Riding crops, intricate Georgian gowns and 1960s Hermès bags are a normal part of the nine to five for Stelios Hawa, buyer for designer vintage at Liberty.
Having trained as a couturier at London College of Fashion and Kingston University, Stelios Hawa began buying designer vintage in the late 1980s. He is the buyer for designer vintage at central London department store Liberty, a position he has held for 11 years. He buys vintage menswear, womenswear and accessories across three floors of the store, incorporating everything from Chanel handbags to police truncheons.
What do you look for in vintage buys?
I always look for things that are evocative of a period. Sometimes, I will look at items that perhaps weren’t mega-expensive in their day, but still evoke a certain time. I’m not that strict about things being a big brand or a famous name – we have many items that are commissioned pieces. They are beautiful pieces, but have no “name” to them.
What are the most sought after designers and items at Liberty?
We do very well with international brands – Chanel and Hermès are always very popular. Christian Dior sells well, too. On the British side, [Norman] Hartnell is popular. But it’s not just about the name. The piece has to be interesting.
How do catwalk trends affect what sells well in vintage?
I always keep an eye on what’s happening in mainstream fashion. People might come looking for a colour they’ve seen on the catwalk. Sometimes a style on the current catwalk will be inspired by a certain vintage item and I might have the original piece.
Designer vintage at Liberty
Do you restore items before they go on sale?
I have my own workroom where we do major alterations. I believe all the items we sell should be fit for purpose, and everything is restored with a sympathetic handling. The business would be nothing without the workshop. We like to present things with a certain patina, though – we don’t like to over-clean or over-polish them.
Who is your favourite designer?
Are there any items you’ve been seeking out for years?
I would like to get my hands on anything from Chanel’s early period, before the Chanel we know of with the bouclé jackets. In the early 1930s, Chanel was totally different – there was a beautiful, elongated silhouette.
Designer vintage at Liberty
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Being in vintage means you have a lot more interaction with your clients. We get a lot of requests, so I deal with the clients personally. It’s very rewarding when they’re happy and you’ve found something they’re looking for.
What’s the most unusual item you’ve ever sold?
I’m always looking for the unusual because the Liberty customer is very edgy. We don’t do the traditional, because it’s a little boring. We’ve sold Georgian miser’s purses, 1960s police truncheons, riding crops… We also sell the most bizarre array of hats. We sold a Franciscan hat the other day, and last year we sold a beautiful 1920s headpiece. It had a snake coming out of the front, which was very influenced by [the discovery of the tomb of] Tutankhamun.
What’s your favourite item you’ve acquired for Liberty?
A skirt from a Georgian court dress. It was oyster satin and covered in faceted steel beads. When the skirt moved, it was like a chandelier coming towards you. It was spectacular. It’s one of the oldest pieces we have sold as well – made in the 18th century.
Favourite clothing brand?
Favourite places to shop?
Again, Prada – but I don’t buy anything online
Last fashion purchase?
A Prada eveningwear outfit, which was a modern cape on a tuxedo
Biggest fashion splurge?
My wardrobe – it’s a Louis Vuitton chest from the 1870s
I started my own business as a couturier as soon as I left university, but I was actually building up a client base before I left
I’d love to work in antiques
Last book you read?
Elizabeth’s Bedfellows by Anna Whitelock
Last film you watched?
Dheepan by Jacques Audiard