THIS WEEK venerable Southeast vintage shop Xtabay celebrates the season with a holiday party-themed fashion show. There have been a steady number of well-attended runway shows this fall, but it's rare that we're treated to an evening completely in celebration of Portland's vast vintage offerings, despite the never-ebbing popularity of mixing the old in with the new. Xtabay's fête will include selected pieces from a recently acquired lot of unworn, tag-on looks from the 1960s—the kind of get vintage dealers live in wait for. Shown in the old tradition of atelier presentations, the show will take place in Xtabay's new Bridal Salon, a dreamy, tulle- and rose-filled sanctuary of dress-up fantasy and storytelling through adornment. Plus, show proceeds will go to benefit the Cascade AIDS Project. Owner Elizabeth Gross took time to chat with us about the show, the shop, and the state of vintage in Portland. Xtabay Holiday Fashion Show, Xtabay Vintage Bridal Salon, 2536 SE 25th, Ste. E, Sat Dec 1, 7:30 pm, $8
MERCURY: There are a lot of fashion shows in town, but it's not often that we see a runway show of all vintage pieces. What motivated you to throw one now?
ELIZABETH GROSS: The motivation behind the fashion show was to basically show off some beautiful vintage dresses and to have a party in the new Bridal Salon space. I thought it would be a great opportunity to raise funds for a local charity—one of my former employees and blog contributors works for Cascade AIDS Project and so I thought it would be a good fit.
What are the themes of the show?
Holiday glamour. I've always been inspired by the way the couture shows in Paris were done in the 1950s. Rather than having the models on catwalks walking in cavernous tents, the show would be held at the atelier with guests sitting on couches and chairs. The models would walk by at ground level. It was very intimate and elegant. The bridal salon totally has that kind of vibe. I'm primarily focusing on items from the '50s and '60s. I have this incredible collection of items that belonged to a woman named Bette that were never worn (long story), and a lot of things are from her collection.
How did Xtabay's bridal salon addition come about?
A couple years ago I started to notice that more and more women were coming in looking for vintage wedding gowns. I tried to accommodate them but the store started getting super cramped. I heard the folks upstairs were moving out so I jumped at the chance to take over the space. For the immediate future I'm really just focused on the holiday season. I am doing three more fashion shows in addition to the one at Xtabay, so my brain is thoroughly fried at this point! I am looking forward to January, though, when I can shift back into full bridal gear.
Which era in women's clothing do you most admire?
My favorite era has to be... ah... I can't say! I enjoy the best of every era! Early '60s? I can't commit to any one.
Have you noticed changes in how Portland women wear and shop for vintage over the years?
When I first opened in 2001 I sold jeans, rock Ts, those tight '70s T-shirts that said things like "Curl up with a hairdresser"—my prices capped out at around $24. I could find fabulous designer dresses from the '40s and '50s all day at places like Value Village and Goodwill. Etsy wasn't around yet [and] not everyone and their sister were vintage dealers. Competition has gotten stiff and in order to find incredible stuff you have to pay a lot of money for it and fight crowds of crazed Etsy dealers at estate sales. Anyway, a lot of my customers are fashion-savvy women "of a certain age" that want something unique and stylish. They wear '50s cocktail dresses with Prada heels. A lot of them shop at Nordstrom and Mario's and have never stepped foot in the Goodwill bins. I am happy to say that a lot of my regular customers have been shopping with me since the day I opened.