For a little while my days have been a mix of ducking, diving, zipping and zooming. The holidays hit partway through March, and the first fortnight away from academic work became an alternating rhythm of London day-trips and languorous lie-ins to catch up on sleep. Things have slowed down since (I’ve just returned from a family trip to Turkey – more on that soonish), but among the train commutes and meetings of those initial two weeks, there was another adventure further afield – a 24 hour interlude in Bologna, joined by the lovely Olivia, Carrie and Monica.
The reason for our oh-so-fleeting visit? A treasure trove of clothes found a little way outside the city called A.N.G.E.L.O. Vintage Palace – aka, the actual embodiment of my personal heaven. As someone with a keen-cut taste for everything from twenties to seventies (occasionally stretching to eighties if it’s one-of-a-kind fabulous), several floors full of carefully cultivated vintage clothes is nigh-on close to perfection. A hint of hyperbole there? Maybe. But I feel it’s very much justified.
This Palazzo is owned by Angelo Caroli, a man who knows more about vintage than I could ever hope to guess at. He’s been working in the realms of the past since 1978, when, at 17, he was employed as a styling consultant on a radio programme. A quick-forged link with a local second hand shop owner piqued his interest, clothes initially amassed for personal and commercial use slowly transforming into a desire to gather, preserve and protect a (rather large) slice of fashion history. His current shop is three years older than me, having opened in 1992. All in all, he owns about 180,000 items from 1850 to present day.
Anyway, enough of biography – back to the clothes rails for a moment. Entering the shop was a little like moving through a bright, fabric-filled Wonderland; a suspended space cut off from the drizzle and damp streets outside. The best vintage shops often do this. They’re not necessarily stranded in the past, but nonetheless give an air of otherness, of existing slightly outside the clock the rest of us work to. Maybe a more apt literary comparison would be something like a sartorial Narnia (sans witch and lion, obviously) – i.e. a private kingdom complete with its own internal time, only to be found behind an unprepossessing entrance. A Narnia with more denim jackets, perhaps.
The ground floor stocks women’s, men’s and children’s clothes. Up the curved staircase lie further gems – several rooms of meticulously chosen goodness, including a handful of more high-end designers. I can’t think of a better word here than the (now over-used) ‘curated’. This is a shop defined by Angelo’s conscientious eye for detail, shape, proportion and good design; from the clothes themselves to the displays assembled from hatboxes, handbags and mirrors. I ran my hands over tea-dresses and silk blazers, salivated ever-so-slightly at the suede capes, and generally felt a bit miffed I couldn’t buy pretty much everything.
That’s not the end of it though. Above the shop lies Angelo’s private archive, stuffed to the rafters (literally – on the top floor we could hear the drumming of rain on the roof) with some seriously special garments. These clothes have been used in fashion editorials, films, music videos, adverts and exhibitions, with others influencing new collections (plenty of designers have knocked on his door seeking out inspiration). He’s also supplied plenty to private archives, including Gucci’s.
The best part? We were allowed to play dress-up there. I felt like a child let loose in a sweetshop – one part exhilarated at the liberty of it all, one part overwhelmed at where to begin. First I dabbled in the odd delectable outer layer, quickly moving from a green velvet Dior dressing gown to a Moschino coat with purses for pockets to a cape Little Red Riding Hood would have been proud to wear. Then it got serious: a seventies YSL black dress with an inbuilt cape (general note to the fashion world – more inbuilt capes please), followed by more YSL in the shape of a long-sleeved leaf-print gown. After that, some gorgeously constructed couture dresses. Plus hats. Oh the hats! While I swished around and jumped in and out of one outfit after another, Carrie found a fabulous baguette bag, Olivia hung out in a fifties dress in the bathroom (it has pink walls and a retro bathtub full of rolled up pairs of jeans), and Monica eyed up all the handbags.
I suppose I should explain the reason for this whole trip (aside from sheer revelry in gorgeous garments). The four of us had been invited along by McArthurGlen, a designer outlet chain with stores across Europe. This year they’re running vintage festivals in two of their UK locations – Swindon (30th April to 17th May) and York (21st May – 7th June). For each of them, Angelo has assembled a pop up collection of items for shoppers to get their hands on. In addition, there’s also a ‘Timeless Style’ exhibition charting the significance of particular items, trends and iconic pieces from the 40s to the 90s. Think everything from Chanel quilted handbags to designs worn by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Fonda. Plus, on the VIP launch weekends for each, there’s the chance to have your own vintage items evaluated by the man himself. If the whole experience is anything like the enclosed whirl of patterns, cuts and careful choices we got to glimpse here, then we’re all in for a treat…
This post was sponsored by McArthurGlen, but consider the unbridled enthusiasm for all things A.N.G.E.L.O. vintage to be as genuine as genuine can be. If you ever find yourself near his shop, then go, go, go! Many thanks to MG for treating us so well whilst we were there, and to Angelo and his lovely assistants for being charming, enthusiastic and gracious while we ran around his shop. Also big appreciation for Olivia and Monica who kindly supplemented the images taken by the photographer on the day with a few from their cameras too.