Inside Arizona’s most enchanting oasis of vintage fashion.
PHOTOGRAPHY_ ROBERT LINDHOLM
STYLING_ GABRIELLE MARCECA
Video_ Marta Caro
HAIR_ ADLENA DIGNAM (studio) /
SHIN ARIMA (location)
MAKEUP_ YUKO KAWASHIMA
MODEL_ RACHELLE HARRIS (NEXT)
CASTING_ LIZ GOLDSON
SET DESIGN_ MARISSA HERRMANN
TEXT_ STEPHANIE MURG
Tucson, Arizona enjoys on average 286 hot and sunny days per year (the local tourism authority swears it’s 350). The city is also a hotbed of fashion finds, from antique kimonos and Poiret tunics to early Sonia Rykiel knits and Galliano-era Dior slip dresses. Much of this sartorial sunshine hails from Desert Vintage, a retail oasis owned since 2012 by Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan.
Nestled between a coffee shop and a craft beer bar in Tucson’s burgeoning downtown, Desert Vintage is both airy and cozy. The sky-lit space is a former tile-maker’s studio reimagined with the help of interior designer Casey Smith. Rows of carefully selected pieces — here a tassel-swagged black velvet jacket from Yves Saint Laurent’s famed Ballets Russes collection, there an anonymous Jazz Age confection of ivory organza — appear to float, a trick of the wall-mounted racks forged by local ironworker Carson Terry. At the heart of the store is a mesmerizing canvas by Tucson-born, Los Angeles–based artist Ishi Glinsky, whose work explores another variety of vintage fashion, the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century beadwork and weaving of Native American tribes.
“We wanted the store to define and help people understand where we’re coming from, visually and regionally,” says Boufelfel. “The store symbolizes so much of what our daily creative lives look like living here in Tucson, and each piece that we select to be in the store stands on its own.”
Partners in both business and life, Boufelfel and Cowan met in their native Tucson while working as buyers for the thrift store chain Buffalo Exchange. “Salima and I always knew that we wanted to do something on our own,” explains Cowan, “and we had originally planned to do it in France.” After an aborted move to Paris, the couple returned home and in 2012 took over Desert Vintage from Kathleen Lauth, who established the store in 1974 with her sister, Connie.
Just as Boufelfel and Cowan set about putting their own stamp on the business, moving the focus from quantity to quality and from costume to curation, they were offered a spectacular family archive: couture wardrobes from the early twentieth century, all impeccably preserved in a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk. “It was a true time capsule — pieces from Chanel, Poiret, and many more,” says Boufelfel. “And it was our first buy for Desert Vintage.” Adds Cowan, “It was a good omen!”
Almost eight years later, @desertvintage has amassed more than 50,000 followers on Instagram with an inspiring feed filled with one-of-a-kind garments. Cutthroat competition for each new piece posted to Instagram has recently migrated to the couple’s online shop, where customers from around the globe race to grab new arrivals before they sell out.
As the rapidly growing interest in slow fashion makes sourcing vintage pieces ever more challenging, Desert Vintage’s superpower is its distinctive point of view. “Everything is personal for us,” says Boufelfel, who describes the buying process as more art than science. “We each gravitate toward different things at different times, then we bring them together, and that’s our shop.” For every ruffled chiffon Halston gown and Romeo Gigli cocoon coat (Cowan), there is a 1930s striped twill suit and a spiral-seamed Geoffrey Beene ensemble (Boufelfel). Cowan notes, “We’re looking for pieces that are not only classic, they’re also timeless.” With the couple’s unique approach — at once intuitive and collaborative, historical and directional — the future of Desert Vintage is indeed sunny.
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