Luxurious and lowbrow. Restrained and flamboyant. Antique and ultra-mod. Fashion loves gutsy juxtaposition, and so does Las Vegas.
If one street does the idea justice, it’s Main, the heart line of the Arts District from Charleston just past Colorado. It’s a stronghold of indie boutiques, a style gauntlet swinging from the breezy chic of Widow Den to Patina’s glamorous vintage couture. In less than a block you’ll find its ’60s-era caftans, Exile’s covetable denim, retro rompers from Rockin Bettie, hip separates from Buffalo Exchange, and a fantastic 25-cent tweed crop jacket from the Martin’s Mart Lutheran thrift shop. And more.
It’s a neighborhood pocket crackling with energy, and the instigators are driven by community as well as creativity, whether they're banding together for street festivals or sending customers down the way.
“We tell them about not just the little boutiques and shops—we like to tell them about the cool bars next door and the cool eateries and everything. Just everything. ... We definitely feel like we’re part of a movement," says Widow Den’s Caroline Aurora of the Arts District’s growth and her fellow warriors of culture. Their contributions honor Vegas’ wild style as much as the spring runway shows did, from shiny fabrics and voluminous sleeves to what Vogue calls “maximalism.” So let the season, and Downtown’s other buzzing drag, seduce you.
Photography/Styling: Brooke Olimpieri
Hair/Makeup: Christina Virzi
Models: Kelsey C, Mackenzie C (TNG)
“I think that when you look at your wall of clothes, that you should love all of the things that you see in your closet. I mean really love them,” says Kate Aldrich, and it’s obvious the co-owner of Patina Décor (1300 S. Main St. #140, 702-776-6222) applies that attitude to her inventory of vintage glam. Some racks look almost like ribbon candy, bold color and fine texture beautifully at play. Others are devoted to feminine refinement, from a mint-condition shawl of white mink to a knit coat woven everywhere with curling vines and bright blooms. A ring that costs $13 is chosen with the same care as one that costs $250, because Aldrich wants to be that specific. “Every single thing is handpicked. If somebody brings me 20 pieces, I feel odd sometimes saying, ‘I only want this piece.’”
Specific passions and points of view line the chunk of Main Street I can see out the window, from Hop Nuts Brewing, Velveteen Rabbit and Makers & Finders to Sin City Yoga, We Luv Flowers and Koolsville Tattoo. But I’m here for the boutiques, both standalone and nested in spaces devoted to kitschy collectibles or interior design. Las Vegas is known for its luxury shopping on the Strip, and for massive malls with every trendy brand, but the city’s spirit finds particular expression here in the old neighborhood.
“Vegas is its own thing. I think we’re really proud that we’re not LA and we’re not New York. We don’t have these preconceived ideas about what our style is. … It’s a total amalgamation, and I think we own it,” says Roxie Amoroso of Exile on Main Street (1235 S. Main St., 702-823-3957). “It’s not ’70s head to toe because Bazaar put an article out saying that’s what Fashion Week brought us. It’s a little of this and a little of that … a Marc Jacobs collection gown with 50-year-old cowboy boots. Juxtaposition. It’s cool. It feels good. There’s no rules.”
Exile is built on such contrast, “the ’70s idea of the model-musician relationship, where you have the luxury of the heritage brands from France and Italy and the gritty nastiness of real, true rock.” While there are racks for gowns and handmade bellbottoms, the meat of this shop is tees and denim preserved from past eras of style. You might dig super-dark indigo Wranglers, or perfectly faded Levi’s with corduroy pocket-flair. And the rock shirts are not homages; they’re real-deal, often bought from entertainment families selling guitars to her husband Jesse’s adjoining business, Cowtown, Amoroso says.
They used to be on Main Street north of Charleston Boulevard, and she says moving to this side has energized and pushed them because of the buzz and tight relationships on the street. Fashion bloggers are starting to discover it, and tourists. But locals are the ones who should be strolling the sun-soaked, sleepy sidewalks for the high of finding treasures that aren’t out of reach.
I buy an electric-pomegranate wool-crepe skirt suit lined with satin for $45 at Exile, and Buffalo Exchange (1209 S. Main St., 702-791-3960) delivers a sweet Diesel top and a chunky turquoise-and-gold costume necklace for less than $20 (and a 5-cent token to donate to a local charity instead of a plastic bag). But the deal of the day is that 25-cent jacket from Martin’s Mart (1219 S. Main St., 702-382-9344), its boxy silhouette and shoulder pads just the right thing to sass up my old jeans and Converse.
May’s Vintage Clothing Boutique is nearby inside Vintage Vegas (1229 S. Main St., 702-539-0799), the latter cheerfully advertising “antiques, collectibles, casino memorabilia, vintage toys, dead people’s junk and cool crap.” So is Rockin Bettie (1216 S. Main St., 702-877-3000), a destination for anyone who loves the playful rockabilly aesthetic. And on the second level of Retro Vegas (1131 S. Main St., 702-384-2700), the Red Kat is a swath of starched fabrics and brassy patterns. Velma “V” Kostiv’s collection has a vibrant ’50s feel, which plays well against the ’60s elegance at Patina. Aldrich thinks the boutique cluster’s strength is in its fine-tuned variety.
“Las Vegas needed this. We needed what other big cities have—a little nest of vintage finds and good times,” Kostiv says. “I feel Downtown is the heart and soul of Las Vegas, where life is alive and real, watching businesses strive.”
Amoroso muses that famed shopping area Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood probably started out as a bunch of little vintage shops, and that the key lines and contemporary outposts followed.
In the Arts Factory on Charleston just barely off the mouth of Main, Caroline Aurora’s Widow Den adds bite to the scene with the fresh, funky, sometimes irreverent fashion of the festival-goer. As in, a top featuring an old-school photo of the Olsen twins and the tagline “Thug Life.” She laughs when I mention it, and says her daughter/business partner Jamie Todorovitch assured her it would sell. (She was so right).
On top of the stylistic appeal of Widow Den’s cool kimonos, dusters, shrugs and tees by the likes of Jac Vanek and Social Decay, the shop has a heartfelt mission.
“We like the theme, ‘compassion is the new fashion.’ We’re cruelty free, and we do try to support other female artists, so I would say more than 90 percent of our lines are purchased from small female businesses. Hence the Widow Den,” says Aurora, who opened the boutique after working her way up from selling jewelry at First Friday and then inside the shops of other Arts District tenants. She says the complex is creative about throwing events that draw more people to the hallways, and that the joy of her business is offering those shoppers something truly different. “I think what’s important to people is that they find fashions they’re stumbling upon for the first time and they say, ‘You know what? I get to be the first to rock this—I haven’t seen this anywhere.’”
That specialness is something Aldrich outright guarantees. She thinks dressing to trends is a common mistake, but there is one that came out of Spring Fashion Week that she might appreciate: emotion; the simple thought that clothing can be powerfully evocative, and not just to the outside world.
“If you buy something that you love very much, you will wear it and have it for a very long time, if not forever,” Aldrich says. “And you will feel very, very good when you put it on every time, and you will look unique. And you will feel unique.”