Shop: Haute Treasure Hunter

Vintage clothing aficionado William Miller curates an upscale collection for his uptown boutique.

Vintage clothing aficionado William Miller stops for a photo in his high-end Uptown Design District shop.

Photo by Jaime Kowal

William Miller pulls a 1950s frock from a dress rack at Déjà Vu, his high-end vintage clothing shop located in Palm Springs’ Uptown Design District. Pointing out the intricately hand-beaded neckline, he notes, “You just don’t find this kind of quality or attention to detail today.” Seeing a need in the marketplace for upscale vintage for men and women, Miller, also the name behind his local eponymous interior design firm, was inspired to create a space where he could curate a carefully selected collection of ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s clothing.

From Lilly Pulitzer shifts and Christian Dior fit-and-flares of the ’50s, to muumuu-meets-maxi “hostess” gowns and classic mini-dresses of the ’70s, the store carries a mix of designer finds (Yves Saint Laurent, Pucci, Chanel) as well as custom-made clothing and accessories. “Most people had their own seamstresses and tailors at that time,” says Miller, which is why most of his pieces are one-of-a-kind.

Sharply dressed in a Tiki-patterned ’60s jacket he’s layered over a crisp white-collared shirt and slacks (“I often mix one vintage piece with my Prada”), Miller says he has taken pride in personal shopping for his customers since the store opened in February of 2012. Since that time, he has quickly secured a following of fellow vintage-fashion lovers and even landed a major runway event at Modernism Week. “Pre-Modernism Week is like Christmas season here!”

To what do you credit your affinity for vintage?
I was a teenage model, so I’ve been into fashion and custom clothing [ever since]. Vintage is inspiring because it’s so well made and the fabrics are unusual. I appreciate the quality — which you just don’t find anymore — and clothing as art from those time periods.

What was your first vintage purchase?
A Gucci overcoat I found while vacationing in Europe when I was about 30. It was a white wool, double-breasted coat and my [travel companion] insisted I wouldn’t find anything like it. And I didn’t.

What classifies an image as vintage?
The spectrum is expanding in terms of time. Younger people consider clothing from the 1980s vintage now [laughs]. I don’t really think of that as vintage. People in Palm Springs, though, are looking for the decades I love and specialize in — 30-plus years older.

Does a particular decade have a special allure?
The ’50s to early ’60s is “my thing.” That was such a time of high style and optimism, and that was really reflected in the clothing. Dior came out with the full skirt right after [World War II], and everyone was wanting to party. It was the birth of cocktail wear, which is my favorite.

What tips can you lend to the novice vintage shopper?
Sizing is a big issue — everything I get from the ’50s is a size 12, no matter what size it is. There was no standardized sizing. I have everything marked as “one size.” You just have to try it on. That’s why everything here is merchandized by color, not size.

Metal zippers were used from the ’40s until the mid-’60s, when nylon zippers were invented. If the metal zipper on a garment is intact, it’s a really good buy. You want to make sure the zipper works correctly — try it a couple of times — because you can’t replace a metal zipper. They don’t make them anymore.

Also look for fully lined items (a sign of true vintage), quality stitching, and hand beading, which isn’t done anymore except with the higher end of couture. 

What style do you see re-emerge time after time?
The main thing I see repeated through the eras is the sheath dress — there’s one for every decade. It’s easy to wear, fitted but comfortable, and it’s an appropriate silhouette for business or dinner.

Déjà Vu
664 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs;
You can also shop Déjà Vu’s collection the first Sunday of every month at the downtown Open Air Vintage Market.

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