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‘I go with my instincts’: queen of vintage Kate Moss on how to shop secondhand

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/10/2019 Jess Cartner-Morley
Kate Moss © Getty Kate Moss

Kate Moss only has to snap her fingers and any piece of hot-off-the-catwalk designer fashion that catches her eye will be tissue-wrapped and fast-tracked to her door. She doesn’t need to look at price tags or concern herself with waiting lists.

What Moss wants in her wardrobe, Moss gets, straight away. If she wants the Paris fashion week hit dress from the cover of Vogue or the It bag on this month’s billboards, it is hers for the asking.

Supermodel Kate Moss © Getty Supermodel Kate Moss But what has been her signature high-fashion look? Vintage, that’s what. Vintage is to Moss as Givenchy was to Audrey Hepburn and as Hermès is to Jane Birkin. It is the name in the label of her best-ever looks. The lemon-yellow dress she wore to a New York fashion week dinner in 2003, which she later reincarnated in her Topshop collection? 

A vintage piece by 1950s French couturier Jean Dessès. The black cocktail dress with feathered off-the-shoulder hemline she wore on the red carpet at Cannes in 1998? A vintage shantung silk piece, given a minimal 90s spin with scraped back hair and simple black strappy slingback sandals. At Glastonbury in 2005, with cut-off denim shorts and Hunter wellies? A 1970s Roncelli leather jacket.

Now that it is the height of sustainable, zeitgeist cool to wear vintage, can we take a moment to acknowledge that Moss has been across this since the days when she was going out with Johnny Depp. Secondhand to her has never been second best.

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When she threw herself a 30th birthday party – at Claridges, in the full-on bling glare of 2004 – the look she splashed out on for the occasion was not Tom Ford for Gucci, but a dramatic retro sequinned gown with matching cape she found in a vintage store. 

Her passion for Vivienne Westwood’s pirate-style strapped flat ankle boots, which she first bought on Portobello market, has lasted longer than any of her relationships. When she wants to look special, she goes vintage.

What can mere mortals learn about wearing vintage from how Moss wears vintage? There are some nuggets of wisdom in a book she has edited, Musings on Fashion and Style: Museo de la Moda, in collaboration with the Chilean fashion museum. Firstly, she looks at the garment, not the label. When she shops for the 1970s peasant-style dresses she loves, she sifts the racks for the colours that look right, first of all.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Supermodel Kate Moss attends the "Museo de la Moda, Musings on Fashion & Style" Launch Book as part of Paris Fashion Week on September 23, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images ) © Getty PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 23: Supermodel Kate Moss attends the "Museo de la Moda, Musings on Fashion & Style" Launch Book as part of Paris Fashion Week on September 23, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images ) And when she bought that lemon-yellow dress, the one that would have broken the internet had it been possible then, she didn’t know who Dessès was. Second, Moss knows what suits her. 

Bias-cut dresses, for instance, are a vintage-shop treasure, which Moss loves for being flattering, subtly sexy and easy to have fun in. In the words of Madeleine Vionnet, whose bias-cut gowns were the toast of 1930s Paris, “when a woman smiles, her dress should smile with her”.

The perfect vintage look sometimes means going the extra mile, and Moss puts in the time and effort. On the hunt for the perfect dress for the Ed Wood premiere in 1994, she found a silver fringed dress in a vintage store in Florida that the boutique owner told her had once belonged to Errol Flynn’s wife. 

Kate Moss © Getty Kate Moss It was transparent, so Moss “asked Calvin [Klein] for a slip” to wear beneath, cutting the slip with scissors at mid thigh to show some leg. The pale grey silk shorts suit she wore at the A-list fashion wedding of stylist Katy England and Bobby Gillespie in 2006 was in fact a vintage Ossie Clark silk jacket, for which she had commissioned a tailor to make a matching pair of shorts.

Moss has been on 30 British Vogue covers and thousands of newspaper front pages. She has made cameos on film and television, been painted by Lucian Freud and sculpted in bronze by Marc Quinn. She has a remarkable roll-call of vintage moments – and in the best of them, she’s wearing vintage.

How did you become involved with the Museo de la Moda?

I was invited to open an exhibition there in April 2018. Jorge [Yarur, the museum’s founder] and I immediately got on as we share the same love of vintage clothing, so we talked about other ways of collaborating together.

Will you often search out vintage all over the world?

I always keep my eye out and try to visit vintage stores on my travels. I have found some great places that I return to whenever I can and have lots of favourites in London, too.

Which pieces were you most excited to discover?

I think Marilyn Monroe’s clothes. The sweater sets and the little black cocktail dress by Jean Louis were so cute.

There are clothes worn by Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix. Whose clothes were you most starstruck by?

The Jimi Hendrix jacket was the best. Jorge let me try it on, it was quite incredible to be wearing something he had worn on stage.

Did the pieces in your wardrobe influence the categories here – lace, Victorian etc? Why do you go back to these things?

Yes, the concept was to show how I have appreciated and worn vintage for many years and then to show them in their historical context within the museo’s collection.

Which are your favourite items in the exhibition?

The Dior cocktail dress and the crepe evening dress from 1927.

How would you wear them now?

With a strappy heel and diamonds.

You have now been vintage shopping for a long time. What have you learned?

I just go with my first instincts when I see something I like. It doesn’t matter to me the designer or the era, just that the item appeals to me and looks good when I try it on.

Do you like the history and stories that vintage clothes contain?

Yes, I love the idea that the clothes have a history and have been worn previously. Who knows what they have experienced? Also, it’s good that clothes are recycled and worn again rather than being thrown out.

What have been your best finds?

My original Vivienne Westwood Sex boots I found at Portobello market in the 90s.

Do you keep everything?

I try to, but as I wear the clothes out and about not all have survived.

How did you first discover designers such as Thea Porter and Ossie Clarke?

Anita Pallenberg introduced me to them.

You say you would like to have lived in Paris in the 20s. What appeals to you about this era?

I love the decadence of the 20s: the parties, the fashion. I themed one of my birthday parties The Beautiful and Damned.

What was the first secondhand piece you bought?

Ribbed roll neck jumpers from the 70s from Oxfam.

What is the first thing you do when you enter a vintage store?

I scan the rails really quickly then pull the pieces I am instantly drawn to before trying them on.

Do you have any tips for shopping vintage on a budget?

Head to the charity shops, you can still find brilliant pieces there if you are prepared to hunt around.

Musings on Fashion and Style: Museo de la Moda, edited by Kate Moss, is published by Rizzoli priced £36

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