sell it to Jeremy Scott who was then inspired to collaborate with Judy for his AW17 show and recreate the hats for Moschino. Of course sometimes its very hard to let things go, but at the same time its rewarding to see things go to people who really appreciate them and who can give them a new lease of life.
You are also an amazing fashion stylist, working with top photographers, magazines and clients. Do you try and source vintage for this also?
I've always collected vintage, its part of my life and work and I use vintage fashion for editorials and consultancy with designers and for styling celebrities. Vintage pieces allow you to put your own stamp on things rather than just shooting the same looks that every one else is featuring. I also find fashion far more interesting from the perspective of telling stories and creating characters and personalities - and i think vintage clothes have so much history and so much more of an interesting story to tell all of their own.
Given the choice, would you pick vintage over current designs/designers, and why?
I'm still very interested in contemporary designers and selectively buy new designer pieces and I tend to buy new shoes more than vintage. I think the art is to mix vintage with new so that you don't look like you've stepped out of a time warp. If you pick new designer pieces well, and if you always buy quality clothes, they are an investment and will hold their value or gain value as they become vintage in the future. Having said that, my personal favourite clothes are pretty much all vintage.
Some people can be ‘scared’ of wearing vintage. Can you offer any tips of how to wear vintage today?
People feel safe buying into a luxury brands, they've seen things in the shows and ad campaigns and on influencers and it makes them feel safe knowing that they are buying something on-trend - something thats been approved. I think the most stylish people mix old with new - there's nothing less chic than someone wearing head-to-toe new designer labels. Vintage is about personal style and so its much more unique. Its not about what's in or out its just about what you like and what excites you. You should just know when you see something if you love it and can't live without it - you have to be spontaneous, with vintage its a often a one off opportunity to buy, if you hesitate it could be gone and there's no point living a life with regrets.
How do you feel about vintage being a source of sustainable fashion?
Buying vintage is definitely part of the 'slow fashion' philosophy and is a far more socially responsible way to enjoy fashion. I have a huge problem with the mass produced, cheap badly made clothes which aren't meant to last and have no actual value. In my mind, vintage doesn't just mean old clothes, it means good quality beautiful old clothes which by their virtue have stood the test of time and are worth collecting. By nature, vintage clothes are timeless. Fashion and particularly the high street puts such an emphasis on 'trends' encouraging customers to buy what's supposedly in fashion one season and then to just throw it out next season. 25% of the world's pesticides are used to grow non-organic cotton and conditions in factories across developing countries are highly questionable. Also your money can go so much further when you buy vintage.
Do you think there is enough awareness in the fashion industry about sustainable issues?
There is very little information out there for consumers. With food there is a list of ingredients and information about whether produce is organic or responsibly sourced and what it contains etc. On clothes there's a size and a price tag and very little else. With Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the very worrying state that the world finds itself in, its left a whole generation of people feeling the need to take action and responsibility for themselves. I believe people want and need to decrease their carbon footprint and there's a lot more the fashion industry could be doing to promote this.