To Madeline Meyerowitz of enokiworld.com, "The whole goal of socking money into a fabulous outfit is not about the outfit - it's about the ability to transform a normally wonderful you into Ava Gardner." The founder of one of the best, and most popular online vintage clothing sites on the web, Meyerowitz has a lot of things to say about the downside of wash 'n' wear, "Clayton hair," and why Chrissie Hynde is so cool.
In conversation with: Madeline Meyerowitz of enokiworld.com
According to enokiworld.com, "The right bag is like spinach to Popeye - or the pill in the ring is to Underdog." Though the shorthand description of enokiworld is a "high-end, vintage, e-commerce boutique," a straightforward description doesn't do them justice. Enokiworld is more holistic than that; if you don't want to buy anything, you can check out their online magazine, "Space," which features printable paper dolls, a soundtrack to download to listen to while you surf, and essays on candy. But as Madeline Meyerowitz, creator of enokiworld points out, you probably will buy something - or at least want to very badly - if you stick around long enough to check out their inventory.
Meyerowitz, originally from New York, came to St. Louis because she "followed a boy," and stayed; she founded enokiworld because the shopping options in St. Louis were a little on the bleak side. Since the site launched in '99, enokiworld has been written up in The New York Times, Elle, The Dallas Morning News, Paper, InStyle, USA Today, and (just last month) Vogue Magazine. Though as all these publications observed, the clothes are fabulous (they stock everything from happy-go-lucky Lilly Pulitzer flare pants to Roger Vivier boots, circa the 60s) what really makes enokiworld different is that it's more about self-expression than fashion. Though Meyerowitz' hilarious, wise, and very readable paragraph descriptions offer helpful suggestions in the way of how to match the clothes with accessories or separates (and even perfumes and lipstick) enokiworld is fundamentally about wearing what you want because you like it (and it expresses who you are), not because someone told you to. Meyerowitz talked to us last week about the phenomenon of "Clayton hair", the virtues of vintage, and why Bonnie Cashin is the perfect designer for St. Louis women.
STLtoday: Where did the name "Enokiworld?" come from? It's a mushroom, right?
Meyerowitz: Yeah, it's a mushroom. I used to be a chef and I worked with this absolutely insane Japanese guy... it was my kitchen nickname - it just sorta stuck. It was just enoki then, the "world" part wasn't in there, obviously! Now my ego has grown to require the "world" part. Kidding.
STLtoday: How did you come into fashion, then?
Meyerowitz: Actually, I have no real retail background in clothing, other than working at Banana Republic when I was sixteen. But I think that works for us, because we're coming at it from the customer's point of view. There's so much same old same old, especially here in St. Louis. You see in magazines that Prada is making these great shoes, and you go to Neiman Marcus at Plaza Frontenac to get these great shoes, and they don't have them. That means one of two things; either women here really don't want them, or they think you can't turn St. Louis into a hip little town, no way, and they won't even test drive it on us because they don't think it would work. Maybe the shoes don't even exist, they're myths. It can't be about price either, because it's not like women won't shop beyond their means. That's what credit cards are for, baby - if it takes me six months to pay for a pair of really great boots, I'll do it.
STLtoday: So why did you decide on selling vintage? Is it a longing for the past, or does it have more to do with the quality?
Meyerowitz: I can't look at much modern clothing without thinking, "That's so Halston" or "That's so Claire McCardell." I'd much rather spend the money on the vintage Claire, aka the "original." I don't want to go to a party and see another girl wearing what I'm wearing - I don't want to be part of the herd. And yes, it's the quality too. People don't make clothes like that anymore because it's "too frivolous" or not "cost effective." When I'm wearing a Pauline Trigere dress, I can't help but notice the silk lining, because nobody would dare put a lining like that in a garment these days, so it stands out as luxurious. When she made that dress, she thought, "That's touching my skin, and it had better feel good." And it does. I just think a lot of women don't know any better. It's the whole thing about machine-washable. It changed everyone's wardrobe. Do you know that women would wear a dress dozens of times without ever cleaning it? And then Courreges came along in the 60s with his all white collections, because he was disgusted by that. He knew they couldn't do that with white. But it turned on him - it went all the way to the "if I can't throw it in the machine, I don't want it" attitude. You cannot have a truly stylish wardrobe that is solely machine washable, though. Cotton is not luxe.
STLtoday: Enokiworld has a whole staff, correct?
Meyerowitz: We have a staff of just a few people - it was just my partner and myself in the beginning, and we just decided to do it - no plan of where it was going to go. And we just kinda keep going with it.
STLtoday: What's the editorial vision for Space? When did it launch?
Meyerowitz: We've done that from the very beginning. That's another thing we're just going with. It was important to offer something that was not sales-oriented, so you don't have to go to enokiworld to shop - although if you look at it long enough you're going to want to! And even though you get little bits and pieces about vintage in Vogue or Elle, there's really not a place where they talk solely about vintage. They have those '40s sites that tell you how to do your hair in some vintage style, but that's not us. These are real clothes, to wear all the time. They're not costumes. We have people e-mailing us all the time looking for "costumes" because there is a misconception about what vintage really is. A lot of women don't understand that you can look modern - timeless even, while wearing clothing from the past. Nobody was coming at it from that perspective. You never heard people talking about shopping at Old Navy and then buying a vintage Gucci suede coat to wear with $17.00 khakis.
STLtoday: So, did you do the drawings on the site?
Meyerowitz: Yep, I designed it, and I did all the drawings, and all the copy. It's fun, it's really a lot of fun. We get to curse, or talk about sex when we write the descriptions. It's not just about clothes, but how they fit into your life, and how they reflect your own philosophies. Your style, the way you think and the way you live should all come together.
STLtoday: What about enokiworld faves - what's the criteria there?
Meyerowitz: It's just stuff we think is really cute, or that makes a strong statement. Sometimes it just means that that piece is a great representation of the class it's in.
STLtoday: You have certain designers that pop up on the site a lot; like Bonnie Cashin. What it is it about Cashin that makes her so great?
Meyerowitz: She was amazing. She died two years ago this winter. If you're looking for high style, like Chanel, Cashin may be not be the designer for you - you're not going to get "reactions". She's for women who do their own grocery shopping, who wear flat shoes but are cultured and well traveled. She struck that balance perfectly between style and just being a good designer. Her clothing is great for St. Louis, because she's not over the top. She's not trendy. You can't tell when those clothes were made, for the most part.
STLtoday: Andre Courreges?
Meyerowitz: Courreges is actually a husband and wife team. It's what always happens-the husband gets most of the credit. They dressed Jackie O, but Courreges is also very Barbarella. He could do it all, just like Yves St. Laurent. The quality of his clothing is unbelievable; you can't compare it to anything else, the only thing that approaches the quality of his ready-to wear is maybe vintage couture. He's just utterly classic. But you have to be small to wear his stuff, and you have to be toned. Otherwise, you're going to look like a folded-up slice of bologna on a flat piece of bread.
STLtoday: And you have a whole online boutique dedicated to Alaia.
Meyerowitz: That came about because we had such a big grouping of his pieces that we devoted a whole section to his work. We had an Issey Miyake boutique before that, which went over really well, so we decided to swing the other way, because they couldn't be more different. Miyake is practical and thoughtful, and Alaia is studied and high-maintenance, but both are very sculptural designers. The juxtaposition between the two was fresh. You can't pack a wrinkled old body into Alaia's clothes - it's all about capturing the moment of your youth. Women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who reject certain sexy pieces of clothing because they think can't get away with wearing it, ten or twenty years from now will be looking at pictures of themselves, thinking "How stupid was I not to show it all off? I wish I still looked that good." It's about that - the body you have now, showing it off.
STLtoday: You moved to St. Louis from New York, and you mentioned in Vogue that you "followed a boy here" but that you like this place, with the exception of the vintage stores. What, specifically, do you like about St. Louis?
Meyerowitz: St. Louis is totally laid back. It's pretty clean, there's a great craft community here - glassblowers and potters and stuff. I like being able to walk outside and have a backyard. After growing up in an apartment building in New York, I love that. And U. City's cool.
STLtoday: So... fashion icons. Who's the best-dressed comic book heroine?
Meyerowitz: I would have to say Jean Grey, "The Phoenix" in X-Men. She was ultra cool. Catwoman wasn't bad, either.
STLtoday: What about the best-dressed person in history?
Meyerowitz: Jackie O. But I like the 70's Onassis Jackie, not the Kennedy Jackie. She always looked pulled together, even when she was in jeans and a T-shirt. And she always looked polished, even when her hair was a mess.
STLtoday: Who's the best-dressed person you know personally?
Meyerowitz: Me! No, seriously, my brother was a total huge influence on me. Really, without him, there would be so many things I would not know about. He was never looking at clothing or shoes as potentially comfortable or affordable, but rather, does it look fabulous?
STLtoday: What's your personal fashion philosophy - pieces, or looks you really love?
Meyerowitz: I really like the whole early '70s Diane Keaton in "Play it Again, Sam" thing. Floor length wool skirts with men's shirts tucked in for day, or trousers and a messy linen shirt. She really had it together during all of the 70s. She never looked overdone - I hate overdone. I hate when everything's perfect, with the belt and the lipliner and the perfect matching shoes. I like things to be a little messy. You shouldn't look like you even thought about it. Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders is another great example. She can run in six-inch stiletto heels but she does not look like she tries. She is effortlessly hip.
STLtoday: What's the process for finding the pieces?
Meyerowitz: We do get some stuff locally, but people send us stuff from all over the world. Lots of times, I'm sifting through huge boxes, because some woman's mom has been collecting clothes for years and now wants rid of them. That's my favorite way to find stuff, because if it hasn't been through several pairs of hands, then it's usually in good condition. If you love something, you hang on to it - you don't give it away after six months. Condition is important. I'm not going to wear something with a stain or moth holes, I don't care how old it is. It's just unacceptable. Most local vintage clothing stores, you walk in and everything is damaged or it's made out of something that would burst into flames in direct sunlight. It makes you ask, who's shopping in here? It's just nasty.
STLtoday: The Vogue article also mentioned that enokiworld is there for women in far-flung parts of the world who don't have access to the kinds of stuff you can find in larger cities. What kinds of feedback have you gotten from those kinds of customers?
Meyerowitz: We have lots of customers in the cities where the best vintage stores are. The appeal is the same for everyone - you can shop at home, at any hour. We do have people in totally remote parts of the United States who order really funky stuff. I mean, if we think we have it bad here, it could be way worse - it could be Boise, Idaho. But we don't get a lot of feedback. Maybe we satisfy every woman's every need. I think that's the thing about the online venue, it doesn't require a lot of interaction, and some people like that. They just want to stick in the order, and then be left alone. The customer is totally in control. There's no salesperson dreaming of commission fees telling you you look great in something that you look awful in. The final factor comes down to how you feel about yourself in that vintage piece when you're standing at the floor-length mirror in your bedroom.
STLtoday: What are some fashion faux pas you see in St. Louis?
Meyerowitz: Sometimes I just feel like saying, "Kate Spade's over, girls, let's move on. Has anyone heard of Marc Jacobs?" I mean, they buy fashion magazines and then what? They go back to Ann Taylor and buy that? They don't want any of the Marc Jacobs stuff? I don't think it's that, I think it might be a little fear of trendiness here in the Midwest. The beautiful thing about St. Louis women is that their more conservative taste allows them to wear their clothing longer, because things don't go "out" as fast. They are more hip to buying classic pieces that will last for a long, long time. That's part of the problem with modern fashion. With vintage, we're not on anyone's payroll. These companies really have to create constant trends to make money, and the magazines have to respond to the demands of their advertisers. A woman's going to buy a classic coat, and she's set for ten years. She'll only have a need for another expensive coat if she bought something really over-the-top and trendy. St. Louis women do this much less than women in trendier cities. I'm not going to blow $35,000 every year for a coat. And the thing is with modern that the quality isn't that good for the money, and I'm not even sure if people realize that, either. I was in Chicago looking at the Ralph Lauren stuff. I saw a coat there that looked like it would feel really great, the way I know vintage Halston double-faced wool feels, but the wool was so flimsy. I don't think people know, unless they have some experience with vintage, and I'm not talking a $15 polyester shirt from the college stores in the Loop. From what I've seen, it's the older women here who really have their stuff together, not the young girls. The older ones, especially the older ones who have money - there's something going on there. They're more confident. They don't care if they have the blonde Clayton hair. When I first moved here, I heard people talking about Clayton hair, and I had no idea what they were talking about, but I do now, and it's a whole mindset. There are so many women here who have that Clayton hair mentality, the Kate Spade-carrying crowd, with the spiky, chunky Meg Ryan hair. The moment a woman gets past that, she starts to look like a stylish version of herself - not a cheap version of Meg Ryan.
STLtoday: So currently in beauty and fashion, are there trends you find inspiring, and on the other side, dreadful?
Meyerowitz: There are a couple of British and Belgian designers that are pushing the envelope so far, that when you step back to normal, you're more tolerant of new innovations. Normal clothing is getting more creative than it was a few years ago. Alexander McQueen is really great, he pushes it; Viktor and Rolf are really good, so is Ann Demeulemeester, and I am crazy about Martin Margiela. But you can't buy these things in St. Louis, though you can get Eskandar at Neiman Marcus. I just think if St. Louis were more exposed to hipper stuff, it would fly. I mean, we just got Whole Foods, and people are totally into it. The home office just decided to notice St. Louis, but we've been waiting for something like that for years, and we didn't even know it. We would be a hipper city if we had access to the hip stuff - which is what's so great about the web. If you don't like what you see in American Vogue, you can go look at UK Vogue. If you don't like what you see at the Neiman Marcus store here, you can go to their website. If you don't like the vintage stores on the Loop, you can go to enokiworld. But you know, it's not about following a trend, it's about dressing the way you really want to dress, and not worrying about whether people are going to think you're different in a bad way. A friend of mine once said, "If you've always dreamed of wearing a ball gown to a barbecue, then do it."