Infused with Nowness
An artist transforms garments from bygone decades.
Jackie O and Jackie Hell could both find something they need at The Vutique, where the clothes are edited into convenient micro-collections: contemporary bohemian, vintage boho, business, cocktail. Pick your flavor.
At The Vutique, owner and creative force Huan Vu guides shoppers through his treasure trove of snakeskin boots, neon-striped pumps and big splashy floral dresses smacked with pops of tangerine and green. Vu’s small shop is neatly arranged yet bursting with houndstooth blazers, twinkling cocktail dresses, fitted jackets of caramel suede, ’80s apple-red or lustrous lipstick-pink leather. Under a glass case, vintage Dior sunglasses snuggle next to ivory lucite bangles crusted in sparkly blood orange rhinestones.
But The Vutique isn’t simply a resale shop. Vu, who started out in the business 20 years ago in his hometown of Portland, began remaking “sustainable” vintage clothing three years ago. Now, in addition to vintage garments, his line of altered ready-to-wear vintage makes up about half of the goods in his store. His passion is salvaging garments from bygone decades, altering them for the 21st century and infusing them with what he calls “nowness.”
It’s a vintage aficionado’s dream come true: no alterations, belabored styling or fuss required to make a relic look timeless.
Drawing on an exhaustive familiarity of the history of fashion and style, Vu knows exactly how to tweak a pristine-but-garish garment and rescue it from costume purgatory. He’ll take a school-marmish secretary dress from the ’80s and give it a structured 1940s silhouette by shortening the sleeves, adjusting the hem and nipping the waist with an elastic band. Or he’ll chop the legs off a zebra print jumpsuit and whip up a bodycon party dress, smoldering but playful.
“History inspires me more than anything,” Vu says. “I love to play with ’80s androgyny, new wave, ’90s eclecticism. The wartime aesthetic and ethics of the 1940s are especially inspiring. Rationing textiles forced everyone to be creative and careful with their resources. Pragmatism from back then can be transformed into something artistic today. I like to derive from the past, reinvent it in a playful way and make it unique again.”
Vu’s aggressive styling could be described as an acquired taste. But he’s been known to work a miracle or two for the right customer.
“Some people might think I’m a mad hatter, but I encompass what I’ve learned in 20 years and put it in nearly every garment,” he says laughing. “And I want to give customers an experience.”
Vu is serious about his sustainability angle, but his daring and understanding of a garment’s potential are intoxicating. “I want to take the mundane out of life,” he says. “Clothes can do that. They can transform and tell a story. They can transport you.”
Photo by Dylan Priest.