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Everything Old is New Again

[whitespace] Ver Unica Junk Dressed Up?: No. The vintage boutique Ver Unica is most unusual in its fashion-forward approach: with designer merchandise, it's not stuck in the past.

Ver Unica springs forward from the past

By Diana Rupp

Fashionwise, San Franciscans suffer from a serious case of retro fever. But having exhausted the supply of good vintage at thrift stores long ago, shoppers now find themselves scrambling for leftovers and paying top dollar for the privilege. Whether they're moth-eaten leisure suits, dime-a-dozen polyester print shirts or mangy faux fur coats, it's just junk dressed up.

Tired of digging through the trash for treasure? Ver Unica, a relatively new face in the city's burgeoning vintage boutique scene, edges out the competition by specializing in what is known in the business as NOS (New Old Stock): mint-condition garments that have been hidden in warehouses or have languished in closets for years. Sold privately, NOS is almost never available on the street.

"The quality of the new old stock really sets us apart," says part-owner Steve Bell. "We look for three things: condition, style and craftsmanship. There are no holes, no rips, no stains. Sometimes clothes will be over 50 years old and still have their original price tags on."

Joel Von Stezelberger, a frequent customer and fashion industry insider, agrees that Ver Unica is ahead of the game. "This is the best place to buy vintage in the city because it's high-end. Plus they go out of their way to get you what you want. I can give them a list of things I'm interested in, and they'll find it all."

Ver Unica is perhaps most unusual in its fashion-forward approach: Although the four owners are all avid collectors and aficionados of pre-1970s fashion, with rare finds by the likes of Dior, Schiaparelli, Pucci and Corège, they're not stuck in the past. In fact the store's nonsensible name was from a very contemporary Moschino label.

While most of the inventory does fall in the 20-years-or-older category, there is a smaller but equally impressive collection of clothes and accessories by Dolce & Gabanna, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Isaac Mizrahi and Christian Dior by John Galliano.

"There's a mix of the old with the new, because we appreciate the past as much as the present," says Bell. "We sell timeless things, not period pieces. Not everybody wants to look like they're from a black-and-white movie or World War II. We try to cater to a more fashionable marketplace."

It just so happens that perhaps the most fashionable places of all--the spring runways--are also influenced by the past-as-present aesthetic. Ultrafeminine '50s fashion is back and bigger than ever: All of the leading women's fashion magazines, including W, Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, are celebrating the return of period clothing, in the form of capri pants, clam diggers, just-below-the-knee skirts, cashmere twin sets and stiletto heels. Ver Unica stocks all these looks and more, at prices far below current retail.

Men's fashion is also seeing a return to old-style glamour. "Suits for men will continue to be big," predicts co-owner and jewelry designer Neal Hevel. "More and more men are dressing up." With fabrics running the gamut from Las Vegas sharkskin to strait-laced tweed, the most expensive suits in the house are a reasonable $275.

Located off the beaten path, between Duboce Triangle and Upper Market, Ver Unica is clearly on the way to establishing its niche.

"Not too long ago a guy pulled up, and his car was filled with all of his grandmother's hats. There were literally hundreds of them, and they didn't even look worn," recounts Bell. "It was an amazing collection. But the best part was hearing him say that he knew this was the place to come."

Ver Unica is located at 148 Noe (at Henry). Mon-Sat noon to 8pm, Sun noon to 6pm. 415/431-0688.

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From the April 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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