expertly curated vintage

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

 

 

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RACHELLE WEARS_ BATTENBERG LACE DRESS_ CIRCA 1930_ DESERT VINTAGE

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.

RACHELLE WEARS_ PLEATED WOOL COAT_ CIRCA 1980_ DESERT VINTAGE

RACHELLE WEARS_ TWO-TONE STRUCTURED SILK DRESS_ GEOFFREY BEENE_ 1980S_ DESERT VINTAGE / BEA MULES_ THE ROW_ STYLIST’S 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.

RACHELLE WEARS_ WOOL AND CASHMERE DRESS_ BONNIE CASHIN_ CIRCA 1970_ DESERT VINTAGE

RACHELLE WEARS_ NETTED GAUZE SILK DRESS_ ANN DEMEULEMEESTER_ FALL 2013_ DESERT VINTAGE / SLINGBACK SANDAL_ CELINE_ THE REALREAL

RACHELLE WEARS_ TWO-TONE STRUCTURED SILK DRESS_ GEOFFREY BEENE_ 1980S_ DESERT VINTAGE / BEA MULES_ THE ROW_ STYLIST’S OWN

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.

RACHELLE WEARS_ NETTED GAUZE SILK DRESS_ ANN DEMEULEMEESTER_ FALL 2013_ DESERT VINTAGE / SLINGBACK SANDAL_ CELINE_ THE REALREAL

RACHELLE WEARS_ SILK DAY DRESS WITH INTARSIA FLORAL PRINT_ 1920S_ DESERT VINTAGE / TOE-RING SANDALS_ MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA_ THE REALREAL

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.

RACHELLE WEARS_ HAND-PAINTED SILK CAFTAN_ REPUTEDLY FOR THE BALLETS RUSSES_ CIRCA 1929_ DESERT VINTAGE

RACHELLE WEARS_ SILK ORGANZA COAT (WORN AS DRESS)_ CHRISTIAN DIOR_ 1950S_ DESERT VINTAGE / BEA MULES_ THE ROW_ 2019_ STYLIST’S OWN

Issue No. 1_ HOLD THE FUTURE