Inside the best cult vintage stores: Cenci Vintage
Since 1986, Cenci has sold to A-listers, theatre companies and fashion houses.
Photography Ana Larruy
Often just unmarked doors with buzzers off the street, with hundreds of thousands of different pieces in circulation between the store and the stockroom, in our new series we explore a few of the most beloved vintage stores in the world.
“I won’t name any names”, Edythe ‘Dede’ Vaughan of Cenci Vintage looks me dead in the eye. She’s getting real with me: “I’m not one to name drop.” Since 1986 Cenci has been the preserve of theatre companies, opera houses, fashion brands, stylists and unnamed A-listers. Even Madame Tussauds, after a lawsuit with a major fashion house for copying one of their dresses, turned to Cenci to source clothing for their wax celebrities. But for the sake of one article, Edythe isn’t about to disclose exactly which legendary figures have walked through these doors. They flock to Cenci for authentic vintage clothing made beautifully in exquisite fabrics. “If you get used to wearing something that is a quality garment,” Edythe tells me, “you're never going to be able to go back.”
The shop was founded in Florence by Edythe's husband Massimo in 1971. A couple of years later they were invited to open a shop in London by a friend and, after a decade of debate over its location, in 1986 they opened a Cenci Vintage at 31 Monmouth Street in Covent Garden. Then, in 2004, they moved the shop from Central London to their storage warehouse down a sleepy little alleyway in West Norwood. They turned the top floor into their apartment and offloaded the surplus stock into the basement, running the shop from the first floor.
“The people in and around West Norwood, they were probably the last to know we were here,” Edythe says. Their only street-level advertisement is a small green label next to their buzzer. To those in the know, this shop is one of London’s most invaluable sellers of vintage clothing: a place that is whispered about by wide-eyed fashion students and avid collectors alike. In a word, it’s legendary. With a list of heavyweight clients built up over almost 50 years, the shop doesn’t need to do any publicity to keep running.
The clothes are sourced from Italian factories which buy up vintage to recycle into new textiles. With younger generations no longer interested in running their family businesses and textile production moving elsewhere, these factories have been slowly closing shop since the 1970s. As the factories become less profitable, the machines used to recycle the textiles are being sold off to Chinese companies, “so gradually these factories that manufactured fabric for years and years are closing down,” Edythe says.
After almost fifty years, the couple have now amassed “at least one million pieces” of which only a fraction are displayed on the shop floor. Most of their stock is kept in the back, piled high to the rafters, or down in their basement waiting to become fashionable again.
In the 2000s, to Edythe’s absolute horror, Massimo acquired a large stock of clothing from the 1980s. She was convinced it would never sell. “You know, normally this super oversized stuff, we sold it to the opera,” she grins, “but now the toothpick people, the fashionistas, they all want it!” For the past three years they’ve been selling 80s vintage like there’s no tomorrow. “You know, Balenciaga did that oversized stuff,” she laughs, “and the thinner these people are, the bigger they want it.”
“I love it here,” Edythe says, “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.” She insists that the shop is Massimo’s business (she ran her own shop in Florence until 1992) but it’s her who calls the shots. "Massimo is the boss,” she explains, “I am the bossy one.”
Photography Ana Larruy