Posts Tagged ‘Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing’

British costume designer Sandy Powell has been nominated twice this year for Cinderella and Carol, both starring Cate Blanchett.

Studying at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, Ms. Powell quickly became in such demand for her stage costumes she left before completing her degree. Soon she was working in film and became a repeat visitor to the Academy Awards. Nominated 12 times she has won for Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Aviator (2004), and The Young Victoria (2009).

For Cinderella, Ms. Powell says she worked closely with Ms. Blanchett who plays the wicked stepmother. The two collaborated and traded images, both women inspired by the glamour of the 1940s.

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Carol is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Patricia Highsmith titled The Price of Salt. The story takes place in New York City in 1952, which Ms. Powell says was a year still influenced by the 1940s. “… 1952 is not the Fifties people think of because it still looks like the Forties. It is a transitional period, so the silhouette was going from the wide-shouldered look of the Forties to the more streamlined look of the Fifties, so it was really really exciting to do.”

Ms. Blanchett’s character, Carol,  is a wealthy woman who enjoys fashion so luxuries abound in fur coats, leather gloves, and pearls. Interesting choices were made, such as putting Carol in “sack” dresses a less girly alternative to Dior’s New Look, and the use of rich muted colors.

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A little side story – my friend, Helen Uffner runs her own costume shop in Queens, NY. She provides costume pieces to many Hollywood designers as well as for Saturday Night Live and stage productions. She has worked with Sandy Powell a number of times providing costumes for films, including Carol. Helen says:

It so happened that this vintage, heavy 40s beaver coat was originally mine, one of my earliest vintage buys that hung in my closet for decades. It was so heavy and took up so much room I brought it to work.

We actually took a photo of Sandy trying it on and exclaiming this was exactly what she had in mind and exactly the style and shoulders and size and color she envisioned for her actress and it made her day! So it went from my closet to Sarah Paulson’ s shoulders!

You can catch Helen’s vintage fur coat in the car scene when Sarah Paulson (Carol’s friend Abby) in a NYC car scene.


Great story Helen, thank you!

Congratulations to Sandy Powell for her double nomination.

Check back tomorrow and read about Paco Delgado costumer designer for The Danish Girl.

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Helen Uffner (far right) and her helpers. Left to right: Chelsea Bjerk, Lauren Bostic, and Dan Travis. Photo: Richard Aiello.

Helen Uffner (far right) and her helpers. Left to right: Chelsea Bjerk, Lauren Bostic, and Dan Travis. Photo: Richard Aiello.

Helen Uffner is well-known around NYC and Hollywood for having the best old duds. She runs her own business renting period clothing and accessories for theater productions, films, television, magazine editorials, and book covers. 

I met Ms. Uffner over hats at the reception opening for the Milliner’s Guild exhibition. When I mentioned that I write about fashion and have a fondness for vintage, Ms. Uffner generously invited my partner and me to her warehouse.

Now that’s an offer I wasn’t going to refuse. Plans we had for the next day were forgotten as we hopped on the subway to Queens and knocked on the door of Helen Uffner Vintage Clothing, LLC.

It seemed a fun place to work. Vintage tunes played in the background as staff chatted with actors who were getting fitted for a local play. A woman visiting from Hollywood was sorting out costumes for an upcoming film. 

When not busy reorganizing or working with clients, the staff model some of the merchandise for Ms. Uffner’s Etsy site, Vintage Pickle. Apparently on some days they just can’t resist playing dress-up.

What started as a personal collection for Ms. Uffner is now a 6000-plus square foot warehouse of clothing for men, women, and children from the 1860s on.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Since she was a young teen, Ms. Uffner has been drawn to all things antique and vintage. Her first purchase was a 1920s beaded dress for $5, which she found at a flea market in Connecticut. “Then I went to a big antique faire,” she explains, “and I had to debate for about an hour and a half whether or not I could spend $20 on an Edwardian dress.” Good sense won out and she still has both of those dresses.

As a fine arts major in college, Ms. Uffner continued to collect but never with the thought of wearing her pieces. She preferred to study the fabric and construction of what she considers works of art. Everything she bought she hung or kept in boxes at home. Before long she became the go-to person for friends and friends-of-friends in need of a costume for this or that. One day the costume designer for Woody’s Allen’s film, Zelig came over and ended up buying just about everything Ms. Uffner had. (BTW, the film won an Academy Award in 1984 for Best Costumes.) It was then that she realized she could rent rather than sell, and a business was born.

In addition to basic clothing, Ms. Uffner has undergarments for men and women, hats, handbags, ties, shoes, anything needed for a complete period ensemble. Among her many clients are popular fashion designers who rent pieces to copy for their own lines.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Ms. Uffner stores everything on racks or shelving arranged by time period, then color and fabric. “We don’t quite do it by decade,” she explains, “but by how styles changed.” Interns are charged with sifting through the racks looking for misplaced pieces, which is a great way to learn about vintage details. Details that Ms. Uffner can rattle off the top of her head. Such as, button-fly trousers for men are Victorian to the early 1930s.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Photo: Richard Aiello.

Over the past 35 years, Ms. Uffner has provided clothing for the films Fatal Attraction, Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Mona Lisa Smiles, Julie & Julia, Mildred Pierce (HBO), and Far From Heaven just to name a few. Currently staff is working on 42 and Behind the Candelabra. Theater productions include The Producers, The Seagull, Trip to Bountiful, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Oh, and Catherine Martin, costume designer for the new Great Gatsby film spent six months visiting the warehouse and renting various pieces for inspiration.

Ms. Uffner is still actively buying, both for the business and her collection. She says her personal favorites are not necessarily the pretty dressy pieces, but the character clothes – the faded, patched, lived-in and worn. “Because they have a story.”

Ms. Uffner spent two hours showing us around and answering our questions. It was a rare NYC treat for this vintage-lovin’ tourist.

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