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Women's Fashion / Insiders

Cameron Silver, Decades

The Insiders is a column written by Kin Woo, presenting integral, but often hidden figures within the fashion industry

Cameron Silver
Cameron Silver © Douglas Friedman

Insiders meets the flamboyant Cameron Silver, founder of Decades and doyen of vintage attire

It’s the day after the Met Gala, America’s most glamorous big ticket event and speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, Cameron Silver is effusive in his praise: “I was happy to see a real authentic retrospective and I think Charles James is a very worthy subject.” Then somewhat mischievously, he adds, “But that was the worst dressed Met gala I’ve ever seen! Gosh people looked hideous!”

Silver knows a thing or two about a red carpet entrance, having sourced vintage showstoppers for the likes of Nicole Kidman, Chloe Sevigny and Charlize Theron over the years. As fashion historian, author, curator and founder of one of the most influential high end vintage boutiques in the world, Decades; Silver is uniquely poised to be able to comment on the intersection between fashion history and celebrity. Growing up as a doted-upon only child, by his own account he came out when he was a precocious 7 years old, “wearing a fedora, a vest, a whirt shirt , tie and khakis. It was a very classic, unisex ‘Annie Hall’ look.” An interest in high fashion was cultivated by his glamorous surroundings: “Living in Beverley Hills in the 70’s there was still little fragments of elegance. Rodeo Drive had Giorgio, I went to Cotillion at the Daisy Club and my next door neighbour was Roger Moore.” At his bar mitzfah, aged 13, he hosted “the Cameron Awards” in a tuxedo and performed songs – a predilection that naturally gave way to a training as actor and singer, touring the country and even releasing an album of Cabaret songs in 1996. “I was never a great singer and my album sold maybe eight copies. But performing is about breaking the fourth wall which is what retail is about. It was the most important education I ever had because it gave me a great ability to connect with people and at the same time I had the sensitivity of an artist.”

"Every play is a revival and every song is sampled but the great artists of today know how to take something of the past and make it completely modern” — Cameron Silver

His eureka moment came when on two week tour in Seattle, where he chanced upon a thrift store called Atomic Bomb and managed to score three Rudi Gernreich dresses, an apple-green Pauline Trigère coat and Dior couture ball gown. “I thought I got a good eye and I think my career is going to have a different trajectory. 17 years later to the date, I’m still here and still hustling!” After opening the store on Melrose Avenue (and setting up the contemporary division, Decades Two on the lower level) Silver has gone on to curate a travelling retrospective of Gernreich and recently partnered with Matchesfashion.com on an exclusive archive of Jean Paul Gaultier pieces timed with the opening of the Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican. It’s that unerring ability to be of the moment that has accounted for the success of Decades to date: “Vintage is a way to make yourself look one of a kind but also modern. I think that’s how Decades became an influential store – the way I edited was about modernity.” And while the days of designers blatantly copying from designs of the past may be over, he still sees how pieces from Decades help inspire work on the runway today. “Now I’m much more interested like people like Raf Simons who will take a vintage piece and I might know the arc of the piece but it’s been transformed. Every play is a revival and every song is sampled but the great artists of today know how to take something of the past and make it completely modern.”

Decades, Melrose Avenue
Decades, Melrose Avenue
Through Silver’s efforts, vintage has shed its fusty connotations to become the ultimate accolade for any bold star who wants to prove her fashion chops. He’s been through Catherine Deneuve’s closets for her trove of Saint Laurent, but says, “some of my best treasures come from surviving family members who have no idea how chic their mother or grandmothers were. These clothes are embedded with so much love and so many positive moments. It’s nice that beautiful things can come from everywhere.” While he enjoys the hunt, the real thrill comes from matching the right dress with the right woman, such as on a recent trunk show where an elegant 86-year old grandmother bought a Lesage embroidered YSL cardigan from him. “That’s where the magic happens. I always say style knows no size, no zip code, no age – everyone gets to have it.”

With his easy charm and aesthete’s flair, not to mention his glamorous clientele, Silver would seem an obvious subject for television but he describes his experience making the Bravo show, Kings of Melrose (alongside his business partner, Christos Garkinos) as “hideous, the worst thing I ever did for my career. It was so disruptive.” Lately he’s been in the spotlight again when his Instagram-instigated boycott of the Dorchester collection of hotels (in response to the Sultan of Brunei who owns the Dorchester collection passing the UN-condemned Sharia law – which increases the punishment for committing a homosexual act from a 10-year prison sentence to death by stoning) gathered steam, garnering the support of high profile figures and coverage in the mainstream press. He marvels, “It’s become this humongous story and now people are pulling their events from those hotels. It shows that social responsibility and social media are very entwined. We live in a world where one Instagram can lead to a mini revolution – I mean the Arab Spring started on social media. It shows that people are listening.”

Text by Kin Woo

Kin Woo is writer-at-large for Dazed and Confused and columnist for AnOthermag.com.

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