LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Adele wants to make a vintage fashion statement, stylist Gaelle Paul has a go-to source: the cleverly named The Way We Wore shop.
Now TV viewers can peek inside Los Angeles store owner Doris Raymond's 19th- and 20th-century collection that's lured shoppers Anne Hathaway, Katie Holmes and Angelina Jolie, as well as top designers searching for inspiration from the past.
"L.A. Frock Stars," a Smithsonian Channel series debuting 8 p.m. EST Thursday, is both a fashionista's delight and a chance to see passion at work with Raymond, who's made finding and selling great old duds a quest for more than 30 years.
"The show is about spreading the gospel of vintage," said Raymond — which translates, for example, to a 1940s jacket with tailoring and fabric that would cost $1,500 to replicate today but can be had for less than $200.
Rayond's tidy but chockful shop also has racks of impressive labels including Chanel, Versace, Halston and Gucci, and the stuff of fashion history like the first version of the Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress that launched the designer's career.
Those are found above-stairs at the shop, to be surveyed by VIPs and vintage mavens who also can ogle — or shell out for — such rare items as an intricately made 1920s dress priced at $6,000. The ground floor is the "democratic" section, as Raymond puts it, with less-pricey garments and accessories.
But even those are likely to be in the hundreds of dollars: Don't mistake The Way We Wore for something in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' clever "Thrift Shop" tune, which celebrates Goodwill-style bargains ("Thank your granddad for donating that plaid button-up shirt").
"It's not like going to a thrift shop. This is a high-end, fully curated vintage clothing store. It's really picky," said Raymond, who sees her stylish inventory as both art and a link to social history.
The far-from-ordinary garments are what draw stylist Paul and her client Adele, who came in recently on a scouting expedition.
The shop has "designers that I don't know where else I would find them," Paul said, such as James Galanos. "It's just great you can get those designers and their really strong pieces. It's not the average 1950s dress you find in vintage stores."
A recent day saw actress Samantha Mathis escorted upstairs, while a first-time shopper who wandered in for a party frock was downstairs admiring, wide-eyed, a 1926 hand-beaded French cotton tulle gown for about $3,000.
"When I'm going to get married, I'll take a vintage dress," said Anna Ovdienko, a Russian-born psychologist now living in Los Angeles.
The Way We Wore is a popular resource for film and TV productions, including "Titanic," ''Casino," ''Boardwalk Empire" and "Mad Men."
Designers find something even more precious: a means to rethinking their approach to modern fashion by looking backward to the construction and materials used by distant counterparts.
Museum-quality garments from couture houses and older, unlabeled ethnic designs are safely tucked in Raymond's back office, with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen among those who have dropped in to shop. Designers from J. Crew and other retail chains have done the same.
The six-episode series includes visits to The Way We Wore by celebrities including burlesque artist Dita von Teese and actress Debi Mazar ("Entourage"). A singer-songwriter, Alexandra Starlight, preparing for a showcase performance at South by Southwest, is tickled to learn that one of glittery outfits she's trying is by Fabrice Simon, who costumed Tina Turner.
On-screen pop-ups give viewers a bit of history about the Haitian-born Simon and other designers mentioned on the show, part of Raymond's mission to enlighten as well as buy and sell (she scours estate sales, vintage auctions and more for potential finds).
At her insistence, "L.A. Frock Stars" is minus the trumped-up drama tailored for many reality shows. But Raymond's drive and a sassy workplace "family" including Sarah, Shelly Lyn, Jascmeen and Kyle keep it lively.
Raymond, who discovered second-hand clothes as a teenager when her family fell on hard times, is part of a vintage mini-wave on TV that includes Bravo's new "Dukes of Melrose," featuring the owners of LA's Melrose Avenue boutique Decades.
For the Smithsonian Channel, owned by a joint venture between Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, Raymond and her shop were the right way to expand the channel's attention to style, according to David Royle, its executive vice president for programming and production.
Even as "a guy not heavily into fashion," Raymond's enthusiasm and knowledge makes that world engaging, Royle said. "We are an entertainment channel and want to be fun and entertaining, but at the same time provide something substantial."
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and on Twitter (at)lynnelber.
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