Life With Decades' Cameron Silver!

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Candy Pratts Price says that "September's the Jannnnuary of fashion," and I'm tempted to mimic, "Cameron Silver's the Laaaagerfeld of vintage." The Beverly Hillls-born, German cabaret-performing, Decades-owning vintage conoisseur revolutionized the way fashion--and thus celebrities and everyone else who pays attention--thinks about vintage. He started collecting pieces while traveling around the country post-college and has used his discerning eye to build both a successful vintage business and one of the best consignment businesses in the country, DecadesTwo. Last summer I swung by the shop and managed to ask him how he did it, and why, while not-so-subtly fawning over the vintage Diors, Halstons and Balenciagas lining his walls.

Where are you from? I’m from here, LA… Beverly Hills. I’ve never actually lived anywhere else. I travel a lot, but I’ve never had another home. Just done a lot of couch surfing! What’d you want to do when you were a kid? Well I used to be a singer, I even got my bachelor's in theater, so I really thought I'd have a career as a performer. Did you go to school here in LA? Yeah I went to UCLA and when I got out of college I performed all over the place. I specialized in German cabaret which doesn’t make you famous, or rich, but it was very cool. In a weird way it prepped me for what I do today. I played old songs… and now I recycle old clothes in an entertaining manner... so… yeah I had no idea. What was it like touring after college? It was really not glamorous. But… fun? It was a really good experience. It was hard to do in my 20s… The craziest moment? Playing a lesbian bowling alley in Minneapolis, and then like five days later performing at a hall in New York City! I remember playing Seattle and artists are just like not - it's not a very luxurious profession - the producers put me up in this space and it sort of smelled and it felt like everyone was dying around me. Ew. Those are like the weird things that happen when you’re a young performer. So you do that in your 20s. I did it from 1992 to '97 and it was really through it that I started to find vintage because I was looking for men’s clothes for myself. Just for everyday? Yeah, just to find some good vintage YSL suits or Pucci ties and through the hunt I started finding women’s clothing and you know, this was like '95. I'd find things in Orlando, Seattle, Chicago.... What was the first time you were like, "Oh my god, I've found something amazing?" There was a trip to Seattle and I found three Dior dresses from 1954. I wasn’t really sure I was going to have a store, but I was aware that I was transitioning out of my career as an artist and vintage still wasn't really popular. Not at all. It really was more of a 21st century phenomenon. I would say it didn't start until the late '90s, and I’m not saying that just because we opened the store. But there was this pre-green movement and people were focused on history and authentic luxury and having something one of a kind, so my timing was fortuitous. Vintage was socially unacceptable… and now it's not only acceptable, but really acclaimed. It gives people cache and I think it's really nice that it's not just for kids. When I first opened the store the clientele was very young, and now there are 38-year-olds and 60-year-olds. I even have an 80-year-old customer! It's just women who have authentic and individual style.

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Those Diors you found in Seattle, were they -- … cheap? Hah, yeah. Did the people you were buying from realize? It had absolutely no value. Well it had value right? They just didn’t know? The value of vintage hadn't really been established yet, because it wasn’t mainstream. The customer base was very small and things were cheap! I mean now… Jared, who you met, who works for clients who are like, "Oh my god I can't believe how expensive these things are," and he’s like, it's your fault! It's not just us, but all of the high end vintage stores have established this new market and now everybody thinks their clothes are worth money and it costs me more money to buy things so it becomes a challenge. And now even a small store in Kansas that has a Dior... Exactly and it's still going to cost a fortune. I always laugh, because, you know, I was in Pittsburgh about a month ago and I was kind of shopping and everybody wants a lot of money for their clothes, but the environment in which you sell your clothes helps determine their value. We offer a really nice shopping experience… you’re not going to pay that kind of money at the Rose Bowl. And they ask! I mean that's the amazing thing. Those vintage fairs are all astronomical. It makes me think our store's a bargain basement sometimes. I mean, we dry clean the dress, we...

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It's also cherry picked for you - there's no digging to be done. Yeah, there’s no work and there's a real dressing room, and a tailor comes to fit you, and I'll go shopping with you to find the perfect shoes, and we're going to make sure you look good - that's part of the premium. It's really not a premium anymore when you're paying that in the middle of nowhere in an uncultivated atmosphere. So you've culled together this collection- It was very...well, my whole thing was that I mostly concentrated on the '60s and '70s when the store first opened. My philosophy was vintage that looks modern. Because that's what you found, or because that's what you liked? It's because it's what I found aesthetically pleasing. I mean I was not about to look at '80s clothing because it's like been there done that, I don't want to sell my mother's closet yet. And within the first year or two of the store, I was able to get a broader appreciation of 20th century fashion, and really widen my grasp. Did you always envision this, while you were building your collection? Did you see this store in your head? Oh I really didn't know what I was doing. I had a good eye. Obviously. I'm not trying to give myself praise! But I knew what was good, and I kept it really edited. I mean there were a lot of vintage stores that had been around for a long time, but they weren't really edited, they were full of stuff. I treated it like a boutique. I'd done retail in college, worked at Theodore and Fred Segal, so I kind of had...I mean I'd also done retail my whole life as a consumer, so I wanted to make it a real boutique, and like there was nothing to make the clothes seem used. And that was the irony, it just happened to be vintage clothing and people would come in and be like, "Can I have this in a size 8?"

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Seriously? Oh yeah! For the first two years, the first two years when we were just downstairs, people just thought we were a regular boutique. People were like, "Oh yeah I've heard of this store called Decades," but they didn't get the vintage part. And it still happens. I got an email from this woman who saw a Montana dress on the blog and she asked if we had it in a size 14 and I'm like, "No, that's an authentic Claude Montana! It's like 20 years old!" That's hilarious. It's still a little bit mysterious to people, and I actually like that. When something becomes to ubiquitous it kind of loses it's cache-- Which is the beauty of vintage-- But vintage has to be really careful right now with everyone claiming first dibs and everyone jumping on the vintage bandwagon. I mean these great designs will always be desirable. And you can never have a lot of it, there's no never ending supply. Exactly. Ok, so you opened up this store and... And there was nothing on Melrose. I mean you had Fred Segal and that was it. I mean there's still kind of nothing on Melrose, there's just no foot traffic. Like today has been a dead day in the store, just one of those things, but a couple of people in the beginning were incredibly supportive, like Richard Buckley. Were these people you knew? People who were curious? First of all, I was sort of a novelty, this young guy, and I was nice! You are really nice! Yeah! I mean I wasn't crazy, I came from a performing background - I was still performing that first year we had the store - I didn't know what I was doing, but we had great things and those first people who came in the store, who sort of discovered us, were just so supportive. Then there was a little story in Buzz magazine, which isn't around anymore and then Los Angeles, and then Vogue and then-- The rest followed? Yeah, and I've never had a publicist, it just...I mean we do events every once in awhile, like the Valentino documentary, Matt [Tyrnauer] called and asked for a dress and I'm like, of course. We just like to keep everything very authentic. So how did DecadesTwo come about? You stuck with vintage at the start and then really expanded. You know, after two years with the vintage store, I kind of realized, "Hmm, we should maybe get into the designer consignment business and work with contemporary clothing." So Christos and I opened that business and moved the vintage upstairs - to make it more inaccessible! This is very private up here, can anyone come in? It is, but yes anyone can come in, if you know where the buzzer is. Which took me a minute. But you figured it out! But um, yeah so DecadesTwo's become this huge business and kind of defined the designer consignment business. So you've got 20th century upstairs and 21st century downstairs, it's great.

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What was it like for you to watch the vintage movement explode? I remember when vintage was weird and no one knew what it was--other than old--and now it's on every red carpet. It's very nice to know that there was a group of people who were kind of vanguard retailers to some degree, who really tried to reposition vintage. I'm very blessed, it's a great business. I'll be in a better mood if we sell something very expensive today! And now you've become a sort of figurehead for the business. I mean that was not intentional! I just know how to give a good sound bite. And it's really about accessibility, being a novelty -- I wasn't some old curmudgeon selling old clothes, I was young, I was a guy, I was contemporary and my approach to vintage was extremely vintage. I wasn't selling Victorian clothing, you came in to buy a Halston. Plus, I was very interested in sexy and people didn't think of vintage as sexy, they imagined something very period looking and covered up, so I asked myself is this modern, sexy? I don't want basic or boring. I don't do a lot of black, though I do like black that doesn't look black. A great designer can make a dress, and do it in black, but it can be so beautiful that it doesn't look black, it looks like a color. That's a beautiful way of explaining something that actually makes so much sense. I guess that's a too poetic way of putting it-- No it makes it crystal clear. But there is something kind of amazing when something doesn't look basic and black, but it is basic and black. I mean, that's really good design. What made you open DecadesTwo? Well I realized that so many of my clients who were buying vintage were also really big Barneys clients, or Bergdorf clients -- people who buy vintage buy great new designer clothing, too. And my clients started asking me where they could take their old things (not actually old) and then it just kind of happened. I realized that most of the resale stores were kind of crappy, though trust me, when we first opened DecadesTwo we weren't so great. But Christos had a marketing background with Virgin. After the store had been open for a year, he became really hands-on. He wasn't with you before was he? No, he just came on for DecadesTwo. I met him through a client and he was interested in doing something and at the time it was a super small investment. Now it's like this huge business. Including amazing pop-ups in New York. Yeah we've done a couple and I want to do more across the country. I've done some trunk shows for Decades, but the thing is it's very easy to sell contemporary designer. You know that if you buy Marni you're a Marni 38, but with vintage there's more storytelling, so designer resale clothing sells itself, vintage is work so that's why DecadesTwo is just so great, so easy.

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I've always wondered how you keep it going. There isn't some secret place from which you pull vintage Diors and Alaias, and yet you've had this place packed with gems for over ten years now. It's a lot of work! I mean it's a lot of hustle. And it's social, too -- I have to have dinner with a Saudi princess tonight and host a party tomorrow. Friday night is Glenda Bailey in Malibu -- I'm exhausted! But that's fun! I have a really great social life that's wrapped up around the store and helps bring in business. The nice thing about the recession is that people want to sell a lot more so I'm getting great things. I'm going to be in New York in a few weeks and then I'll fly down to Palm Beach for the night because the next morning I have to edit this woman's closet, lots of Caroline Roehm and Oscar and lots of '80s clothing, but really beautiful things. You must see the most spectacular pieces. And she's not even selling for money! She's engaged and her fiancee's demanding she gets the closet under control. So she naturally called you to clean out her closet? I met her through Phyllis Diller actually. No way. Tell me the whole story. Well Jeff, who you just met, is her cousin. So we're friends with her socially and then she introduced us to this woman who lives between Palm Beach and Chicago. But you know it's very word of mouth, a lot of women like to have their clothes sold through our store because they know how much they'll be appreciated by the next generation, the next owner. That's great, the relationship and even the thinking about who will wear the treasure next. Yeah and it's fun for me, I mean going through their closet and hearing their stories, it's nice. It's fun! Do people ever call you out of the blue? To sell stuff? Oh yeah like a hundred times a day. Jared gets to deal with all the kooks who call because everyone thinks their clothes are important and most of them just suck. What percentage of the calls you get are worth something? Like one percent. No way. Most of the things are terrible. Because they're ugly? Because they have no concept of vintage. Yesterday I got a call about Harley Davidson leather jackets. I mean everyone thinks that just because their clothes are old, they're vintage and amazing and I'm like, it's three years old. People are always trying to sell stuff and a lot of people think the store is an appraisal service and I'm like we're not, hire an appraiser. That's why we don't put prices on the blog, because it sets a really bad precedent and everyone just wants to find out the value of their clothing and I don't want to appraise people's wardrobes.

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I know this question's near impossible, but walk me through a typical day. Like the whole day or just work? The whole thing! Well I'm morning person, so I wake up and check the blog's email at like 6am, that's when my Arab or Asian clients are contacting me -- Do you have a lot of Arab clients? My parents live in the Middle East and I'm convinced that this small group of women is single handedly keeping the fashion industry afloat. Oh yeah we have tons, Saudis, Kuwatis, women from Bahrain, they all come here in the late summer and have homes here. And my client in Bahrain, I swear she doesn't sleep, she emailed and was like, "You have to come to Bahrain because my sister's uncle's brother is the king." I always say that Decades is the United Nations of Fashion. Obviously. So I do that in the morning, and then I hike every morning. God I miss California. I do it with my staff, Team Decades! We hike through Runyon Canyon and it's just a small group, three part-times, no one works 40 hours a week. Then we get here around 11, open the store at 11:30 and pray for sales. I blog and I deal with stylists. How's that, working with stylists? It's great, as long as I sell things. Sometimes the celebrities will actually come in. Do you let them borrow dresses? I deal with the owners, not the loaners, unless it's someone I have a real relationship with and it's a major event, like the Oscars and someone I really, really, really know, I'll loan them something. But in general people just buy, because it's not doing us any favors to loan you a one of a kind vintage Jean-Louis Scherrer. It's great for Scherrer, or Chanel, or Dior, but I only have one and I'm not selling any perfume off of it. And once someone's worn it, no one else will want to. Exactly. At last year's Golden Globes, Heidi Klum wore vintage Galanos for us, and her stylist is a really good friend and I sold it the minute after she wore it, but in general people come here to buy. And it's a little frustrating to watch the fashion industry, they've basically lost their bread and butter, which is rich people and celebrities buying clothes, by just loaning everything out. It's a weird cycle. Yeah I mean everyone gets stuff, I get stuff! It creates a really weird culture. There's just no value afforded to anything when it call comes for free. Do you help your customers? Do they know to ask you for advice? If you come in the store and I'm helping you, take advantage of it. I kind of know what I'm doing. I get paid really well to be a luxury consultant, but I just want to help you because it's fun, so if you're going to come in and spend $1,800 on a dress, I'm going to take care of you. I have no agenda other than to make you look beautiful. But hey you know not everyone knows or cares-- That blows my mind. But I'm just a fashion person, no one really knows who I am unless you're really hardcore into this industry I'm just an anonymous figure. I guess I just assume, because it's not plopped in the middle of a mall and it is such a destination, that if you make it into the store you know enough to recognize you. Not in this neo-Romantic get up I have on today! I look like Duran Duran circa 1981. Do you go to Fashion Week? I was in Paris for couture. How was that? It's the end of couture, I mean what's the point? It's so irrelevant. And I never thought I would say that. People are always like, "You can't say that, especially you, you've been such a supporter of it," but I just think the idea of a $200,000 dress is gross. I understand the beauty of it and I understand the relevancy of couture during it's hey day, but it wasn't so astronomical. It's out of control now, I get supporting the petites-mains and I was at the Lacroix show and I found it very emotional knowing that we didn't know if he'd show again, but you know about a week and half later I went back to look a the clothes on line and they were just so old fashioned, something very anachronistic. I liked the Givenchy show, but to me, I mean you can get that look in ready to wear. I mean there's so much good cheap clothing, I think it's a very exciting time for fashion because luxury's getting a total overhaul. I think pricing is going to change, no one's going to care where it's made - you'll go to Barneys and see the Balenciaga runway jacket for $15,000 next to the t-shirt made in Turkey next to the silk dress that's made in China for $800 and I think that's what's happening, like a new cheaper designer. And I'm not talking H&M, not that mass... It's just all gotten so out of control. It's ridiculous. It'll be designer fashion with a little bit of value, I mean things have to get adjusted. I still love Hermès. It's a great investment, get your nice bag, but I just think, I mean these Balmain jeans I'm wearing? This shirt was made in Turkey. It probably cost $40 to make and retails for $6 or $700 -- it's just ridiculous. So I think all of that will get adjusted and the brands that survive, including legacy brands, will adjust to the new pricing. It will be really interesting to see how it unfolds. I'm excited about it. I'm involved in a few projects that are really interesting. Did you see the Vionnet resort collection?

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I was on vacation right before this, so I have no idea what's going on in the world. Well one of the dresses is retailing for $800. Now I have no idea where it's being produced, but Vionnet, which was so expensive when they relaunched it with Sophia Kokosalaki and charged astronomical prices, and now I think it's brilliant. If you can get a great designer dress for $800, why not? It's almost necessary now, when you can get the Phillip Lims and Alex Wangs for even less. Exactly, and it's all made in China and it's cute. Their clothes are great. It's a designer brand, but it has an attractive price point. Do you think these changes will have an effect on the vintage business, or Decades spefically? I think there will always be a demand for something special. Vintage will always kind of wax nostalgic and it's kind of cheap in a weird way. When you buy a vintage Pauline Trigere ballgown for $2800 that you know, if Oscar made it it'd be $8000 and everyone would have it. True. So I think it'll stay strong, and I think the designer resale business will continue to grow. Do you search high and low for the pieces for Decades? It's gotten a bit easier, I'm really lucky that people send me things. I mean easier and not easier, everyone wants more money for their things, but I don't have to go to markets anymore. Everyone has their Vogue moment, what was it like when they called? I remember Plum Sykes followed me at the Met Pavilion show, and then my first shoot with them was with Rose McGowan and it was her first big thing, too. It was great, we were photographed together. I put Rose in a vintage gown and I have no idea what I wore.

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Was that when you kind of realized, "Hey, I'm doing something cool and noteworthy?" That moment only really happened in the last year and a half when The New Yorker did a profile on me and I was really like, that was so special. My mom was really excited when Time made me one of the 25 Most Influential People in Fashion. Those are both pretty cool. Yeah, it was awesome, they're nice things. What's the best part of your job? I think it's getting the right dress on the right woman, that's the magic, making someone look beautiful and feel great about themselves. The greatest experience I ever had helping somebody was many years ago. A woman came in right before closing and she had the biggest boobs I'd ever seen - they were real - and she was like 4'11'' and we tried on everything and nothing worked. Then we tried this no-name, 70s couture halter dress and we put in on and all of a sudden she had a waist and she got really emotional and she was like, "I haven't worn a dress since my Bah Mitzvah!" and this woman was like 30 and that was really rewarding. What's the hardest part? Just the minute shit, taxes, workers comp, the fact that sales tax is 9.75% now. It's hard to be a small business person and do it with integrity. What's the next big thing, what will everyone be scrambling for in a few years? I mean I guess people are looking at the '80s and they'll eventually look at the '90s, but that just doesn't interest me at all. If you're going to do minimalism, I'd rather do like Halston, or even the '40s. I used to not care about the '40s at all, but now I'm really into it, like great Valentinas. Did you study the history of fashion? When I was at UCLA I took a costume design class and learned about fabric and stuff, so it was familiar. And now I have a huge fashion library in the back and I've read a ton since then. Plus I mean I grew up in Beverley Hills so I've been exposed to it. Did you ever think you'd work in fashion? No, it's so weird. You know, Jared was supposed to be a baseball player and now he's worked here for ten years, so you know, it's cool. Is there something in particular you'd love to have in the store? I'd love tons of Valentina from the '40s. Is it just so hard to find? Yeah, I mean it was American couture, so made-to-measure. It wasn't like there was a huge wholesale distribution. But she was so amazing, you should check her out. I will, thank you so much! This was really interesting for me, I learned a lot. You're so welcome! Will you answer a few favorites for me? Of course. WORD Iconic BOOK The Mysteries of Pittsburgh MOVIE Diva FOOD Fried Chicken, but I don't eat that. Pizza, never eat that either, but I think it's the greatest food on earth PLACE My bed CITY Paris MAGAZINE I never read any of them, I skim I guess. I always pick up Vanity Fair for the plane. BLOG DListed