Discovering vintage fashion in the Dordogne

Gite owners Vanessa & William have a passion for vintage fashion and the extra space in France has now allowed them to take their love to the next level by setting up their fashion museum on-site.

Let's go back a few decades to see what inspired this fascination with women's clothing from the past?

Collecting vintage fashion and where to find it

Vanessa bought her first piece (a pink lace infused blouse from the Edwardian era) from an antique shop in Chelmsford in the mid-1980s, which was the start of a never-ending love affair with vintage. 

Over the years she bought the odd piece at fairs, events and car boot sales then came the advent of specialist fairs and of course eBay. Of course, living near London, it was perfect to pop along to the famous Portabello Road and pick up many a bargain before vintage became extremely popular and prices went up fourfold and more! 

The start of a nightwear collection

For her, it was the style, cut and finish that was enthralling, especially those from highly acclaimed brands. Then she discovered antique fairs at Alexander Palace, where she bought her first pair of 1930s pyjamas.

This began a side interest in collecting women's sleepwear and everything related to the subject including patterns, nightwear cases etc. Always looking to learn more about the subject, she found that was not a single book on it. So, after much research at the Victora and Albert Museum in London and the Palais Galliera in Paris, she is slowly gathering all her knowledge together and plans to one day write her own book. In the meantime, as her collection grew, she spent a lot of time giving talks about its history to various ladies interest groups.

Design in vintage style!  

By the age of 40, she was working on producing her own nightwear collection and was all set up to introduce it to top London store Fortnum and Mason, when she realised it wouldn't pay her mortgage and she stuck with her day job. One day, however, she hopes the 18 pieces will have their day after all! 

The Eye of Time Vintage Boutique    

So when she was 50, she and her partner - William McDonald, moved to Suffolk, where they had the opportunity to open a vintage boutique in the village of Clare.  The emporium was run by William, known as “The Eye of Time,” was packed with all sorts of purchases attracting customers from near and far to visit and buy, including the BBC. 

Vanessa said, “I've always had an eye for quality, and there's nothing quite like the euphoric feeling of finding a designer label from yesteryear.”

What to wear to the Goodwood Revival?

William was a quick learner and was soon dressing all and sundry from top to bottom for events like the Goodwood Revival and Classic car rallies. For both of them, the love of serving the public and bringing joy would come to good use in their next venture.

Vintage Museum in the Dordogne    

A move to France brought the closure of the boutique and the stock was carefully packed and stored for what the future had in store.

Initially, they opened a gite, offering luxury accommodation for mainly UK-based people. However, Vanessa knew that to really succeed in this business, they needed to add something that made a real difference. Using the vintage collection was the perfect answer. So, they chose an outbuilding as “the place,” and William developed a home for their stock, which eventually transformed from an original idea of a vintage studio into a museum.

Today, it is now an extremely attractive private space where vintage lovers and holidaymakers alike can marvel and admire beautiful garments and accessories from the past.

What does the future hold for them and their vintage? There’s no telling but for now, they are just focused on showcasing their treasures for their guests, friends and those who also have a passion and want to book a visit to see them.

But, maybe Vanessa will have time to write more background for the book, or will their journey go in a different direction? 

If you would like to learn more about the fashion museum or any related aspect, please contact yourfrenchstay@gmail.com