THE ART OF GATHERING

FROM LACE DOILIES TO LACE DIOR, BROOKE BAILEY AND HER HUSBAND JOHNNY WISKERCHEN ARE THE LOVERS AND CO-COLLABORATORS BEHIND SANTA MONICA’S CARNY COUTURE.

Text_ANNIE DAHL

women wearing white tank top with layer gold and silver necklaces and bracelets. Arms crossed in front of body.

Display Copy sits down with Brooke Bailey to uncover her personal journey as a vintage curator and explore what it means to be a true creative. In our interview, Bailey harkens back to her thrifty childhood and the years she spent as an art instructor to inform her current practice of discovering and merchandising beautiful objects at Carny Couture. 

DISPLAY COPY: Tell us a bit about your origin story and how you initially got into curating vintage?

BROOKE: I'm an only child so I spent a lot of time playing by myself. I always had a shop. My bedroom was the store and nobody could come in because I was very precious with my things. I had a counter at the door and would retrieve things for people so nobody would disturb my stuff. I don't know where I got the idea but between that and then dressing up my grandmother's cat Flauny… I would put outfits on her. She was kind of like one of those rag dolls but she wasn't a ragdoll… You ask about an origin story... I think I popped out of the womb curating things.

(Laughs)

In terms of coming to vintage, my mom was a thrifter and would make me go with her to church rummage sales. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. Hated it actually. I did not want to get dirty and dig around in piles. My mom would shout at me, “get your hands out of your pocket and start digging!” But she taught me about cashmere and fabrics and how things should feel so I became pretty tactile at a young age. I mean, we're talking four or five years old.

When I was a bit older I worked after school in a store called And Old Lace. I priced doilies that were like an inch big and I would have to stick a tag on every single little tiny doily. I loved it. 

I went on to major in art with a business minor and then taught art and painting for many years. The painting on clothing and stuff that I'm doing now harkens back to that.

 

DISPLAY COPY: How did your love for vintage evolve towards owning a business? 

BROOKE: My husband Johnny and I started dating in 2004 and in 2007 we got married. I was working in retail at the time on Rodeo Drive. It was a straight commission job and although I learned a lot I felt like I was wasting my time on products that I didn’t stand by. I wanted to do something that reflected my creativity and my values… Johnny encouraged me so I started selling at flea markets. At one point I was averaging three markets a week. It was really fun but it's back-breaking work. The best part was the network of colleagues I met that I'm still friends with to this day. And that’s what the business is becoming more and more of for me; a meeting of minds. Tantamount to anything it’s the people. And it’s weird people because we’re all creatives.

Johnny joined me in the business during Covid. He does the books and helps alleviate the backend stuff so I can focus on the creative. At first it was a temporary thing but we were having so much fun that now I can't even imagine not doing this together. To be able to grow your business with your best friend and partner is kind of amazing. A dream come true.

 

DISPLAY COPY: Do you feel like operating a brick and mortar location has changed your curating process?

BROOKE: Great question. It’s such a personal thing. Not everybody wants to be, as they say, “tied down to the location…” and I'm definitely a true creative. A bit fancy free. There are times where I literally work overnight to curate the store because I want the quiet and space to go big and get in my own head. It's kind of like creating a painting to be honest. With painting, I never have in my mind exactly how things are gonna look. I like an open approach where it's more about the process. It’s really interesting how as you move objects and clothing around, it’s so sensory. I can have pieces for a year, but they don’t fit in the space. And when they find the space that they're supposed to be, I swear it’s like they're alive.

We live in a really interesting time where people don’t really need anything. But I want people to feel like… but wait, this is special, there’s something here for me. I want to create something interactive. A physical space allows for bringing and gathering people together. We’ve been really fortunate to create a sense of community and I have a lot of little spaces where people can perch.

 

DISPLAY COPY: Say you have a customer who isn't as familiar with vintage. Do you have a gateway item that you often find yourself recommending? Is it the 501 or what? 

BROOKE: Right now I find it's so important that I get dressed. And I don’t mean fancy but really true to myself. Inevitably your customers want the pants that you're wearing.

(laughs)

 

DISPLAY COPY: There’s an instagram post on your feed with a photo of a 1940s silk embroidered parachute kimono next to a Y2K pink sequined party dress. What do you feel you gain by not restricting yourself to certain eras?  

BROOKE: I’m always looking for a timeless appeal with vintage. Mixing eras is one way to do that.

 

DISPLAY COPY: You make mood racks as part of your process. We’re curious what’s on your mood rack for this Spring?

BROOKE: Denim is always on my mood rack! And right now a fabulous really soft cotton mens button down. I’ll even put one over a fitted sweatshirt. A lot of shades of green and mesh are in heavy rotation on my racks right now. And I’m really into bodysuits and ballet core. Cropped sweaters still. Giant khaki pants and fitted sweaters. Lots of texture. Ruching, linens and silk. I like things that can be folded up really tiny in your travel bag. I’d rather have chunky jewelry and tiny clothes when I travel.

 

DISPLAY COPY: What does a normal day look like for you?

BROOKE: Every day is different for me and my schedule would make some people’s heads spin but one thing is always consistent. Johnny makes amazing coffee here at home. He brings it to me in bed every morning. 

(laughs)

I usually shop online in the mornings or have physical buying appointments. Some days I go to thrift stores. I recently found a Rudi Gernreich dress at Goodwill.

 

DISPLAY COPY: What’s one of the most memorable pieces you’ve ever found?

BROOKE: I really wish I would have kept this one. It was a Todd Oldham for Congovid jumpsuit. Enormous, almost like a sumo wrestler situation with giant pockets. Avant garde to the hilt. I sold it. I don’t know why. I’m always on the lookout for another one so if anyone has one hit me up.

(laughs)

 

DISPLAY COPY: Any favorite designers you’re always on the lookout for?

BROOKE: Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des GARÇONS, Romeo Gigli, Issey Miyake 

 

DISPLAY COPY: Is there a certain item of clothing that you wish people would stop buying brand new and instead look for secondhand?

BROOKE: I would like to see people buy fewer and better things. The people that come to us wanting everything are the one-off customers. The people that return are the ones who think about what they’re buying and then reach for that piece of clothing several times a week—they come back to us for something special.

“The coolest part [of the vintage industry] is the network of colleagues that we’ve made—it’s a meeting of the minds, the building relationships with clients that have now become good friends. Tantamount to anything it’s the people. And it's weird people because we’re all creatives.” — BROOKE BAILEY / CARNY COUTURE

“Flea markets are still my playground.” — BROOKE BAILEY / CARNY COUTURE

“I would like to see people buy fewer and better things.” — BROOKE BAILEY / CARNY COUTURE