After becoming interested in vintage fashion as a young teenager, Amber Bryan-Smith has now adopted it full-scale. Sarah Foster meets the self-styled Original Vintage Queen
PICTURE the scene: a glamorous young woman with alabaster skin and an hourglass figure tiptoes daintily towards the pool. She descends the steps, all eyes drawn to her vintage blueand- white striped bathing costume and matching blue turban.
Finally, she lowers herself into the water, being careful to avoid wetting her immaculately made-up face. This is not a sequence from an old movie, but a description of Amber Bryan-Smith at one of her regular aqua aerobics sessions at her local swimming pool.
Loading article content
Whether she likes it or not – in fact, she describes herself as quite a shy person – Amber is the centre of attention wherever she goes.
She frequently has people staring at her in the street and is often the subject of comments, both complimentary and rude, about her remarkable mode of dress. At 18, she has, quite simply, transformed herself into a vintage icon, from the Jean Harlow-style hair and make-up right down to the old-fashioned underwear.
It all began when she was 14. “I remember the first time I went into a vintage shop, called Ding Dong Vintage, in Durham. The first thing I bought was a 1920s beaded top,”
says Amber, who lives on the outskirts of the city.
Amber’s mum Jill adds: “I think it was about £35 and she only had £30 so she asked the lady if she could have it for that. From then on she kept going in and buying things and became friends with her.”
The friendship led to Amber landing a Saturday job at the shop, placing her in the perfect setting for indulging her passion for vintage. She gradually bought more and more items, and now her bedroom is overflowing with outfits by British labels such as Jaeger and Windsmoor, which sit alongside hand-picked couture pieces.
She has so many hats that they are pegged to a makeshift clothesline hanging from the walls and she has also built up impressive collections of furs and vintage shoes. In the corner of the room is a stack of magazines – mainly Vogue – from which she takes her inspiration.
Amber is currently doing a fashion diploma at Newcastle College, but hopes soon to go to London. “I’ve applied for London universities,” she says. “I want to do styling and promotion, which would be working for magazines – editorial kind of stuff.”
Amber now has full confidence in dressing in the vintage style she loves, but admits it has taken time to achieve this. “I started to mix vintage with High Street clothes,” she says. “It was more tops and skirts rather than hats and things like that. I bought my first hat from a charity shop in Sunderland, but I never wore it at the time. I think it was a confidence thing. I wasn’t really sure whether to wear it.”
So complete has been her transformation that she now thinks nothing of dressing for the day in stockings and suspenders – except when it’s particularly cold – and uses girdles to enhance her figure.
Amber’s favourite era is the late 1940s.
“I like it because people were really well-dressed,” she says. “They all looked quite glamorous, as though they had made a lot of effort. I think feminine things from that era suit my shape.” With her curvaceous figure and English rose complexion, Amber is ideally suited to a style now typified by the burlesque dancer and model Dita Von Teese. She has perfected her hair and make-up by studying magazines and watching clips on YouTube and has banished all modern clothing – including trousers – from her wardrobe. While other young women her age worry about their weight, Amber prefers to embrace her femininity and favours being glamorous over super slim. She says there is never a day when she can’t be bothered.
“I would say she spends a good hour on her hair and make-up,” says Jill. “She always lays two outfits out the night before college, so she can choose which one she wants to wear.” “I need to leave the house at quarter to seven so I have to get up at about half past five,” says Amber. “Even if I’m tired, I still do it every day.”
Around 90 per cent of what Amber wears comes from charity shops. She loves the buzz of a good find and can’t understand people’s prejudices about buying second-hand clothes. “I think a lot of people won’t go into charity shops and have a look, but the stuff you get for £3 or £4 can be better quality than what you get from Topshop for £40,” she says.
She picks up other items from eBay – such as a pair of deep red fabric gloves costing £1.99 – and makes regular trips to her favourite Armstrong’s Vintage Emporium, in Edinburgh. Her most expensive purchase has been a feathered evening dress, which she bought from Ding Dong Vintage for £89. She loves the idea of the clothes having a history and the creativity of putting together an individual look. “Amber knows that she can go to a party and nobody will have the same dress on,” says Jill.
Through posting pictures of herself on the Internet forum Instagram, Amber has gained likeminded friends from all over the world, as well as an army of followers. She calls herself the Original Vintage Queen and as the images have circulated, she has been asked to appear on other websites.
Amber’s style is infectious. “Her boyfriend, Jordan, was very into tracksuit bottoms and things like that but, gradually, over the last two years, Amber has re-styled him,” says Jill. “Now he wears a pocket watch and a waistcoat.”
One of the most rewarding things has been older people’s reactions to Amber’s look. Neighbours, seeing how much she loves vintage clothes, have given her their own treasured possessions.
“A lady who lives round the corner knocked on the door the other night and said ‘would Amber like this coat?’,” says Jill. “Another neighbour gave me some hats that were her mother’s,” says Amber. “She also gave me a jacket that her mam made in the 1940s.”
Perhaps the nicest compliment she has received came from an elderly gentleman who, reminded of his youth, felt compelled to approach Amber in the street. “He came over and said ‘you look absolutely fantastic. I would have been honoured to have walked you out on my arm’,” she says.
With a move to London imminent, Amber is facing the difficult decision of which pieces to take and which to leave behind. One thing, however, is beyond doubt – whatever the future brings, she intends to stay true to her style.
“I don’t think I would be happy if I wore leggings or tracksuit bottoms the same as everyone else,” - Vintage Queen Amber Bryan-Smith
“Karl Lagerfeld said ‘if you are wearing track pants, you have given up’ and when I saw that quote I thought it reflected me.”