Vintage To Vogue and beyond: Not your average vintage shop
On North Davie Street in downtown Greensboro, there is a little shop on the corner. Vintage to Vogue is immediately recognizable by the vertical mural on the adjacent building of a woman in a sundress, and now even more noticeable with the addition of another mural to the building right next door. The boutique houses an array of vintage men and women’s clothing, all curated by fashion designer and owner Jennifer Graf, who has designed clothes for celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Naomi Campbell, Victoria Beckham and Melissa Gorga.
Vintage to Vogue has been open for one year and offers a vast selection of high-end vintage attire with some creative twists. Vintage to Vogue offers year-round events, personal styling and shopping options, group parties, and Graf said she even makes house calls to help people go through their clothes in their closets. Graf also has created a program that makes Vintage to Vogue stand out from other vintage boutiques. She calls her innovative program Re-create, and she said that it allows people to redesign and alter their pre-existing clothing. Graf and her associate Rosalyn Womack, a seamstress who works with Graf and has a shop in Revolution Mill, collaborate on the Re-create program. Womack said she loves the concept of Re-create because she can turn old clothes into something new. She also loves helping customers see potential in any garment at the store or in their closet.
“We can even take multiple garments and combine them or just make something fit right,” Womack wrote in a text message. “Fit is everything. The perfect fit can turn something into a badass garment.”
Graf said she was inspired to start the Re-create program by the clothing label Imitation of Christ, which recycles garments into runway pieces. Graf said she is even considering offering Re-create classes where people can learn to sew and recreate garments themselves. Graf also works alongside local designer Carl Mize.
“Because of my background, meeting with people that I wanted to bring on, I knew exactly what I was looking for,” Graf said. “These two people excelled. You can tell quality by little details, such as you always want stripes or plaid patterns to line up. The inside of a garment tells a lot about the garment, and when Carl came in and showed me some of his designs, everything lined up, and I said ‘OK he knows what he is doing.’ I made sure that I partnered with very talented people.”
Graf grew up in a town outside of D.C. and described herself as a handful when younger. She said in high school, the only classes that she would not skip were art classes.
“I lived in them,” she said. “I would try to take as many as I could throughout the day.”
When Graf was 18, she decided to run off with the circus–quite literally.
“There, I did concessions mostly,” she said. “What I spent most of my free time doing was spending time in the wardrobe area helping the costume designer sew on buttons or fix damaged costumes. That is where I got my first taste of my actual career in [fashion]. But, I sewed a lot when I was younger, too.”
Graf described her living situation as being stacked in “Mack truck-like” compartments that doubled as housing units. She recalls one night when the circus was living in the Lincoln Center parking lot in New York City. She said she remembers thinking how weird it was to see all the clowns and trapeze artists gathered together, still in their costumes and makeup, after a performance watching a Mike Tyson boxing match in the kitchen compartment of the truck.
“It was a very unique experience, to say the least,” she said.
While in New York City, Graf said when she walked by the Fashion Institute of Technology she knew immediately that was where she wanted to go.
“Once I ran away from the circus I went back home and focused my attention on getting into FIT,” she said. “I did not realize how hard it was to get into FIT and the fashion realm and I think my naiveness paid off because that was the only school I applied to and somehow got in.”
Graf said she was driven when she attended FIT and that her art was even displayed at the school.
“They have a corner window on 27th and 7th, and they displayed a lot of my designs in the window,” she said. “I was a presidential scholar and graduated Magna Cum Laude, and that is something that I never foresaw happening. I embraced it.”
After graduating from FIT, according to her LinkedIn page, Graf began her extensive, 14-year career in the fashion industry on the Bugle Boy design team. After, she was an associate designer at PONY, Rocawear and Retro Fox. She has been a designer at both Raffi linea uomo and Kayser-Roth Corporation as well as a long-term freelance designer for Young Jeezy’s 8732, Ecko Enterprises G-Unit, Fashion Overseas Bureau and much more.
Graf then moved to London where she researched in fashion-related positions.
“It was an amazing experience, and we had to travel a lot,” she said about her experience in London. “I traveled to Hong Kong, when I lived in London I traveled to Paris, Dublin and all these amazing cities.”
Graf eventually moved back to the United States where she designed for the high-end fashion line Raffi linea uomo. She said she was glad to work at Raffi because it was a completely different type of style she was used to designing for.
“[It was] different from streetwear,” she said. “Sometimes you get pigeonholed and get stuck designing only one type of style. I was lucky that didn’t happen to me.”
So what brought Graf to Greensboro? Surely her professional experience could score her any position she wanted in New York City, London, Paris or Los Angeles. As it turns out, Graf moved to Greensboro with her now-ex. After her relationship when south, she said she debated on what to do next.
“I was in this period of time where I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “So I said to myself, ‘if you don’t know don’t do anything’ and I sat back and gave Greensboro a chance.”
During her waiting period, Graf said she started embracing Greensboro.
“There is so much that Greensboro has to offer that people may not see or gets overlooked,” she said. “We live in a downtown that I feel is in its toddler stage and there is so much growth that is happening. I just fell in love with it here once I allowed myself not to stress about it.”
Graf said she was lucky enough to find a job designing at Kayser-Roth, which she didn’t expect would even be an option in North Carolina. Realizing her limitations at Kayser-Roth, Graf decided that she wanted to do something different.
“I realized [owning a business] is something I wanted to do for a very long time,” she said. “I woke up one morning, and I said, ‘either do it now or stop daydreaming about it.’ That is when I hit the ground running.”
Among all the hats Graf wears, she said she loves to be involved with downtown Greensboro. She said she is passionate about bettering the growth, atmosphere and culture through putting art on vacant buildings. To do this, she has brought some of her artist friends from New York City and other places to help beautify the area around her shop. The lightbulbs on the back of her building were painted by Meres One, a world-famous graffiti artist who ran 5 Pointz Gallery in New York City and who has also been in a Banksy documentary, worked with Louis Vuitton and painted a 30-story building on Wall Street.
Recently, she worked with her friend and Brooklyn-based artist Stephen Holding to paint the building next door. Holding was lead designer of Nike in Hong Kong, and he worked with Reebok to design shoes sold in their flagship store in Japan. According to the flyer beside the mural, Project Illuminary is an on-going mural project by Holding that brings color and light to urban areas, revitalizing the landscape by bringing new life into otherwise unused spaces.
“I live in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn,” Holding said. “There is a project there called the Bushwick Collective, and they do a lot of street art there. I am going to petition them for a wall after I am done here and show them this as an example.”
Graf said the building was an eyesore that would be located at the heart of the 2017 Folk Festival, held Sept. 8 through 10. Before the Folk Festival, Graf brought Holding down from New York City and commissioned him with the help of Downtown Greensboro, Inc. and Greensboro Downtown Residents Association to paint the building.
“I have known Stephen for quite some time,” she said. “I knew I had to get him down here if not for this project, then another, because he is so freaking talented! We used to work together designing at different companies. This was around the time he did the Reebok thing, and then he left to become the head designer of Nike in Hong Kong. I knew if anyone was going to paint this wall it would be Stephen.”
Graf said she would like to encourage other property owners downtown with vacancies do the same thing Project Illuminary does.
Painting the town and owning her own all-encompassing vintage boutique shop isn’t enough for Graf, however. She believes she can do more to contribute to her community. She and her associate Shelley Hundley plan to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that donates clothes to those in need.
“We are looking to start a charitable organization to not only help build the self-esteem of clothing recipients by not just providing those in need with attire at no charge but by also providing them with one-on-one assistance in choosing their attire in a boutique setting,” Hundley wrote in a text message.
Both Graf and Hundley plan to work with multiple organizations to provide both men and women with vouchers for clothing items as well as with individuals who seek out assistance independently. Hundley wrote in a text message that funding for this operation would be obtained through the sale of men’s and women’s fashion items to the general public in a boutique style thrift store and all items in this store will be donated by the public and all proceeds will remain local.
As for the future, Graf has a lot of plans for her little shop on the corner. She hopes to bring her friend and stylist Newheart Ohanian, who styled for Beyonce’s famous “Lemonade” visual album, to Greensboro to meet with college design students. She also plans to be involved with DGI’s traveling art show again and she said she is also always involved in First Friday events in Greensboro. To learn more about Graf and Vintage to Vogue and to see what she has in store, follow her on Facebook @vintage.2.vogue.boutique and Instagram @vintagetovogueboutique or visit her website. Vintage to Vogue Boutique is located at 124 N. Davie St. and is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Katie Murawski is the editor of YES! Weekly. She is from Mooresville, North Carolina and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in film studies from Appalachian State University in 2017.