A Marvelous Moment
Curating Hollywood vintage with Jess James
JESS JAMES doesn’t seem of this decade – but in the best way. Her effortless adornment of timeless pieces – ranging from a 1920s shawl to a patterned bell-sleeve maxi dress – paired with her background as a personal stylist and fashion editor make her store, Jess James + Co. Vintage, feel wholly authentic.
Within the shop at 511 Castle Street, a menagerie of styles waltzes through the decades, and her knowledgeable demeanor and pristine selections have propelled her to vintage-icon status in Wilmington fashion.
“There are people who love and appreciate vintage that find their way here, and there’s people who maybe don’t know a whole lot (about vintage fashion), but they’re drawn in,” James says. “Once they get in here, that’s where my strength lies. I had a styling business and (was a) fashion editor. I know what’s going to look good on their body, and I can help select pieces if they’re intimidated by vintage or don’t want to look dated – finding things that can fit into a modern wardrobe or styling in a modern way.
“Some people do the full head-to-toe vintage look, but most people want some vintage pieces that are statements.”
In 2019, James decided to throw a fashion show in honor of one of her favorite TV shows, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an Amazon Prime original series. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the show follows Miriam (Midge) Maisel, a mother of two who discovers her talents in stand-up comedy after her husband leaves her for a woman named Penny (which happens to be one of her first jokes). James’ Maisel-inspired fashion show was such a success it caught the attention of BEN PHILLIP, an assistant costume designer for the show.
“We connected on Instagram, and he loved the fashion show and styling,” she says.
When it was announced that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would end after five seasons, James reached out to Phillip and asked what would become of the show’s wardrobe and if she could be invited to shop it.
The virtual appointment lasted over two-and-a-half hours and required an instinctual urgency to say yes or no as pieces were presented at lightning speed. She describes it as intense and exciting, “Maisel is such a color story in each episode – the lavender, with the yellow, with the pink – it’s this rainbow,” she says. “That’s what I was putting together, and as Ben was putting it in the rack he was like, ‘Look at this!’ It was a sea of colors but especially of pink and blue colors I carry.”
Once the pieces arrived in Wilmington, James decided to film her first unboxing video from them. She thought she would simply be showcasing the pieces prior to tagging and placing them in storage. Yet, much like Midge’s trajectory, the audience had other plans. Her first unboxing video was a wild success, with both fans of the show (and of ’50s and ’60s fashion) flooding her DMs with requests to buy certain items. Her next unboxing, dedicated to a variety of handbags, sold out completely.
Items procured included a brown-and-mustard check dress with the quintessential Maisel bow; a pastel kimono in textured silk; an Emma Domb ruffled dress with metallic threading; and a stunning Gene Shelly dress in two-tone pink with silver, beaded-sequin detailing.
“It’s been really fun to see our customers that love the show messaging me and say, ‘I saw this dress and bag,’ and showing what episode it’s in,” James says. “This show is equivalent to Mad Men in that the styling and cinematography has so much attention to detail, and they nail it so they’re not going to make any mistakes. You won’t see an ’70s or ’80s pieces in the show.”
James says she underestimated the level of interest and messages she would get after each unveiling.
“We did the first box, and it was so overwhelming. I knew people would be excited, but I didn’t anticipate it being the phenomenon it was it,” she says.
For example, a single swing coat quickly led to fifty messages from potential buyers wanting a piece with the signature Midge Maisel silhouette.
In her store, a dedicated rack of remaining clothing items showcases color stories of pastel pinks, bright greens, turquoise, flowy chiffon, and the emergence of retro stripes, noting the show’s progression into the ’60s. For the final box remaining, James is planning to do an unboxing video around the show’s fifth and final season, which is expected to debut sometime this year.
“It will be sad if the show comes out and I don’t have anything left,” James says about temporarily hanging onto her final stash from the show. “Everyone will be excited about it again and keep the momentum, and people will fall in love with the show all over again.”
To view more of photographer Daria Amato’s work, go to dariaphoto.com
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