Why I Like Old Things

My mom and I at Madrid's flea market, El Rastro, circa 1969.

As a vintage clothing dealer, there are three basic questions that I get asked: How did I become interested in vintage clothing, where do I get my stuff, and (not this directly) how the hell do I know what I’m doing? This blog aims to answer the first question (future blogs will answer the others.) I usually say that I started collecting when I was a college student, in Manhattan, for financial reasons. But the truth is that I have always been fascinated with old things, which have history, impeccable workmanship, and soul.

My mom and I at an antique store in Northport, Long Island, circa 1972. My mom's unisex brown suede jacket was the twin to my dad's; they bought them really inexpensively in Spain. My mom never wore hers again after it got "egged" on Halloween circa 1975.

My Spanish grandmother (Yaya) collected antiques beginning in the 1920s and had a fifteen room apartment (with maid’s quarters) in Madrid that was full of beautiful 17th and 18th century furniture, chandeliers and art. She had a great eye and used her talents to purchase undervalued items every Sunday at El Rastro, Madrid’s sprawling flea market (let me just state that European flea markets are nothing like the ones we attend in this country. I’m not an expert, but I have been to Portobello Road in London, Les Puces in Paris and my favorite, Porta Portese in Rome, and nothing in this country compares to the wide selection of truly antique items in Europe. I’ll go to my grave regretting those 18th century earrings I didn’t purchase in Rome.)

Shopping for vintage at the 6th Avenue flea market, NYC, circa 1990.

When Yaya passed away in 1997, I wished nothing more than to ship every item she owned and squeeze it all into my loft. But since I’m not a hoarder, I resigned myself to about 8 pieces that were important to me, including a 19th century Swiss music box, a 17th century Italian gilt mirror, her 1920s diamond engagement bracelet and a huge oil portrait of her from 1948 (my parents kept a lot, which made me feel better about auctioning off so much of her stuff.)

David and I at the 6th Avenue flea market. The lot was built over and made into a luxury rental building.

Like Yaya, I’ve also spent most of my Sundays at a flea market, on 6th Avenue and 26th Street. I learned so much by seeing, touching, talking about and later researching items I bought there. I’m always amused when customers ask how I KNOW a dress, for example, is actually from the 30s. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, it becomes second nature. Yes, I could check the seams, the zipper, the workmanship and determine if the fabric is pre-war, but I don’t have to: I can date and value an item from a quick glance at a photo. I have a dealer friend who can “smell” sterling silver…that’s the sort of thing that happens to you after few years of obsessively collecting.

David and I at The Garage flea market, 25th Street, 2011, when we were shooting our second sizzle reel.

That said, I’ve never been a real “collector.” I don’t like a lot of useless stuff around: shelves full of tchotchkes repel me. But I do love beautiful things, and useful things, like clothing, jewelry, lighting, books, furniture and art. And because there’s always…ALWAYS…something new to see, and history to learn, while shopping for vintage clothing and antiques, it’s a pastime I will never tire of.

Shopping at the Fairfax Market in Hollywood, 2010.

Shopping at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, 2009.

Shopping in San Diego, 2011. I rarely travel without first researching the best places to buy vintage!

(if you’re interested in reading more about my fascinating grandmother’s life, see my past blog: Clara Orozco Barquin de Casas.)

About Elisa Casas

ELISA CASAS (that’s me) was born and raised in New York City. I have a BFA in Photography from NYU and worked as a photojournalist and talent scout for major record labels before opening Chelsea Girl in 1993. I also owned Laurel Canyon Vintage, Clutch! and a popular cafe, City Girl Cafe, and I starred in the groundbreaking Sundance series, “Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys” with my best friend, David Munk. I like pomegranates, clouds, “Exile on Main Street,” birthdays, ancient ruins, the beach, abstract art, cypress trees, “Annie Hall,” old diamonds, Almodovar, clam shacks, surprises, Anne Boleyn, popcorn, “Rebecca,” margaritas, pugs, apple pie and castles in Spain. I live in TriBeCa with my fashionable daughter, Ruby. Follow Chelsea Girl on Facebook-https://www.facebook.com/ChelseaGirlVintage and Instagram-ChelseaGirlVintage
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