Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Gift of Thrift: A Bevy of Beauty

I believe in thrift-store karma. Sometimes you just know you’ve gotta’ have a specific object – a beaded bag, a nostalgic paper fan or a vintage greeting card, and you aren’t even sure why. So you proceed to take your goodies home, and then, mysteriously, the gods who reign over thrifty discoveries eventually make their intentions clear.

Back in October, I was creating a hooch bag for my friend Allison and went to Housing Works in Greenwich Village to look for the right kind of clutch in which to pack full of flight-sized booze and funny money. I found the perfect model for Alison, but at the same time I ran across a satin, beaded clutch from the 1960s in perfect condition that I ended up buying at the same time, even though I was unsure of its potential owner.

As I was making Allison’s hooch extravaganza, I remembered a treasure trove of vintage shopping bags I had saved from the recycling pile, and there amongst relics of shopping sprees spanning more than 30 years was a signature, violet covered Bonwit Teller tote hearkening back to the iconic New York retailer that finally shut its doors in 1990. The bag reminded my of the stories my best pal Bevy Smith told me about her parents purchasing school clothes for her and her siblings and the warm memories she holds for a department store that only lives in memory. That’s when the beaded bag’s ultimate purpose was revealed: it was to become an essential element of a gift I would offer Bevy on her birthday, a date only a few days away.

From there, everything started to fall magically in place. I took the beaded bag and filled it with miniature bottles of rum and vodka and nestled them among bills of faux dough. Bevy's own hooch bag suddenly materialized! Enough money in the world couldn’t buy Bevy the jewels she deserves, so I settled instead on the gloriously photographed book, Alchemy: A Passion for Jewels by Temple St. Clair, the inimitable jewelry designer, and wrapped it up in lavender tissue. The crowning moment came when I propped a fan from the 1960s honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. and Bobby Kennedy inside a bed of silk violets that I bought in Manhattan’s floral district, all peering out of the top of the shopping bag. At the same place I acquired the fan, Vintiques on Kansas City, Missouri’s River Market, I turned up a sweet vintage birthday card of two fancy ladies see-sawing against a background of girly pink.

For a gift label, I found a photo of the Bonwit Teller charge plate and super-imposed Bevy’s name on its surface, along with a credit card number comprised of numbers gleaned from the recipients date of birth. Bevy, hope you enjoy my gift to you as much as I delighted in creating it. And, remember. Your credit limit with me is unlimited!

In May 2009, Clarkson Potter will publish my book, The Find: The Housing Works Book of Decorating with Thrift Shop Treasures, Flea Market Objects, and Vintage Details.

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