King of Vintage

a candid conversation with Cameron Silver about the importance of connection

Yes, everything is available everywhere via the internet, but human interaction and that visceral experience is something I think people are really craving again.

— Cameron Silver

I had the dangerous pleasure of living behind the epic designer consignment store known as Decades in Los Angeles. I happily shared an alley with its owner, Cameron Silver. Many times after I paid the rent on my tiny duplex, I strolled up the sidewalk to Melrose Avenue and made an “investment” for my closet. Over the years, I’ve come to know Cameron not only as a master of retail and style, but also as a truly genuine and kind human being. I had a chance to sit down and chat with the “King of Vintage” about how he’s managed to stay at the top of his game in an ever-changing retail environment.

As you know, I lived behind Decades for four years and every time I come back to Los Angeles, I drive around and notice so many places have either moved or closed. You’ve been able to stay alive and relevant in a very tough market.

It has been twenty-two years and it hasn’t been easy. It is a journey and always a challenge. We do need to have that digital presence so we added e-comm and Instagram, but a lot of that is about driving traffic ultimately into the store. I think that everybody wants something a little personal and not ubiquitous. That’s the other challenge is that yes, everything is available everywhere via the internet, but human interaction and that visceral experience is something I think people are really craving again. And not just women of a certain age. It’s also the millennials who have been living in front of a computer screen. Suddenly we’re getting more and more young people either shopping at Decades or coming to our events because they want to see beautiful things — they want to see, touch and they want storytelling.

So this is going to make you laugh. My friend Deborah just came by right before you. I mean she really just came by to say hi because we don’t see each other that much, but she was looking for a Balenciaga mini crossbody and we had it. The price was great so she purchased it. And as we’re talking, I’m trying to instill in my staff that it’s personal – there is a memory associated with it. And I think that’s what we’ve done at Decades. Plus we’re really not competing with a lot of other stores because everything is one-of-a-kind.

Just to see that something that has a story. Yes, you can’t replicate it on the internet. Style is not just one demographic. Everybody wants a little style, a little guidance, a little tastemaking, a little bit of fashion authority. Again, I always bring it back to community — people just want community.

I think what keeps us apart is that we don’t have ten of each item in a size range. It’s one of the challenges — we only have what we have. But I think this is a place where you discover something. When I come back here and I’ve been gone for three weeks, I’m just like, Oh my God, this is so cool. So I hope that the customer gets that excited. It’s always fresh and this is a store you come in to find the things you never knew you wanted.

Oh, yes — I can definitely attest to that! And you are taking Decades on the road. We’ve been lucky enough to have you visit us in St. Louis for a Decades trunk show. What made you decide to bring this into smaller markets?

I think that anybody who works in fashion or luxury and only thinks about coastal and metropolitan cities is really missing the mark and the market. In the last two years, I’ve been really focused when I’m not on QVC or not at Decades in LA, I want to meet other fashion lovers and provide them with the book signing with a trunk show or some kind of interactive experience. People want a community.

So that brings me to connection and finding that community. We’re in the digital age and as we move more towards a virtual experience, we as retailers still need that connection to consumers. How do connect when you go on the road?

Completely. I was giving a speech at Indiana University and then I did a lot of work with the students because they have a fashion and merchandising program — it’s quite impressive. I kept asking these students, where do you shop? Online? They’re not shopping online as much anymore. They’re going into stores again. First of all, they want to thrift. They want to be a little vintage. They want to discover. The idea of making everything so readily available has lost its mystery.

I have been very concerned that if there is no connection and if we’re all living behind a screen and if young people have no ownership because — it’s an Uber, it’s an Airbnb, it’s Rent the Runway, it’s a Postmates delivery. It’s getting funneled to them or they’re swiping left to possibly meet somebody. We’re going to fall apart as a civilization because you can’t live by emoji. So in a sense, I think what I’m doing is just getting people to talk again.

I totally agree. When I look at my wardrobe, I not only know the pieces I’ve bought at Decades, but I remember the conversations I had when I purchased each item. And now I have saved them for my daughter – that pink Marc Jacobs bag that I wanted so badly. I think I’ve visited it daily and then finally bought it.

It has a story. First of all, it started off with a story. Maybe we don’t know the exact story behind the bag, but then it becomes your story. I think the other thing that’s been beneficial for the business is that we were the original green luxury. There are green brands, but you can’t be that green if you’re creating new products. This is really green. So there’s that whole kind of social commentary that didn’t exist when the store first opened in 1997 — it wasn’t as much of a conversation. But I think more and more people want to consume with less impact and they also want to get a pick-me-up that’s not $6,000. It’s special when you find it, even if it’s a year or two years old. And that piece that’s two years old, 20 years old, 60 years old — it just, if it’s good, it’s good. Right?

More on Cameron: As one of the foremost vintage experts in the country and with more than a decade of Decades under his alligator belt, Silver released a coffee table book for Bloomsbury showcasing an unexpected compilation of the most significant 20th century fashions, as well as many of the celebrities he collaborated with over the years. The book, released in 2012, sold out within 48 hours and an unprecedented third edition was released.

Silver starred in the Bravo reality show “The Dukes of Melrose” which premiered in March of 2013. Since September 2015, he has served as Fashion Director for H by Halston (where he appears on QVC several times per week) and H Halston.