Imagine growing up in New York City, going to an elite prep school (the one that inspired Gossip Girl), following a life path that practically guarantees success, and then being overqualified and unemployed for five years. That was life for Gabriel Held, until he happened to fall into the perfect career.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Held is fashion’s force to be reckoned with. A hoarder of sorts, he began collecting clothes in high school, inspired by the great hip-hop icons of his generation (think Eve, Kelis) After years of unsuccessful business endeavors, retail jobs and handing out resumes along Fifth Avenue, Held realized his clothing collection had the power to be more than just his wardrobe; thus the beginnings of Gabriel Held Vintage took shape.
Nowadays, if Held isn’t busy producing a shoot for Galore Magazine as their New York Fashion Editor, he’s hosting the Hadids at his Williamsburg archive or sending samples to the team at Versace. He has made a name for himself in the world of fashion: styling musical artists and models for red carpets and shoots, sourcing new product to fuel his collection and curating his uber-cool Instagram page.
I sat down with Held in his Brooklyn home/archive and caught up with him on his journey to success and the ways in which his archive works, while also getting him to spill all the celebrity tea he was legally allowed to share. His pet chincilla even made a cameo appearance.
ELLA SNYDER: Where does your love for vintage stem from?
GABRIEL HELD: Well I would say it probably started because the era that I focus on collecting predominately is from my childhood so I've kind of had the opportunity to buy myself some of the things I always wanted when I was younger and couldn't afford. Now they're much more available and accessible and I think of that being the catalyst, but now that I'm so invested in vintage, I'm starting to look to other eras also.
ES: How do you define vintage?
GH: I'm not strict like the sticklers who think vintage has to be a minimum of twenty years old, but on the other hand, the title "vintage" is getting thrown around a lot lately in regards to things that are not germane to vintage at all. In art school, I had to read the works of Foucault, Lacan, Kant, Susan Sontag, and as a dyslexic with attentional issues, that was a challenge. But you know how Sontag says camp defies being defined; that part of its nature is that it's undefinable? I kind of feel that way about my attitude towards vintage. If we're talking about the overarching idea of what vintage is, I think a lot of serious dealers wouldn't consider what I do to be vintage—it's too recent for them. But I like to play both sides of the line. I will buy something contemporary if I think it's going to be something people are trying to find again in five or ten years.
ES: How and when did you start your archive?
GH: I went to the school where they filmed gossip girl, and it cost more than my mother's annual salary. I was always trying to keep up with the Joneses. This is the house I grew up in—I've always lived here, and there used to be a five-story thrift store across the street with a by-the-pound section. I would go there and buy stuff and mark it up to sell it back to the girls at school, whether it was a vintage Louis bag or a pair of Seven [For All Mankind] jeans. That was my little cottage industry.
I was so optimistic when I graduated from art school, I'd send letters of inquiry to where I wanted to work, and then nothing shook out from that. I tried to do a jewelry line for a minute, and I gave a good two years to that pursuit without really being able to make it happen. I worked retail and hated it. I was good at it, but it wasn't fulfilling. I got to the point where I was walking up and down Fifth Avenue, giving resumes to places like Williams Sonoma, applying to be a fitting room attendant at Loehmann's and being told I was overqualified.
People like Haley Wollens were still pulling from my personal closet, and after five years of struggling and trying to make it in the art world, and trying to make it in the area I thought I was supposed to, I was like... "You know what? It's been rough but I've never truly failed, so why don't I just give myself over to the process of life and follow these people's interest in my hoarding of clothes?" That was about four or five years ago, and now it keeps the lights on in here, so that's great. I do something I've always done as a hobby and I have fun.
ES: What does building your collection entail? How do you know what you're looking for and where to look?
GH: Well, it's constant sourcing. I always need to have new inventory coming in. I rarely go out with an agenda of what I'm looking for. It's always more of a gut reaction. I might have loose ideas, like designers that I'm interested in and the certain ones that I'm always collecting. It might be a certain kind of fabric or color, and I just kind of go with that as a guideline. But really my tip to anybody who wants to shop vintage is to be open-minded. You never know what you're going to find that might be different than what you were looking for.
ES: How does your archive work? How do you bring in clients to borrow clothes?
GH: I sometimes will approach a client that I would like to dress, somebody that I think has great style and I see wearing vintage, and just slide in the DM and invite them over. More often than not, people's stylists are contacting me, I think because of my Instagram presence. I'll get emails, and at this time I'm still not cherry picking my clients—if you can afford it, you can do it. And relative to some of my contemporaries, my rates are borderline ridiculously low. I had to institute a policy that every appointment comes with a commitment to meet a $300 minimum. Typically, it's a rental, the $300 minimum can be good for up to six pieces. So you get a lot of bang for your buck. The rental period is typically one rate for 1-2 weeks, different rate for a month, higher for a season, which usually only comes into play with artists on tour or designers working on a collection. I have a contract, written by a family friend who's an attorney at Sotheby's, so it's a good contract. I have not yet enforced it on anybody, although I did hire a collection agency this week.
ES: On a different note, do you have any pieces in your current collection that you'd consider your favorite?
GH: Any of my runway samples from Todd Oldham's shows from the '90s, just because they came from him directly. Part of the appeal of vintage to me is that some of the clothes are cultural artifacts, you know? If it's a boot that Naomi Campbell walked down the runway in thirty years ago, that's going to be more special to me of course.
GARMENTS ON DISPLAY
ES: What would you say is the most iconic piece in your current collection?
GH: Probably any of the Dior logo stuff, it's what gets pulled a lot. It was the beginning of my collection. It's had various pop culture moments, the rasta bikini on Kim Kardashian turned into a saga from what I understand... that being said I would love to have her as a client!
ES: Is there anything that you've been hunting for and haven't been able to get your hands on?
GH: I mean my always thing is that Murakami Louis Vuitton mink fanny pack, I would always like to have one of those. I've had to settle for pale imitations... although it's not like this isn't cute *pulls out a fur Chanel fanny pack* but it's not the one. At heart I'm a thrifter, I've never been able to reconcile parting with that kind of money for a piece that other people have already. What else am I always collecting? I love little funny things, old Giuseppe Zanotti shoes that are just very funny. I love old school Moschino, that'll always be an area of interest to me. I've actually been collecting some early Jeremy Scott too, because early Jeremy Scott was the world I grew up in, Williamsburg at the turn of the millennium. I’m always collecting Versace. I love when the Versace design team comes here and buys back their own stuff. Donatella actually sent me a book inscribed to me, which I loved, that was major. The design team over there takes good care of me.
ES: What role does social media play in your practice?
GH: Well, a large role. This year, one of my goals is to get this archive cataloged and photographed and online somewhere. That will be something that I feature on Instagram as I catalog everything. I really post about my business when it's good placement. If it's a good client wearing my clothes or publication or something like that. I'm not constantly trying to plug my business, my Instagram is kind of an entity unto itself. I should maybe have separate accounts but this seems to be working well for now.
Do you have any fun or crazy celebrity stories you can share with L'Officiel?
Let me think about that without getting myself in trouble.... I gotta tell you, when the Hadid sisters enter the room, they hug everybody individually, introduce themselves to everybody individually when it's time to eat they feed everybody, they're respectful with everybody; just generally very professional and decent. They seem like they were raised right. In my experience, people who are at the pinnacle of success right now are the easiest to work with actually and the most gracious, those who may have past that or haven’t gotten there yet are the ones who seem to be a little bit more demanding.
One time, I was working with this particular talent whose creative director I had met with the night before a shoot to get approval on everything which is also not something I'm accustomed to doing honestly. The creative director said it would be totally normal stuff. I get the rider at 10 PM the night before the shoot, and it has things that I considered to be super extra, like steamed almond milk to be presented to the talent upon arrival. It went on to say a turmeric latte, a certain kind of pressed juice, an organic jar of manuka honey, the list goes on! Then, on the day of the shoot, the talent was not warm to the crew. When the talent asked for something to stir their tea, I presented a straw and they refused to use it. Not to mention, the talent arrived with six of their own people including a personal assistant who could have easily done all of the stuff I did. After all of this hullabaloo, all of this back and forth, the talent ends up being the only person in the history of Galore Magazine to ever request a reshoot, and I did not feel like I wanted to participate in that. Ultimately they would not let us run the pictures at all.
On a happier note, Paris Hilton was a lot of fun. I’m not gonna spill too much tea but the girls who like to have fun are fun.
This is my last question but is there anyone that you are dying to style in 2019?
There's a few. I mean, Bella Hadid is one of the biggest models in the world right now and humble and appreciative and good to work with. I would work with her anytime. I've been reassessing working with some of my idols from my youth. It's nice to work with someone you idolize but it's also nice to get in with someone who's still establishing their aesthetic and identity and be able to contribute to that. I think Karrueche is kinda cool. I've always wanted to style Kelis but like I've been told she'll never come to Brooklyn. I also thought Eve was always well dressed and I've heard she's really lovely to work with. I'll always have a soft spot for hip hop divas.