March 3, 2014

Getting to know Janine Dagati from stellar etsy shop Guermantes Vintage

Every now and then I come across an etsy shop that stops me dead in my tracks makes me wish unendingly that I could wave a magic wand and suddenly have every last item in it fall into my closest. Sadly, such a magic wand has not been invented yet (come on, scientists of the world, get on it! :D), but luckily one can still become a loyal fan and customer of such sits and whip on by for a visit any, ol' time their heart desires. One such wishlist-expanding shop just happens to become to Chronically Vintage's new blog sponsor for March is Guermantes Antique & Vintage Clothing.

Rife in the best kind of way with heirloom worthy, incredibly beautiful vintage and antique clothing (and well as a handful of other yesteryear items), Guermantes is the kind of etsy shop that you don't just say hello to in passing and then move on to the next one.

No, this gem hooks you with its first page, teaming as it is with stellar, well photographed early and mid-twentieth century fashions of a caliber that leading Hollywood costumers would jump at the chance to weave into a movie, and by the same token, which any vintage fashion lover would relish the opportunity to enrich their wardrobe with as well.

Recently I sat down, via email, the terrific founder and owner of Guermantes Vintage, Janine Dagati (pictured below), to chat about her shop, buying vintage on etsy, her passion for the past, Victorian homes, and Proust, amongst other delightful topics.

 photo Janinesphoto_zps74e5b2b9.jpg

Your etsy shop, which will be hitting its fourth year of business this spring, is called Guermantes Vintage, could you please tell us more about the history of that name?

Actually, the shop just turned two years old in February! The founding date on Etsy is earlier because I used to run a prior shop under the same account. It wasn't nearly as curated, and after a while I realized I was selling a lot of things that just didn't interest me. I decided to change the name and focus of the shop to make it something I was proud to stand behind.

The year before I had been reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time, which had a huge effect on me. When I was rethinking my shop I was reminded of The Guermantes Way, in which Proust's narrator becomes obsessed with this iconic, aristocratic French family, the Guermantes. He follows the princess everywhere and every fiber of her being (including her clothing) is infused with this powerful symbolism. The very name Guermantes represents a myth of elegance, perfection, and historical significance.

Guermantes Vintage is hinged on the idea that clothing, just like a name, just like the name "Guermantes," can be symbolic. Guermantes Vintage is of course a reference to the Guermantes family and to the qualities they represent in The Guermantes Way, but it is also a reference to In Search of Lost Time as a whole and the nature of memory. Proust is known for filling the novel with scenes in which a tiny element of perception triggers a flood of memories. I believe that - just like Proust's narrator biting into a Madeleine - a vintage garment takes one in an instant through a vivid and complex web of personal and historical associations.

Every garment has its own life and personal story, but also its details - seams, hemline, buttons, silhouette - reflect its era and the way the world was at the time it was made. There is just so much symbolism and referentiality there. And wearing vintage let's you play with and use all that significance. That kind of stuff is what I really find fascinating about vintage.

{1930s black rayon crepe dress with handpainted pink roses}

One need only take a quick peak around your etsy shop to see that you have an unflinching and very skilled eye for sourcing fantastic, timelessly beautiful vintage pieces. What are some of the things you look for when selecting pieces to offer your customers?

It's important to me that I stock things I find interesting. A lot of the time I'm driven by the desire to just buy and restore items I find that I just love, and to document them for posterity. It's a business, yeah, but it's definitely not just about money. I don't do this full time. I think of it in a way as my museum. I look for pieces that make me just take a step back and sigh. Or pieces that seem significant to their time.

It's not just fancy WOW stuff; I'm really interested in the lives of everyday people of the past, so the normal daywear is often just as interesting as the fancy gowns. I look for special details that make the pieces unique.

{1940s two-piece novelty floral print rayon blouse and peplum skirt with matching belt}

What are your own favourite decades from a fashion standpoint and do you tend to gravitate towards stocking your shop with pieces from that/those eras?

I am definitely a deco era girl. I collect that stuff like a mad woman. 1920s and 1930s. The lines, the design, the fabrics, the embellishments, the silhouettes...I'm just so fascinated by it. I get so excited over it. The shop is definitely heavily leaning towards that time period as a result.

{1950s brown patterned silk dress with short kimono sleeves}

Can you share three things that you think new etsy shoppers would benefit from knowing when it comes to buying vintage clothing online?

First and foremost, know your measurements. That is the most important thing with shopping online. If you have something that fits you well, definitely measure it and shop by those measurements. It's a lot more helpful than shopping with your actual body measurements.

Second, know what you want and know how to search for it. There are often several different names for things, so try to search using different words if you're not finding what you're looking for.

Third, if you are buying antique clothing, be careful when you wear it. I think with the new popularity of the 20s clothes, a lot of people think they can buy a 20s dress and just go dancing all night without a care. And sometimes you can, but also sometimes those pieces are just too delicate. Some fabrics, like very old silk chiffon, are more delicate than others. Ladies in the vintage community pretty much know that wearing vintage can involve lots of repairs over time. If you are new to wearing vintage, it's important to be mindful of the age of your garments and to treat them with care.

{1920s navy blue silk chiffon dress with art deco buckle and pink beaded rosettes}

Would you ever consider opening a traditional brick and mortar location as well or do you prefer to sell solely online?

I don't think a brick and mortar would be right for me. Although I do see the appeal of decorating the space and having a concept for that space. But, like I said, I really think of this shop as my museum. I believe in documenting all my finds and releasing them into this massive internet web so that people who have an interest in old clothing or in history can find them and look at them and study them forever.

I like that people all over the world have access to the items in my shop. It almost seems meant to be sometimes. Like a customer and an item found each other. So I would hate to think that only people in Baltimore can see or access these pieces. Aside from that, I'm not sure I would like sitting at the register and ringing up customers. I tend to need to do a bunch of things at once and by my own hours, so working in a store would maybe be stifling for me. I guess I'm more a behind the scenes kind of girl. I need a lot of freedom.

{1950s blue, green and pink floral print dress with rhinestone detailing}

You mentioned that selling vintage on etsy wasn't your full time job at the moment, can you share with us what is, as well as what are some of your other passions in life are?

My full time job is a dog walker, and I love it. I've always been a huge dog lover. Like when I was little I used to watch dog shows on TV and take pictures of the TV screen when my favorite breed (it was the Afghan Hound) would come on. Of course my parents had a normal point and shoot and the flash always went off so my photos were always just a big white light from reflecting off the screen. Ha. It's great. I have really flexible hours and I get to walk around outside all day and go to parks with cute, fluffy, loving, lovable creatures and get paid for it. There is such a pure joy I get from the animals.

I'm a big literary nerd and always have been... I guess that's pretty obvious from the shop name... I'm really big on the classics, especially. Moby Dick, The Grapes of Wrath, The Brothers Karamazov, and Of Human Bondage. Those are probably my top four. I also love Shakespeare, Edith Wharton, the Brontes, and lots of Russian literature. I was a Russian major in college. I'm also into making things, which includes baking, art, sewing, etc.

I also get to see inside lots of beautiful old homes. Since I started walking dogs I've really developed an interest in turn of the century and 1920s American houses. There are a lot of great ones in Baltimore, and I've learned so much about them. I finally purchased my own old home at a public auction this past year. It's a 1914 Victorian, and I've since been obsessed with fixing it up and restoring all of its original details. There are some photos of it on my Instagram. I'm pretty in love with it.

{1940s grey wool princess coat with black velvet cuffs and collar and rhinestone detailing. I've actually owned one of these exact same coats for a couple of years now and can tell you first hand, it's warm as all get out and even more sublimely pretty in person.}

Do you wear vintage? If your own closest is filled or peppered with vintage, what are some of your current favourite yesteryear pieces that you own?

I do wear vintage. For myself I love older pieces that are kind of eccentric. Like 1910s and 1920s Halloween costumes. Anything that makes me feel like a crazy Miss Havisham type old lady. 1920s chinoiserie stuff. Severe hats, big cocoon coats and robes, unusual shoes... I'm a very conceptual person so I guess I usually have an idea or reference in mind when I get dressed. I like pieces that seem like they embody something.

{Brown 1920s silk velvet dress with antique cream lace detailing}

Do you find yourself drawn to collecting certain types of accessories more so than others? If so, what are some of your favourites?

I'm not really an accessories girl. You'll see that the shop is almost entirely clothing. I do love 20s wax flower crowns, that's probably my favorite accessory. Also 40s WWII souvenir items. There was a lot of novelty lingerie from that period that I particularly love, but the carved wooden shoes are great too. Any jewelry from the Victorian period made with human hair - that's a big one for me.

{1950s atomic stripe cat eye sunglasses}

A great deal of work goes into running a successful etsy business such as your own, what would you say are some of the most rewarding elements of doing just that?

I love getting feedback from customers. Some of my customers have sent me thank you cards in the mail. Actual physical mail! How cute is that? I've also really enjoyed corresponding with other people who share my interests. I've been able to befriend some pretty cool girls in the vintage community as a result of running this shop.

Most of all I love feeling like I'm preserving pieces from the past that may not otherwise be seen or enjoyed. I get to be an archivist, a conservationist, and a historian all in one.

{Amazing diamond print navy blue 1940s dress with lace decolleage}

Want to stay up to date on all the exciting happenings from this marvelous etsy shop? Connect with Guermanes Vintage on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest

{All images used throughout this post are care of Guermantes Vintage. Please click the link below each one, or on an image itself, to be taken to its respective etsy listing.} 

♥ ♥ ♥

Thank you very much, dear Janine, not only for the engaging and highly enjoyable interview, but for becoming a Chronically Vintage blog sponsor.

I sincerely appreciate both and will be keeping Guermantes Vintage on my etsy favourites lists from here on out. Your offerings are far too timeless, breathtakingly beautiful, and immensely wearable not to check back on frequently.


  1. Fabulous indeed, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  2. I love Guermantes Vintage, it is one of my top etsy shops! So cool to find out more about the interesting owner!

  3. OMG! I fall in love for that wonderful crepe dress, is gorgeous!! <3

    Have a great week!


  4. This etsy shop looks amazing! I can see why you want ever piece to appear in your closet! That wool princess coat is gorgeous! The owner sounds wonderful too and who wouldn't love to be a dog walker! :)


  5. Argh no! Put the pretties away, my wallet can't handle it!
    What an interesting lady this shop owner is, I can't believe her full time job is dog walking - SO jealous, that would be the most amazing job!

  6. I know the shop from Etsy - it;s lovely!

  7. Beautiful dresses!! Thanks for sharing. :)

  8. They have lots of gorgeous items but that princess coat is heavenly! I love the red one they have too. I've recently retired my faithful red coat and I feel the gap in my winter wardrobe. *sigh*

    Thanks for sharing the shop and the fascinating interview.

  9. Beautiful selection of very nice dresses! My favourite is the brown one with cream lace details...I love it! And the sunglasses with green lenses are very cute! I think they would be great together!!

  10. ohmygosh, I think I'm in danger of going bankrupt. I love, love, love her items. Spectacular, even better than some I've seen lately with fabgabs.

  11. Ohhh the cat sunglasses.. its amazing to me that all of these items are still around and looking new.
    Whenever i see these posts, i just don't understand why where i live all vintage has been thrown in the trash.

    1. So very true, dear Lorena. It is a massive shame that any vintage item which was still in good (or easy to repair) shape was ever thrown away. I was, hand on my heart, just thinking at length about this as I began work on massively spring cleaning and organizing our basement (which had me thinking about what to keep and what to sell or toss some items - no vintage of course, all that stays upstairs with me! :)).

      ♥ Jessica