why tennessee thomas thinks vintage can change the world
Tennessee Thomas’ Deep End Club is a trippy time warp of flower-power peace and protest. Boasting an impressive range of late-60s, early-70s apparel, books, posters, records and miscellanea, the shop turned activist clubhouse encourages rebellion.
So when news broke that The Like drummer, DJ, and activist was called on to curate a 50-piece capsule collection for Manhattan Vintage (a semi-annual bazaar featuring some of the country's best vintage vendors) we were jumping for joy. Ahead of the collection's launch at the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show and Sale, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion today and tomorrow, we caught up with Tennessee to find out why she thinks vintage can change the world.
How did the collaboration with Manhattan Vintage come about?
Adam [Ornstein] from Manhattan Vintage came by The Deep End Club a few times and then asked me if I'd be interested. I think he could tell from the shop's general vibe that I quite like old things, things from the past. I've been collecting vintage since I was a teenager, I was dressed in some vintage as a child, and I've been going to the Manhattan Vintage fair for years; I love all that stuff. So when he suggested it, I got really excited. We went up to Albany to their warehouse and just spent the whole day rummaging around, keeping in mind the late-60s, early-70s theme. We were looking for pieces that were in some way activism-inspired: peace signs, voting, anything with a radical play. I've been collecting all of the vintage pins, which we found quite a lot of up in their warehouse. I'm interested in clothes that are conversation starters in that way.
What were some of the best pieces that you found in the warehouse?
Wrangler Jeans had this fabric in the late 60s that was cartoon drawings of protesting hippies; my dad had a shirt of it which he lost a long time ago, so it was really fun to find that again. There were some jackets that had peace signs embroidered on them and there was a handbag that was a huge peace sign. It was hard to find 50 pieces that were all explicitly activist like that, so I mixed in things from the era that I wear all the time: black dresses with white collars, things with polka dots. I like when mod went a bit psychedelic, when the Beatles went from suits to being much trippier. You could see it in every element of the culture. All the things that it took to get the youth to get to that place, that's what we need to go through now.
What are some pieces in your own closet that have the best stories?
In the 60s, Betsey Johnson had a shop called Paraphernalia. Edie Sedgwick was her fit model, she did all the costumes for Ciao! Manhattan, and The Velvet Underground would even play in the shop. It was quite a scene, but short lived. I've found a few Paraphernalia pieces that are amazing. I have this one purple knitted mini dress with bows all over it that I actually saw a picture of Edie wearing in an Andy Warhol book. I've also got a tartan black and white cape and a silver dress with big sleeves which is really cool. They're pretty special things.
Tell us about your shop, The Deep End Club.
After being in a band, I was in a funny spot where I didn't know wanted to do or where to put my energy. When Occupy Wall Street started, I kept going down there because it was so inspiring. It felt like something that needed to happen; the conversations that were happening down there were much more exciting than other conversations that were being had. Through that, I met this group of people; we were called The Awareness Experiment and we put on a few events with different speakers about various issues. It was a fun way to be throwing a party and also have a message, but it was also a lot of work and it was quite hard to sustain it with a lack of resources, which is sort of what happened with Occupy as well. A lot of connections were made and the desire was there, but having it be leaderless and such a big undertaking, it sort of lost momentum formally. But I think everyone in their own way has integrated the feeling of that into what they are doing: the need to be more conscious.
So the shop is a space that came out of that; we've been trying to use it for the best cause possible. Having it function like a clubhouse and a space to commune is a lot more fun and interesting to me than just selling things. It's more fun to have it be an interactive thing. We have lots of little workshops and teach-ins. Just before the People's Climate March, everyone came here, we painted signs, and then we went up as a really big group. That was so inspiring; it sort of reignited that activism situation that we felt a few years ago. So that's what we're talking about now. What are the best little things we can do to inspire people?
What do you think of the protest moment in fashion right now, with designers like Chanel and Vivienne Westwood?
There is this rebellion that keeps coming up in different ways, every decade goes through it. So I think it's amazing what Vivienne Westwood does, how she uses fashion as a vehicle for her beliefs. She straight up says, "Buy less, choose well." If you're going to buy something, be aware of where it's coming from. I can remember the first designer piece of clothing I ever bought were a pair of her pirate boots when I was 18. That was the most money I've ever spent on anything, but I still have them. If you are going to buy, make it last. I think all of this throw away culture; we should be treasuring things that already exist!
Text Emily Manning
Photography Brayden Olson