After 42 years, Virginia Bates closes her shop and marks the end of a fashion era. The shop, simply named ‘Virginia’ was a treasure trove of perfectly preserved delectable vintage delights from embroidered flapper dresses and 1930′s floor-length tea dresses, to silk chemises, costume tiaras, patterned parasols and fringed scarves.
But it wasn’t just the exquisite pieces that gave Virginia it’s deserved reputation and cult following including Madonna, John Galliano, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. It was the shop itself. Based in London’s eclectic Clarendon Cross in W11, Virginian originally took the shop on as a two-week rental in 1971 as a favour to a friend.
My parents knew Virginia back in the late 1960s, and it was then that she began to accumulate her ‘treasures’. My mother remembers her finding an old cast iron bath tub in a field that she had to keep. Even back then, her tiny flat in Holland Park was packed with treasures, and whilst flat-sitting my parents managed to lose one of her cats amongst the chaos.
The shop itself made you feel like Alice down the rabbit hole. Every bit of space was packed to the rafters with heavenly treasures. It was pokey yet luxurious and decadent, and it was also the first shop to introduce the concept of ‘shabby chic’, although Virginia herself would probably be horrified by the expression. For her, it is effortless and simply a part of who she is.
I used to spend hours at Virginia sourcing ethereal pieces for my beauty shoots whether it was a wispy silk chiffon night gown or a lace evening dress fit for an angel. It was the sort of place where you could disappear into a child’s dream of fairies and princesses and leave feeling like one. In fact, I could have happily lived there.
The shop also smelt beautiful. However, it wasn’t in W11 that I first discovered what the exquisite smell was, but thousands of miles across the Atlantic. I used to co-own a fashion and lifestyle boutique in Bath, and on my first sourcing trip to New York, I found myself in a brownstone in the West Village.
But this wasn’t any ordinary house, it was a ‘salon’ of shopping delights. Each room enjoyed a different theme from the vintage boudoir to the Victorian drawing room with hand-painted Chinoiserie wallpaper. Dresses for sale were draped over bannisters, lace knickers hanging on the walls, and jewellery nestled in bowls on vintage glass cofffee tables or spilled out of dark wooden boxes.
In each room a pink votive candle glowed, it’s rich spicy scent filling the house with it’s delicious aroma. It was here that I bought my first Virgina scented candle, wrapped in layers of pink tulle (the inspiration for our own tulle-wrapped candles in the boutique which became bestsellers). I wish I had stocked up on those candles now.
Virginia may be gone in W11, but her legacy lives on. The good news is that her ‘treasures’ have moved to her West London home, where you will be able to shop (by appointment) in more of a party atmosphere, drink tea, play croquet on the lawn with Daniel the tortoise and hear poetry read by Virginia’s friends. There may even be a magician or two pulling a chiffon dress out of a hat!
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