Tucked away in the back of a Cloverdale antique store, a store within a store is becoming a go-to destination for lovers of one-of-a-kind vintage, antique and collectible clothing and accessories.
Denise Morden, resident of Ukiah, opened her business in January – the latest project in her life’s journey to collect, restore, reuse and sell rare clothing and jewelry.
Morden developed her love of fabric from her grandmother who was a French seamstress. She learned to operate a treadle sewing machine from her grandmother. “That’s how she supported the family. My mother was a model in the 40s and 50s in Los Angeles.
She attended Orange High School and began wearing vintage clothing in the 60s. Long before it was all the rage, Morden found herself at the forefront of a fashion movement that would sweep the nation, changing definitely the world of clothing design and influencing everything from New York runways to mega-sites like EBay and Etsy, where shoppers scour online platforms to pick up collectible apparel.
In the 60s, songwriters were already noticing eclectic fashion trends. Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne” was about newfound freedom from the constraining mores of 1950s fashion:
“Now Suzanne takes your hand and leads you to the river
She wears rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours like honey on our lady of the port.
Joni Mitchell’s “Ladies of the Canyon” depicted 60s women steeped in the world of manufacturing, when utilitarian craftsmanship became a celebrated art:
“Trina wears her wampum beads
She fills her line drawing notebook
Sew Lace on Widows Weed
And filigree on leaf and vine
The vine and leaf are filigree
And her coat is second-hand
Filled with antique luxury
She’s a lady from the canyon.
“At that time, Orange Circle was nothing more than thrift stores. I would haunt them,” Morden said. She snatched 1930s dresses for 50 cents. “I never stopped,” she smiles.
Along with her love of antique clothing, Morden began collecting antique jewelry, and by the 1980s she was a professional jewelry designer, creating original and repurposed pieces. She started taking her jewelry and vintage clothes to antique stores.
“I realized I could do this for a living,” she laughs. Over time, she began to focus more on her clothing collection. She sold her clothes at trade and antique shows in Southern California and opened physical stores in San Francisco and Petaluma.
Morden became one of the first sellers on eBay and Etsy, and over time found that she was more successful with online sales and trade shows than at her retail outlets. “It has become almost redundant to have a store. I had been held up at gunpoint and the ride was becoming unmanageable.
Morden developed client relationships with many of the finest fashion houses as well as many stars who sought out vintage designs, including Ralph Lauren, J. Peterman and Yves St. Laurent.
“Nearly every major designer has incorporated vintage into their lines at various times. Lauren sent teams of people to the shows with shopping lists. They traveled from booth to booth saying, “We need biases” or “We need 30s.” Yves Saint Laurent would send a crew in a Hummer to buy. Betsey Johnson bought my designs. I don’t know if it was for her or for her company.
She sold clothes to the movie industry and a myriad of stars including Frances McDormand, Courtney Love and many more.
Health issues prompted Morden to quit the show circuit, but she still had a large inventory of clothing, jewelry, and components. “When I moved to Ukiah four years ago, I was unable to find a place to sell my stuff.”
Two years ago Ratto’s Uniques and Antiques opened in Cloverdale. The back section of the store has been transformed into a vintage clothing boutique which she shares with two associates, Angela Ratto and Sanny Neumann, which opened in January this year.
“It’s a brand new company that has received a tremendous welcome. People come in, they ‘ooh and ahh’ and then they buy something,” she laughs.
Another store in Cloverdale, Voss, also offers clothing that dates back to the 20s to more contemporary styles.
“Between the two stores, we are celebrating 100 years of fashion. Cloverdale is becoming a destination for vintage clothing and, in addition to our stores, we have specialist stockists for accessories and costume jewellery. The response has been incredible,” she continues.
Morden sells 1920s flapper dresses, Edwardian bodices, 30s dresses, 20s to 60s lingerie, a few pieces of menswear and mens shoes, vintage childrenswear, hats that span from the 1900s to the 60s, gloves, handbags and shoes, as well as a sample of her vintage jewelry designs.
“I’m kind of a dinosaur. I loved clothing from the 20s, 30s and late 1800s, so I specialized in older pieces. I draw the line at the 50s, but I’ll pick up something from the 70s and 80s if it’s bonkers and crazy enough,” she smiles.
The oldest pieces exhibited by Morden are surprisingly wearable Edwardian pieces from the 1900s.
“The problem with some early clothing is that many items are simply too small to wear today. They corseted women 8 to 10 years old, so they would be 18 to 19 inches tall as young women. I try to buy pieces that are at least size 2 to 4. Edwardian styles were very understated, incredibly feminine yet raw to wear.
Clothing, Morden says, goes through definite trends that often span generations. Flapper styles represented women’s rebellion against the boning and suffocating corsetry of the Edwardian era.
Between them, the Suffragettes brought their own style to the political front. “One of the things about the Suffragettes is that they protested against the killing of whole birds for fashion. During the Edwardian period, a whole bird would be attached to a hat. protested the killing of birds for fashion A feather was OK They were among the earliest documented animal rights activists.
From around 1900 to 1920, Flappers dominated the fashion world. “They weren’t wearing underwear – it was a time of emancipation. Hemlines appeared, which followed the 1930s: the era of Hollywood glamour. »
The 1930s were well known for their figure-hugging, bias-cut dresses. “All you have to do to imagine the 1930s is to think of Jean Harlow wearing a satin dress designed by Edith Head. “It was a wonderful time. Then we come to the Depression and World War II.
During the war, the slogan for women was “Make Do and Mend”. Rosie the Riveter characterized the country’s emphasis on practicality and no-frills designs. “Cloth and metal were rationed. Women wore trousers to factories. Due to rationing, 1940s skirts were shorter and minimal fabric was used, so ornamentation became important. Embroidery and sequins accentuated the slimmed and embellished look.
Christian Dior’s New Look celebrates the end of the war. “The New Look brought back the fitted styles of the Edwardian era, with bustiers, corsets and the cinched waist. as you wanted.
Another fashion throwback was in the 1960s. “We went back to the 20s with short skirts once again. It’s almost like a 30-40 year rehearsal. In the 1930s we had entertainment that was reminiscent of the Victorian era.
1940s fashion was driven by necessity. In the 60s, short, simple skirts and chunky boots were worn as a statement of rebellion against the high heels and corsetry of the 50s.
The use of polyester in the 1970s mimicked the silk and rayon of the 1930s. Then, in the 1980s, the big shoulders resembled the tailored jackets of the 1940s. Joan Crawford exemplified the “powerful look” later popular in the 80s. Rockabilly and punk rock styles of the early 90s borrowed the poodle skirt, tight jeans and sneakers from the 50s.
Like many vintage enthusiasts, Morden wears a mix of vintage and contemporary clothing, and these days just about anything goes. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. There’s nothing new under the sun, and the internet has made us even more homogenous.
She quotes Rita Moreno, who made headlines by re-wearing a 56-year-old dress at the Oscars. “It’s a gorgeous dress that demonstrates the timelessness of fashion. It helps people appreciate how fabulous old things are. Older garments were not created with the concept of disposable, which is why these items are still around. Contemporary clothing probably won’t last, so there’s probably not much today that will still exist 50 years from now.
Morden continues to do all of her restoration work, from re-beading a ’20s dress to upgrading a hat with a new band and feather. She has fabrics and components like feathers and Victorian lace dating back to the 1800s, and she has the knowledge to restore pieces authentically.
“I don’t represent anything authentic unless it is, but I’d rather recreate than throw away. I consider myself a curator. This stuff won’t last forever. Fabrics age and fall apart. I sometimes keep an article for 15 years, in order to be able to marry pieces together when the right combination arises.
Fashion should be fun, Morden says. “Vintage speaks to you. Either it is or not. Tall, thin people look great in 30s and 70s styles. Curvy people look wonderful in 50s dresses. People are drawn to particular periods because it reminds you of your grandmother, a time or a movie you like.
Sometimes people are looking for a particular look or style. “After ‘Gatsby’, my 1920s business exploded. These trends last about six months, but they raise awareness in the industry. Classic car owners usually dress according to the age of their cars. “They are on a mission.”
Morden sees no end in sight for his obsession with fashion. “I’m 64 and I think I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.”
Ratto’s Uniques and Antiques is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store is located at 124 S. Cloverdale Blvd. and can be followed on Facebook and Instagram. For more information, call (707) 894-6315.