Nanette Lepore: How I Shop

The designer's vintage obsession is next level.
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Chantal Fernandez
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The designer's vintage obsession is next level.
Nanette Lepore in Mexico City. Photo: Nanette Lepore

Nanette Lepore in Mexico City. Photo: Nanette Lepore

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend, and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in the fashion industry with our column, "How I Shop."

Designer Nanette Lepore has a vintage shopping problem — and she knows it. Over the last 20 years, she has amassed a huge collection of pieces sourced from Youngstown in Ohio (where she grew up) and from more exotic locales like Paris, London, Rome, Morocco and Mexico. And now, for the first time, she's decided to start parting with it. This Tuesday and Wednesday, Lepore is selling 1,500 pieces — about one third of her collection — out of her Garment District design studio. (Head over between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. at 225 West 35th Street, 17th floor. Everything is under $50 and it's open to the public.)

I spoke to Lepore Monday as her showroom got ready for the sale about a Victorian jacket that fueled her obsession many years ago, how much she wears her own label and the importance of buying fall shoes in July. 

I love clothes. I just put this skirt out in the sale and it was this dumb grey flannel skirt and thought, ‘Why have I been keeping that?’ And I turned it around and there’s this tiny little pocket on the front with this crown embroidered on it and that’s why I bought that. It’s something visual to have as a memory to pull ideas from.

I would have dreams of being in the best vintage store — it’s this idea of discovering something that's really cool and really old and really in amazing condition. My husband and I went every single morning to this store in downtown Youngstown that you would buy by the bag full. I would get beaded 1920s dresses and velvet ‘50s coats and a lot of little 1960s shift dresses. 

It was at least 15 years ago or maybe 20, I think I got a little obsessive at that point. They would have these big sales at the Metropolitan [Pavilion] and all the really good high-end vintage dealers would come. You would see this sort of panic between all the designers. It would be a race — the Donna Karan team, the Jill Stuart team — they would go in there and everybody would be racing around trying to get as much vintage from these high-end dealers as they could. That would have been around 2005, that was the peak of that stuff, then it sort of tapered off and I stopped going because it always made me feel like I was buying more than I needed because you just got caught up in this frenzy.

The 26th Street market was the best before it was destroyed and turned into Starbucks and all those high-rises. That was an every Sunday thing. You'd see everybody there, it was very social. I travel a lot too: I was buying a lot from Portobello market in London and the Clignancourt market in Paris. There’s Madame Matovu [in New York] — I always find something really special in there. I bought a lot of beautiful embroidered tops in Mexico. Tulum now has more shopping along the beach strip than it ever use to have. I got this little rad poncho thing that I wear to the beach that has embroidered flowers.

Nanette Lepore in Mexico City. Photo: Nanette Lepore

Nanette Lepore in Mexico City. Photo: Nanette Lepore

I like to mix it up but I do wear mostly my own clothing. It’s definitely 70 percent me, 30 percent others. I’ll buy jeans and things from other people because I don't really do jeans. I have a few pairs of great beat up Dries Van Noten pants because he makes a great pant and great t-shirts. I try to find his t-shirts whenever possible. [My daughter] Violet pilfers my favorite very low-cut grey flannel Dries t-shirt, I'm always finding it in her closet.

I do a little bit of online shopping. I just bought a pair of Robert Clergerie sandals online, probably at Barneys. When I'm looking for shoes, I like the Barneys shoe choices. I like the Lower East Side [in Manhattan] because there’s a lot of different things to discover down there. There could be a great vintage store and then there’s a great home goods store and then there’s a cool shop that carries new designers. There’s a good mix.

When I was young I could only buy one pair of shoes each season, so I would look at every single pair of shoes in the market and then I would go back and buy the pair of shoes I wanted, hoping they were still there. [Brands and retailers] had us all trained to buy at the beginning of the season up until the recession, but I would buy my fall shoes right after the Fourth of July. If I didn't have them by the end of July, I would panic that I wasn’t going to get the ones I wanted, so I got very serious about that.

I like to be eclectic, I like to be thoughtful about what I put on, I like to have a mood or a feeling when I get dressed. I rarely do the whole black look but I did that a lot this winter because it was so cold, you couldn't deal with anything. I know what my color palette will be and what my mood will be each season because I've designed it six months ahead. I get excited to wear the clothes still. I try not to wear too many things a season ahead because I want to be happy to wear them when I'm in that season.

I love peasant tops, I love lacy things, I love pretty things. But then you have to juxtapose it — I get something a little edgier. You have to walk the line on mixing the pretty things with more banged up pants.