After four decades of collecting and selling vintage fashion, Doris Raymond has amassed a collection of over a million items, including couture fashion and accessories. Her Los Angeles boutique and warehouse, The Way We Wore, has become a den of inspiration for the world’s most renowned fashion designers and a shopping destination for famous and not-so-famous clients who love to buy, wear and collect vintage style. On May 4, Raymond is speaking at Hats Off, an annual luncheon, lecture and fundraiser at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), to benefit the IMA’s Fashion Arts Society. PATTERN invited Raymond to talk about her television series, the evolution of her business and the role museums play in documenting fashion history.
Crystal Hammon: Your L.A. Frock Stars series on the Smithsonian Channel is so informative and fun to watch. How did it come about?
Doris Raymond: You can’t have a business in LA that’s somewhat interesting and not be approached by reality production companies. Every year, I’ve been approached by someone to do a show, but I always said “no” because they always wanted to do shows that were lowering the bar—that were fabricated drama and disrespectful. I wanted to do something more insightful and educational. When Natural History New Zealand (NHNZ) contacted me, I learned that all they do is documentaries. They guaranteed me that the show would be a docu-series and not a reality show.
CH: I love the way the show shares information about the designer, dates a piece and identifies famous people who wore it in film. How do you know all of that?
DR: The factoids on the show are usually done post-production. The Smithsonian Channel broadcasts the show, so they want to make sure all the information is accurate. If we happen to mention a designer from the 1930s, for example, we do voiceovers to fit with the factoid. I can’t take credit for the film references. As far as the fashion references go, I’ve been in the business for four decades. That’s long enough that I should get my facts straight. I was blessed to get involved in this when I was young enough to meet a lot of iconic people like Adolph Schuman, the founder of Lilli Ann. Through osmosis, I’ve been lucky to be privy to an education by some of the greats.
CH: How did you get into the business of vintage fashion?
DR: In the 1970s, I worked in San Francisco as a waitress. Walking to work every day, I would pass three thrift shops. All my tip money went toward buying collectibles in these thrift shops—not just clothing and accessories, but whatever I could find that I thought was valuable and priced right. I went from living in a studio to a three bedroom, which filled up quickly. When my boyfriend and I broke up, I had to move back into a studio, and I sold everything at a profit. That’s how the store was born.
CH: The Way We Wore is such a clever identity. How did you come up with it?
DR: That was divine inspiration. I was at the San Francisco Public Library looking through card files, textiles and clothing, trying to come up with names. I didn’t find anything. When I got to my car and turned on the radio, there was Barbra Streisand, singing The Way We Were. I just started laughing.
CH: For a while, you closed your retail store in San Francisco and worked strictly in costuming for the film and entertainment industry. What caused you to make that change and why did you decide to reopen your boutique in Los Angeles?
DR: I had the best location in San Francisco on Fillmore Street across from the Clay Theatre. It’s a very affluent area and a very happening street even to this day. To speak bluntly, retail is like war. After 12 years of being on the front lines, I didn’t want to do it anymore, so I closed the store. I felt pretty confident about working with my costume design contacts, plus I was doing the Vintage Fashion Expo five times a year, which amounted to about 10 days of retail work.
I took a 3,500-square-foot warehouse space in the Candlestick Park area, and I just kept buying. Every time I did a movie and got a nice chunk of change, I would go out to New York, visit my dad and shop the Doyle Auctions for beautiful couture pieces and collectibles.
During the 12 years I wasn’t in retail, I reached a critical mass. I couldn’t rent the couture pieces for film and TV; they were more for my addiction. Around the same time, I was dating a writer in Los Angeles and he couldn’t move. I thought, “What the heck. I’m flexible. I’ll move.” So word got out that I was coming to LA, and someone offered me a storefront. Neither the storefront nor the boyfriend worked out, but it got me down here. I’ve been here 13 years and it’s the best thing I could have done for my business and my life.
CH: Any surprises about the shift from San Francisco to Los Angeles?
DR: I thought I would have built-in business with all the costume designers—not at all. The industry changed. Budgets went to pay for talent and, by the time they got to props, sets and wardrobe, there was very little money. The good news is that LA is the crossroads for all the major clothing designers to come for inspiration—either to watch people and see what’s coming next or to source from vintage or stores. It’s really interesting how often rejection is God’s protection. Within a year, half of my business was to clothing designers. We get designers from all over the world—Galliano, McQueen, Michael Kors, Australian designers, British designers, high-end and low-end designers. When I have an opportunity to see a collection designed by someone who has been here, it’s really exciting to notice remnants of things they bought from us infused into their clothing.
CH: There was a time when people scoffed at fashion as art, and some people still aren’t convinced. More recently, museums have been pretty supportive of taking fashion from the catwalk to the gallery. What do you think of that trend?
DR: I said yes to coming to Indianapolis because I want to encourage any institution that supports costume. I’m very active with the Costume Council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I believe in supporting my neighborhood, and I think it’s incredibly wonderful that Indianapolis has the Fashion Arts Society to support the textile and costume department at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. It creates more interest.
A lot of museums hate to admit that their largest audiences have come through fashion exhibitions. To me, fashion is a window on society at a moment in time. Any garment can give you so much information about what was happening in that part of the world and maybe on a global level.
When you look at pre-1918 fashion, for example, you can tell so much about what was going on with women’s rights and other social issues. From a historical point of view, I think museums must include fashion. I applaud the men and women of the IMA’s Fashion Arts Society for keeping the magnifying glass on fashion in museum collections.