Dionne Figgins can still remember the first thing she bought at Couture du Jour, a little vintage store on W44th St – 8th/9th Ave that you’d miss if you blinked.
“It must’ve been a 1950s black cocktail dress that had eggplant lace over a silk satin slip. It just peeked out, with a scallop at the bottom.”
The year was 2009, and the Broadway actress was starring in Memphis. Since then, she says, she must have spent “thousands of dollars” there. “One of my favorite acquisitions was a pair of white thigh-high wedding boots. I had a silk, leopard print wiggle dress …”
It was almost inevitable that the Broadway actress would become friends with the vintage store owner, Christine Fellows, who has dressed stars for the red carpet, provided special pieces for The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, and seen her little store act as a set for a Woody Allen movie
A friend told Dionne recently: “‘I remember the day you came into the dressing room and you were so excited about finding this vintage store.’ I’d never seen anything like it in the neighborhood. I was used to going vintage shopping downtown, and then the Village. I just fell in love.”
Between acting jobs, she’d pick up some sewing work; alternations here and there. Then, when Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the Shubert on W42nd St closed, she was shopping at Couture du Jour so regularly, she figured: “I should just come and work here.”
She started in 2019, and by that summer, Christine – who needed to leave town to take care of family – was giving her an increasing amount of responsibility. Last fall, she handed over the reins completely, and tomorrow, Dionne opens the store to its first customers since COVID-19 shut the city down. She has big plans for its future.
“I have a huge connection to the Broadway community,” she says, “so I’m hoping to do small parlor events, where someone like Morgan James will come in and sign her CDs in store, and have an after-hours shopping event where people could come during cocktail hours and do some shopping.”
“I’ll bring in more lounge wear, comfy cozies. Because I know that’s what people really want right now.”
“I want to see this become a community hub. I’ll have my Broadway actor friends come in, and it’ll be a way to cross-promote artists, a way to connect professionals in the community.”
She wants to attract a younger audience, too, with more casual wear. “With the pandemic, people are not wearing very structured clothing because they’re at home,” she says. “So I’ll bring in more lounge wear, comfy cozies. Because I know that’s what people really want right now.”
There will be more pieces from our more recent “vintage” past too. “I love the 1960s,” says Dionne, “but I also love the 1980s. So I’m looking forward to bringing some more punk rock into the store. Stonewashed jeans were my favorite when I was growing up – I had to have them. And I’ve noticed that those are things the younger generation wants to wear – high-waisted mom jeans, and bell-bottoms from the 1970s, disco dresses.
“I’m also really passionate about vintage sportswear ski jackets, so I’m interested in seeing more of those styles in the store as well.”
She’s been looking for larger sizes, to cater for all women who love vintage, not just the slender 1960s size 2. “I want to bring in some menswear as well,” she says. “My partner is a big vintage shopper, so I’m hoping he’ll help me with that.
“And I’ve been paying attention to local artisans that I might be interested in bringing in to do things like skincare. Can I get some lotions in here?”
She’s aware that, as a small store, health restrictions mean she can only have two people shopping at one time, so she’s also hoping to start a curbside service, with a rack outside. And everything will be moving online.
“The ultimate goal is to get the entire store online.”
It’s a “ wonky kind of time to be starting a business” she admits. So she’s excited and nervous. But considering the store’s legacy, and with film and television starting to come back to the city, she’s confident. The 50% to 80% off everything in store won’t hurt either.