Business

Burbank's vintage row keeps Hollywood rolling in period details

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When set decorator Claudette Didul needed to decorate Sally Draper's bedroom with 1960s-era clothing for an episode of "Mad Men" last season, she knew just the place.

Didul went to Playclothes, a vintage clothing and furnishing store in Burbank, to buy an assortment of blouses, dresses, sweaters, pants and shoes to decorate the scene.

"It's like a one-stop shop," Didul said. "It's really important for us to have stores like Playclothes. Their inventory is always changing, and I know I can get things I need the next day and that they will stay open for me if I have an emergency."

Playclothes is among a cluster of vintage clothing, collectible and antique shops along Burbank's West Magnolia Boulevard that is a treasure trove for set decorators, costume designers and prop masters for shows such as AMC's "Mad Men," Showtime's "Masters of Sex," TNT's "Mob City" and other period TV dramas and movies. 

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Magnolia's vintage row includes about a dozen such shops with colorful names: Bearded Lady Vintage, Hubba Hubba, Toadstool Farm Vintage, Best of Times Antiques, and Scavenger's Paradise, which sells "one-of-a-kind architectural pieces" such as wrought-iron gates, stained-glass windows and carved mantels.

The vintage shops rely heavily on retail customers but also enjoy a bustling Hollywood business, suppling clothing and other items to cable TV dramas and movies filming as far away as Louisiana, New York and Vancouver, Canada.

"It's a wonderful thing when they walk in," said Pat Taylor, owner of Hubba Hubba, which specializes in clothing, costumes and jewelry from the 1930s to the 1960s. "Ray walked in and spent nearly $10,000," she said, referring to a Universal Pictures movie about Ray Charles.

"'Mad Men' was a great customer for the first five years. "They were in here constantly," said Taylor, whose customers also include the L.A. Opera and local theater productions.

Playclothes also thrives on the entertainment business.

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"Vintage is hard to find," says Playclothes owner Wanda Soileau, who launched her store in Studio City nearly three decades ago. "There's a lot more in a city like L.A. than, say, in Louisiana."

The store's merchandise frequently finds its way onto the sets of "Mad Men," "Masters of Sex," "Parenthood," the HBO drama "Boardwalk Empire," "Alcatraz" and "Glee."

The store also has supplied numerous movies over the years, including "Seabiscuit," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "The Aviator," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and, more recently, Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys," "Behind the Candelabra," and Joel and Ethan Coen's feature "Inside Llewyn Davis," which is set in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.

Soileau, a former dancer, said the company generates nearly $500,000 a year in sales, about half of it from the entertainment industry. Sales have increased 20% in the last two years, she said.

"Our business seems to have gotten stronger," she said.

Last year, Soileau sold $50,000 in cocktail dresses, evening gowns, bathing suits, straw hats, jewelry and "anything you can think of that says Miami" for the Starz series "Magic City," which centers on Miami mobsters in the late 1950s. 

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"They pulled it in one or two days," Soileau said. "That was a very nice order."

With hardwood floors and faux-finish Baroque ceilings, the store is a "little bit of Burbank and Versailles," Soileau quipped.

The store features an extensive collection of vintage fashions from the 1900s to the '90s, selling suits, dresses, shirts, pants, blouses, jewelry, hats, undergarments and shoes as well as an assortment of antique home furnishings and linen and fabric such as barkcloth.

There are separate sections for dresses, jackets, men's and women's suits, lingerie and children's toys. Each item is color-coded by era — green tags for the 1940s, red for the '50s.

Unlike a prop house, Soileau sells rather than rents items to film crews. Prices range from a $1 handkerchief to a $450 raccoon coat. 

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Soileau walked over to a rack of 1960s-era dresses and pulled out a $95, two-piece silver cocktail dress with braided trim. The piece is similar to one she recently sold to "Mad Men," a regular customer. (The store sold about $70,000 in merchandise to "Mad Men" in the first season).

"This is something that maybe Don's wife would wear," she said as a Benny Goodman soundtrack played overhead. "It's a little bit fashion forward."

Customers include not only costume designers and set decorators but also swing dancers, members of vintage car clubs and collectors.

Soileau also hosts special events in the store to drum up business. Next week she will hold a fashion show to display some of the clothes worn by the late Edie Adams.

Soileau buys much of her clothing from estate sales and flea markets but also relies on out-of-state buyers to ship her items.

"You've got to be out scouring," she said. "We call it the black hole. We've got to keep it supplied."

richard.verrier@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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