Sunday, 8 March 2015

Talking Vintage with Nzinga Russell

After my chat with vintage collector Nicky Albrechtsen, I thought it would be interesting to talk to more people who make their living through vintage clothing. Nzinga Russell is the entrepreneur behind a subscription service with a difference - signing-up to Style by Portobello, means you'll receive a box filled with vintage accessories picked by Russell directly from London's Portobello market each month. Let's find out more...

Tell me a little about the concept of Style by Portobello
Style By Portobello is a vintage accessories subscription service. Every month, for £35 our subscribers receive a Bello Box containing up to three unique vintage pieces, all of which are sourced from the fab vintage traders at Portobello Road market.

I adore vintage and the shopping process of uncovering those one-off gems so I have a real passion for getting as many people to try vintage as possible. Style By Portobello allows those that already love vintage to receive pieces they know they'll love every month. The concept also serves as a great entry point into vintage for those who love the high street but are really keen to try vintage but just don't know where to start.

By subscribing they get to benefit from the great style that vintage offers without the task of having to find the pieces themselves. I like to think that I have a bit of a knack for spotting a hidden gem amongst the clutter. I love that feeling when you know you have found something amazing. I want our subscribers to feel like that every month when they open their Bello Box. I also adore Portobello Road itself so this venture allows me to open up Portobello to the rest of the country, especially to those who don't live in London and don't get to visit.

What's so special about Portobello Market?
It is simply the best place to find amazing vintage pieces. The place has a great atmosphere. The diversity of the local people, the stall holders, vintage dealers, the great off-beat restaurants and bars, the homegrown talent in terms of new designer boutiques. It's such a melting pot. The place oozes cultural and fashion history.

Each market day has a different atmosphere as well as different parts of the market itself. My favourite days are:
- Friday is for the serious vintage hunters. Prices range from great bargains to sky high for designer finds. It's great for those who know their vintage but it's still totally accessible.

- Saturday is the busiest and biggest market day. Along with the locals you've got tourists who flock from the world over and spread their sense of excitement. You can shop vintage as well as new up and coming designers. Music is blaring and the cafes are packed. Great buzz all round. Perfect for people watching. I love seeing how the locals style their looks.

- Sunday is a real locals day. You may find more second hand bits as opposed to vintage and it's more of a smaller, intimate affair. Everyone knows everyone and there's a real relaxed community feel.

How did you discover/get into vintage?
My very stylish mother was the first to introduce me to vintage just by virtue of the fact that I would raid her wardrobe and nab her original 1970s Butler & Wilson earrings or borrow her original Biba pieces. She only ever buys quality so everything lasts. Thus her wardrobe was a real treasure trove for me with her vintage denims of all shades and washes and the amazing Italian leather belts and bags she collected on her travels. I found it all so exciting because with vintage it was so easy to be stylish and original. She even had some of my Grandmother's special pieces so I was able to experiment with gorgeous bags and jewellery from the 50s and 60s. I then had a wonderful friend who is still very much like my older sister. She would go vintage hunting every weekend and I would tag along. Whenever we meet the first thing we do is go vintage shopping, down the 'Bello of course!!

How big is your personal vintage collection?
I would say that it's embarrassingly large. This is probably the same for most vintage lovers as there is always something original to buy on the rails. I never throw anything away so my wardrobes are bulging and I also have a lot in storage. Vintage never goes out of fashion which is just marvellous. You can literally keep pieces forever. So I try to rotate my wardrobe and do a clear out every six months where I go through what I have at home and what I have in storage and then swap things over. I never get tired of vintage bags, belts, jewellery and shoes. With any of these pieces you can revolutionise a pretty average outfit. It's a quick fix way to give your look that 'stand out' factor. However I also can never have enough vintage jackets, dresses, coats and tops. Even in terms of the eras I love, I'm quite eclectic. I have a lot of 60s, 70s and a good amount of 80s.

How did you decide to turn this into a business?
When I'd wear great vintage pieces I'd always get friends and strangers asking where I had found my pieces. When I'd say Portobello Road, their faces would light up. They'd say how much they love Portobello but don't have the knack for finding those special pieces that they know are there. Or they'd say that they love the market but live too far away to be able to go more than once in a blue moon. It struck my how great it would be if, no matter where you lived or whether you loved the thrill of the chase or hated rummaging, you could always have access to beautiful vintage pieces. 

Having had a stall at the market years ago and still having maintained those great contacts and relationships, I knew I'd be able to source wonderful things for a wider audience. We all know that subscription services have taken off so when I started exploring the idea as a business more thoroughly I realised that there wasn't anything like Style By Portobello on the market. So it's great to be the UK's first vintage accessories subscription offering. On top of all this, the concept is a great way of supporting the market and the traders.

Do you have a favourite vintage piece in your collection?
It's extremely hard to choose a favourite: my favourites change every few months! I will be obsessed with an item for weeks and then there'll be a new purchase or something else that I'll discover anew in my wardrobe. I would say, however, that there is a belt that I have had for years. It's a fantastically high quality brown leather belt from the 70s with a worn bronze ram's head as the buckle. It's amazing and I have never seen anything like it since adding it to my collection. It's definitely a wardrobe staple of mine. The quality of the leather goes without saying as it has definitely stood the test of time. The more worn and aged it becomes, the better it looks. The bronze ram's head it heavy and sturdy and never tarnishes

Another firm favourite is a pair of gold, 80s leopard head earrings encrusted with diamante. They are just so over the top. I wear them all the time. In terms of clothing, my favourite dress right now is a 70s floral piece (the one I am wearing in the photo above). The colours are just so bold and outrageous and the oversized collar is fantastic. It looks great in a/w or s/s. It's so versatile and unique. I love truly it. Who knows what my favourite will be next month.

What's the easiest way to include vintage into a contemporary wardrobe?
I love this question and I think it is a really important one. I think combining amazing vintage pieces with high street staples is the key to keeping your look contemporary and unique. The easiest way to include vintage into a contemporary wardrobe is with accessories. With one statement piece you can turn an outfit from average to outstanding. So I would say that a gorgeous vintage bag is a necessity. Each decade has some great shapes to offer so you'll always be able to find something that suits you. 

Next, I would say that finding a statement vintage necklace will really stand you in good stead and take a high street look to the next level. The 60s is a great era for jewellery as well as the 80s. If you're not a vintage novice and are already sold on the benefits of vintage clothing then sourcing a statement dress or jacket will do wonders for your wardrobe.

Ever seen a piece of vintage you've been sorry to pass by/let slip through your fingers?
No, not really. If I didn't buy it then it must have been because I didn't love it enough. There's so much amazing vintage out there that I have to be quite philosophical when it comes to missing out.

What is a typical day's work for you?
As I have two children, a typical day's work for me from Monday to Thursday starts before they wake up. I furiously work through as much basic business admin as I can before they wake up. Once I have got the children off to nursery I go back to my home office. The first part of the day involves continuing with the more mundane side of running your own business such as more admin, replying to routine emails and phone calls and having meetings. I'm currently pregnant with my third child so missing lunch is not an option! 

After lunch I do the fun stuff that lies at the heart of why I love running my own business. I brainstorm marketing ideas, continuously think of ways to delight our subscribers and then the most important time for me is what I call 'inspiration time'. I really believe that on a daily basis one needs to step back from the day to day tasks, get out of the office and experience the world outside. This is where the really great ideas come from. There's so much in my local area of Notting Hill and Portobello Road to inspire me so I max out on local galleries, exhibitions and culture. This time can also include reading a really interesting article or meeting a very inspirational person. It's then pick up time from nursery. Family dinner time with my husband and the kids is very rarely compromised, then once the kids are in bed I usually do another two to three hours work. 

Then Friday and Saturdays are pure indulgence. I am down at the market as soon as I can be, touching base with my favourite stall holders and sourcing amazing stock for our subscribers' Bello Boxes. I catch up on local news, pop into my favourite eateries and just soak up the atmosphere. It's hard work running your own business but it gives you a freedom and flexibility that can't be beaten.

What advice would you give to someone beginning to experiment with vintage?
I would say have fun and always buy quality pieces as they will last. When it comes to accessories, be as adventurous as you dare and when it comes to clothing, completely ignore size labels. TRY IT ON!

Thanks Nzinga! Feeling inspired? You can find out more about Style by Portobello here or follow them on Twitter here.

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