By Francesca Moisin
Lexi Oliveri remembers playing dress-up with the stash of old clothes in her parents’ attic. “My dad grew up poor in Brooklyn, my mom in the Bronx, and they both mastered a mentality for conserving everything,” she says. Then Oliveri became a teenager, and that cornucopia of retro frocks, skirts, pants, and tops became embarrassing. “I hid the vast collection from my friends, because I thought it made my mom look like a pack rat.” Yet it was this very dedication to accumulation that enabled her to launch the 415-square-foot Grand Street shop, Antoinette Vintage, two years ago. Almost every piece she now sells was sourced from those familiar garment racks, which is why the uniquely curated boutique bears her mother’s name. One could say a passion for fashion preservation is encoded in Oliveri’s genes. One might call it destiny.
In the 1950s, Antoinette worked for Lilly Daché, the most celebrated milliner of her time, who famously designed hats for Marlene Dietrich, and turned the turban into a head-wrap coveted by women around the globe. Even after quitting Manhattan for New Jersey to raise Lexi and four older siblings, Antoinette still made special city trips to browse flea markets and five-and-dimes. “Fashion was my mother’s art, and I think she always hoped I’d one day find a way to display it,” muses Oliveri.
Weeks before she opened her doors, boyfriend JT Sroka and buddy Gavin Compton, owner of the Variety cafés on Graham and Driggs avenues, installed wide hardwood floorboards. Friends and neighbors painted walls and hung French damask paper near the dressing room. With one night to go, everyone worked until dawn, pricing merchandise and sprucing décor. “From the start, I wanted to be part of the community and not exist as a lone shop,” says the FIT grad. “Now I host pop-up animal adoption stands for BARC shelter, and sweep the stoop of the tattoo parlor next door!”
Good things happen inside, too, where shelves burst with shoes, jewelry, handbags, and apparel dating from 1900 to 1994, the cut-off for what Oliveri considers antique. She drools over a pair of camel-colored, linen gaucho pants ($70) once worn by Mom (“I wish I was tall enough to look good in them”) and a late-70s Joan Walters–inspired jumpsuit ($70) recently purchased by The Americans, an FX series about Cold War KGB spies. “It’s so fun when film and TV costume departments come calling,” says the 36-year-old entrepreneur. Garments will grace Keira Knightley in Can a Song Save Your Life?—due to hit theaters this spring—but the famous aren’t her only fans. Japanese and Australian tourists read about the space in special guides and consistently stop to stock up on vintage that’s too costly at home—like an early twentieth-century metal and rhinestone cameo, the oldest bauble in the boutique, passed to Antoinette from a family friend and priced fairly at $70. Apart from winter fur coats, in fact, every item is under $100. “My mom was an organized hoarder, and I no longer mind,” says Oliveri. “Without her, none of this would have been possible.”
119 Grand Street