Tziporah Salamon is used to being photographed—by everyone from New York City tourists to famous “New York Times” street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. She’s impossible for shutterbugs to resist, when they catch her riding around the city on her turquoise Bianchi, often a symphony of lush colors, decked head-to-toe in exquisite, embroidered, antique fabrics. Salamon also caught the eye of 30-year-old photographer Ari Seth Cohen, who made waves in the fashion world when he launched his Advanced Style blog in 2008, a site devoted to the elderly and impeccably elegant fashionistas who grace the streets of Manhattan. Salamon, at 62, will be one of the youngest women featured in the Advanced Style book, coming out this month, and the “Advanced Style” documentary, set for this fall.
While all of the Advanced Style ladies have fabulous vintage or retro-inspired pieces in their repertoires, Salamon, hands down, has the most impressive museum-quality collection of antique and vintage clothing. Her apartment, and two storage units, house more than 200 hats, and “endless” numbers of other accessories, shoes, and items of clothing, from 1860s Japan to the Art Deco era to postwar America. For the fashionably challenged, the style consultant hosts a regular class called “The Art of Dressing” and occasionally puts on a one-woman theater show called “The Fabric of My Life.”
Collectors Weekly: How do you come up with your outfits?
Salamon: I work on the outfits as I go along, and I don’t wear the outfit until it’s totally complete. For example, I got a wonderful Comme des Garçons jacket, probably 20 years ago. It was killer, but I had nothing to wear it with. It’s this very particular brown, a reddish brown, it’s shiny, and it has tails.
But it was the hardest color to work with, and it took seven years for that outfit to complete. First, I found the pants. Then, I found the shirt to wear underneath, and the shoes. They had to be a particular shape of shoes because I was doing Middle Eastern look. Next, there’s always a hat, and it took years until that came. Then, there’s a scarf around my neck, and I always wear earrings and a bracelet. There has to be a shawl because it gets cold at night, even in the summertime because of the air-conditioning. The gloves have to work with it, too, because I ride my bike.
I didn’t just wear the jacket when I got it. It was an incredible jacket, and I could’ve just worn it over black pants. That’s not what I do ever. I won’t plop on a piece just because it’s new. Every component has to be as wonderful as all the other components. Once it all comes together, that’s the outfit for me. I don’t change it up. It is a painting for me.
Collectors Weekly: Do you ever worry an outfit might be out of style by the time it’s completed?
Salamon: No, I’ll have on an outfit that I created 20 years ago, and people will say, “Oh my God, it’s fabulous!” Or “You’re so fashionable!” And I’m not fashionable at all; I’m stylish. Fashionable is of the moment. Fashionable is the latest Prada, Gucci, or whatever is “in” this minute, and I rarely have what’s in-the-moment. In fact, when I buy new clothes, which I do, the more you can’t tell who it is, the better. I’ll never wear something with someone’s initials or name on it.
Collectors Weekly: What is generally the percentage of pieces that are antique or vintage compared to contemporary in each outfit you have?
Salamon: I would say 80:20. Of course, I buy contemporary shoes, unless I find a perfect vintage pair. Sometimes I do. I’ll find men’s vintage shoes that work much easier than women’s vintage shoes because I have large feet. For one outfit, I was lucky enough to find needlepoint men’s slippers from the 1800s, and they were never worn. Oh, my God, I felt like Cinderella that day. Also I’ve found Victorian men’s boots, and they fit. The advantage of vintage is it’s usually so well made. The shoes are kid leather that are so soft and fine.
Collectors Weekly: How did you get into fashion?
Salamon: My father was a tailor, and my mother’s a dressmaker. From Day One, they made all my clothes, everything. I was sleeping, and they were sewing. My father would make the constructed stuff like coats and pants. My mother made the feminine stuff, accordion-pleated skirts, jumpers, dresses, and blouses. And they made my pajamas. They dressed me both as a little boy and as a little girl, so I was equally comfortable in both.
Growing up in Israel, in Judaism, there’s a holiday called Purim in which you get dressed. My mother went all out for my Purim outfits over the years. I started off being an Arabic girl, and then I was a Persian princess. I was Snow White one year and, the next year, I was one of the seven dwarves. I was an abacus once, and I was a doughnut. Every outfit had a hat, exactly like what I’m doing today. Oftentimes, I say I do Purim every single day.
My parents, both Hungarian Jews, were Holocaust survivors. My father came from a family of 10, and five of them came back from the camps, and five did not. My father was sent to labor camp, where he sewed the Nazi uniforms—that’s how he survived. His sister was sent to Auschwitz, and after Auschwitz, she ended up in Switzerland. Then she came to New York, while my father went to Israel. They didn’t see each other for over 25 years. When she came to New York, she met this German Jew who took her to San Antonio, Texas, where he was vice president of Neiman Marcus.
“I don’t have to invite you to my studio to see my painting. You get to see it on me. I get to wear it, live it, be it.”
Now, she knew that my father, her favorite brother, had these two little girls, me and my sister. Twice a year, we would get packages from her, via Neiman Marcus, with the most amazing little girl’s dresses in the world. Money was no object with her, because she got the discount and she was a very wealthy woman. At the time, the clothes that were sold in Neiman Marcus were the best clothes in the world. Between the clothes that my parents made me and the clothes from Neiman Marcus, I had a remarkable wardrobe. That’s what I came into this world with.
Of course I’m going to travel through life, loving clothes and playing with clothes and knowing how to dress. My family moved to New York City when I was 9 years old, and I was always very well dressed. In high school, I would show my mother “Vogue” magazine, the cover or whatever outfit I liked inside. I would buy the fabric, and she would make me the cover of “Vogue” over a weekend. My mother was incredible. Not only a seamstress, she could also crochet, knit, and embroider.
In my 20s, I was in Berkeley getting a Ph.D. in psychology and teaching high school. Since it was the ’70s and I was a flower child, I dressed very artistically but very hippie, in Mexican peasant blouses and wide skirts. Then I decided I didn’t want to be a therapist and I wanted to pursue fashion, since I always loved clothes. So I quit grad school in ’79 and moved back to New York.
Collectors Weekly: How did you first discover vintage clothes?
Salamon: Well, I realized if I was going to be in fashion in New York, I needed a new wardrobe, because the Berkeley hippie look wasn’t going to fly. But the new clothes that I loved, already in 1979, were selling for $1,200 a piece. The Japanese were fresh on the scene, and Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Mitsuhiro Matsuda were my favorites. My first job back in New York was as a Barneys salesgirl making $7 an hour. There was no way I could afford these clothes. Even with my 30 percent employee discount, I couldn’t buy a $1,200 jacket.
But I met this woman, Renee Lewis, who had been a vintage dealer. She had been collecting her whole life, and she actually started selling antique clothes when she was a teenager. Her whole apartment was filled with antiques, and her clothes were all vintage. Renee, who has been a great influence in my life, had and still has amazing taste. But at the time, her boyfriend was moving up from Atlanta, Georgia, to live with her, and she had to empty out the closet of her tiny studio apartment to make room for him. Also, Renee had gained some weight, so she had all these antique clothes that didn’t fit her. She said to me, “Do you want them? Here.” That was the start of my antique collection.
Collectors Weekly: What do you love most about dressing?
Salamon: For me, dressing is so much fun because I get to design. I’m creating a portrait, and I have very different looks. I could do Chinese empress one day and Persian princess another day. Pierrot (a standard mime character from 17th century European Commedia dell’Arte) is one of my favorite looks. Another day, I could do ‘20s woman or little boy or Edwardian whites or Victorian jets. It’s painting with cloth and hats and capes and shawls.
That’s the other real benefit to dressing is that people actually come up to me and thank me for making their day. They send me love, and I, in turn, send them love, so it’s a whole loop of love. Some people say, “So what’s the difference between you and Lady Gaga?” The answer is: I don’t do it to shock. I’m always a very refined lady so that people would never turn me away.
“Hats, to me, they’re like the exclamation point. They polish and finish off the outfit.”
It took me a long time to own this gift and to accept that this is what I do best. I struggled with dressing being superficial. I still want to make a difference on the planet. I actually asked God, “What am I meant to do?” Then I had a dream in which Glenn Close calls me and says, “Tziporah, I hear you’re a fashion consultant. I hear you’re the best in the business. I want to hire you.”
Then the day after the dream, I end up going to a Broadway show where Glenn was appearing. Long story short, I get in and get to tell her this, which is a whole miracle because you usually don’t get in to see the star, unless you have an appointment. I realized that God gave me that dream for a reason, to tell me I’m meant to dress the stars. But I had a real hard time with that—this was in 1984—because I thought it was very superficial and that it just wasn’t important enough.
In 1999 and 2000, I spent 10 weeks of two summers at a Jewish renewal center, as part of a work-study program. Every week a different guest, at least one but usually around 5 to 10, would come up to me and thank me for dressing. One woman told me that she actually looked forward to my entering a room because I elevated the energy in the room. That’s when I got that what I do, the dressing, is important and that it’s my way of contributing to the world. It is a gift, and the way God expresses herself through me. I’m so grateful for this art form because I don’t have to invite you to my studio to see my painting. You get to see it on me. I get to wear it, live it, be it. As a bicyclist, it’s great fun because I bike all over the city, and I give them all a show.
Collectors Weekly: How do you recommend women save money using vintage?
Salamon: Well, first of all, vintage is so much cheaper than new clothes. I’m not talking about clothes from H&M, which are throw-away, right? Today, to be really well dressed and to buy well-made garments, it’s at least $1,000 for an item. You can get a fabulous vintage jacket for $200 or $300 and sometimes much less. This is in New York—I’m sure in other parts of the world, in flea markets and thrift stores you can get vintage clothes even cheaper. I have amazing vintage clothes, pieces that are beaded or embroidered, and there’s not even a label in most of them. Flea markets are like bakeries; they’re so much fun. Just go. It’s not about spending a lot of money. Experiment. Play. Give yourself permission to play dress-up.
Vintage is better quality than anything that you’re getting new, and it helps the planet. If you buy new cashmere, it pills in a minute, no matter what designer it is. The cashmere that I have, my twin sets from the ’30s and ’40s, even the ’50s, don’t even have one pill. So if you need a good sweater, there’s plenty of them in flea markets and antique clothing stores. It’s the hunt. You never know what you’re going to find. And you can take risks because you’re spending $30 on a sweater as opposed to a new sweater, which is at least $300—unless it’s H&M, but that’s not going to last you very long.
Sure, some vintage clothes wear out, like black pants. You need more than one pair of black pants, and it’s not so easy to find pants that fit you well. I also have clothes made. Once I had a pair of knickers that I got in 1982, and they just worked on my body. Those were my favorite pants, and I can do a lot with knickers as far as different looks. So I had those pants copied over and over in different colors in different weights of wool.
You have to have your clothes altered for you. Fit makes all the difference in the world. You have to know what you’re comfortable with, too. I can appreciate, let’s say, a fabulous pencil skirt that’s to the knee. I love that look, but that’s totally not me. The Jackie O look, that’s not me. I love it on someone else. For me, it’s just it’s too “lady.” I’m much more artistic and edgy, but “edgy” goes in many ways. “Edgy” could be punk, and that’s not me either. I don’t do harsh at all. I also don’t show cleavage. For some women, it’s important that they look sexy. That is not important to me at all.
Collectors Weekly: How many items of clothing are in your collection?
Salamon: Endless. Storage is an issue. My dream is to build a real closet, like a whole room for just my antique and vintage clothes where it’s controlled, temperature-wise, the way a museum does it. I talk to my clothes. I tell them, “One day, I’ll do right by you.” I miss my clothes that are in storage. I miss just playing with them.
Collectors Weekly: What do you need all of these clothes for?
Salamon: I use them not only to wear, but I use them in my class called “The Art of Dressing” and in my one-woman show called “The Fabric of My Life.” To my students, I’ll say, “You see this hat? It’s a great hat. So what would you pair it with?” The hat tells this story, so the rest of the outfit has to tell the same story. I ask the ladies, What happens if you wear this with this? What happens if you break it up with a belt? Why doesn’t it work? What happens if you put on high heels? What happens if you put on flats? Why does this work better with this?
The first class is all black. I’ll say, “This is black, and this is black. It should work. Why doesn’t it work?” It’s because of the texture, the proportion, or the silhouette. All of that is important. What happens when I put it on with skinny black pants, as opposed to wide black pants? Should they be cropped or should they go down to the ankles?
“Better overdressed than underdressed. Let’s raise the bar.”
I show it on my body so that they get to see it and go, “Ahhh!” It’s about balance. A woman who knows how to dress just knows how to do it instinctively and naturally. Those who don’t, need help, and I can teach them so that they become better dressers, whatever level they’re on. Some women, they’ll go this far, no further, because it’s too much attention. They couldn’t put on a hat; they wouldn’t feel comfortable. And that’s fine. But I encourage women to take it up a notch, to get out of their comfort zone.
Collectors Weekly: You also rent some of your pieces out?
Salamon: Well, to designers, yes. They copy it. That’s what they do in general. But I don’t necessarily see my exact pieces on the runway, because they may only take the idea of the pants and translate it into a skirt. They might take the shape, the pattern, or the technique they like, such as the embroidery.
Collectors Weekly: Do you ever worry about something getting stained, or say, a hat flying off your head on a windy day?
Salamon: Believe me, it does. I have to stop the bike a million times to go pick up the hat that’s on the floor. For sure, I’ve ruined stuff. The hat has fallen so many times that it’s got a hole in it because it’s made of bamboo and it’s fragile. The skirt has gone into the spokes of the wheel, and I tore it or I blackened it. I ruined a bag because it got all scratched up. But I live in the world, and I’m a bicyclist. Do I want to not bike and not wear my clothes? No. I try to be as careful as I can be, and things happen.
Collectors Weekly: Some collectors, though, would put these things in a vault. Would you consider that?
Salamon: Oh, no no no no. I have to wear them. I buy them to wear them, absolutely. I don’t have to keep them forever. I repair things. I don’t mind mending, and I don’t mind seeing patches on things. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just adds more texture, more life. I have wrinkles. My face isn’t perfect anymore. It’s part of living.
The responsibility of the upkeep of the clothes can feel overwhelming because it’s expensive to pay the seamstresses to do it well. Even the changing of the closets from the winter to summer, it’s work. Of course, it’s easier to just put on jeans and a T-shirt. It’s work in the morning to take it out of the closet and see it needs ironing. Here’s another rip, so I have to first have it mended again. Because it’s vintage, that happens, and especially on the bike, things really rip. So I have to take it back to the seamstress. She just brought it back, and it ripped somewhere else now. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of effort, and it’s money.
Collectors Weekly: And you have 200 hats?
Salamon: At least. I love hats. I happen to have the perfect head for hats. I have over 200 hats, and in fact, the hat often starts the outfit. I’ll get a great hat and then I’ll build an outfit for the hat, solely around the hat. Hats, to me, they’re like the exclamation point. They polish and finish off the outfit.
First of all, a hat with a big rim protects you from the sun and the elements. Men love women in hats. Women think that they need to show tits and ass. Put on a hat, and you’ll get noticed much quicker. It’s true! And there are so many great hats out there.
If you look at old pictures of women—and men—in the ’30s and ’40s, they all have hats on, and they all look better than we look. It’s not that they were any prettier or handsomer. But they were better dressed, for sure. They looked elegant, not sloppy the way people do this day and age with the jogging clothes, the baggy jeans, and the fat bellies that are hanging in the sweatshirts. It’s not a good look. Whereas a suit for a man or a woman hides a multitude of things. So if you’re wearing a suit for a man and a fedora, oh, my God! You look great no matter what goes on underneath.
Collectors Weekly: Do you see yourself as a rebel in this casual culture?
Salamon: Absolutely, yes. I’ve always dressed, even when it wasn’t politically correct to dress. I went to school as an undergrad from ’68 to ’72 to Buffalo. In ’70, the Kent State massacre had just happened, and in Buffalo, we took over the administration building. That was when the girls were encouraged to wear jeans, burn their bras, and wear T-shirts, and most women, that’s what they did. Then I showed up in the culottes and capes that my mother made me. No matter what was around me, I dressed. To this day, I don’t look at what most people do.
I’ll have people who are apologetic. My friends will say, “I feel terrible because next to you, because you’re all dressed.” I’ll say, “That’s not a requirement of mine that you be dressed. It’s a requirement of mine that I be dressed.”
Collectors Weekly: Some people also feel self-conscious about being overdressed.
Salamon: Better overdressed than underdressed. Let’s raise the bar. When people say, “But that’s not the norm,” and people don’t like it, I’m not coming down to their level. Let me raise the bar so that they’ll come up.
Collectors Weekly: People tend to think that fashion is for young women, but if you look at young Hollywood, it seems they’re failing at fashion.
Salamon: Totally failing at it. It’s dying, and we’re the last generation who’s doing it. We have always done it, and do it well, and we have lessons to teach the younger generation. The beauty of the Advanced Style blog is that the younger generation gets it. Most of the people who write in, comment are younger kids who are grateful and appreciative of what the older women are doing.
Collectors Weekly: What are your plans for the future?
Salamon: Because of the dream I had about Glenn Close in 1984, 30 years later, I want to move to L.A. to dress the stars. I want to make a difference in how women dress, and so many women emulate the stars. The whole world is watching the Academy Awards. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all inspired by what they are wearing?
It’s not about spending a lot of money. Experiment. Give yourself permission to play dress-up.
I’m not saying that what they wear is not nice. It’s always some gorgeous gown, but it’s so predictable, the same strapless gown. Even if it’s vintage, it’s a vintage strapless gown. I’d like to see other things on them. Let’s mix it up. Let’s give them wonderful pants or a Persian or Chinese style. Let’s cover them up a little, and let’s give them layers. Will all of them go for it? No. I’m sure I’ll only work with a very select few, but that’s fine.
I’d also teach them how to be stars every day. In all these magazines, you see celebrities at the airport or coming out of Starbucks in their jeans, T-shirt, and backwards baseball cap. What is that? There’s comfort, certainly. They dress the way everyone else does. You’d never see stars like that in the ’30s and ’40s. They were always glamorous. It doesn’t even have to be uncomfortable. I’m dressed every day, and I’m very comfortable on the bicycle. What’s nice is that people notice. It puts a smile on their faces.