A public bathroom is the last place you’d want to be recognized but it happened to Nicole Warne at the airport in Amsterdam. I don’t know if she shook hands with the blessed fan, but it was memorable nonetheless. Because when you have more than 400,000 instagram followers, an internationally soaring fashion blog and a professional photographer for a boyfriend such compromising encounters are abounding and inevitable. Add to that the fact that Nicole is stunning, sweet and smart and you’ve got the sort of fame that was once only measurable by awards and television appearances.
It’s high noon by now in Sydney and we don’t need our sweaters. In fact it’s unusually hot for this time of year. The sun is low but blazing and casts beautiful fall shadows on the pavement. Nicole shows up at Grandma Takes a Trip, a staple vintage store in Surrey Hills, visibly relaxed after a two-hour trip from her house on the Central Coast, in a black, velvet, vintage mini-dress, her jet-black hair shiny and perfect, her face a flawless peachy color, her cheeks flushed with meticulously applied blush and her lips scarlet red. She looks gorgeous and Grandma’s owner, Nicola Sault is thrilled. She, too, recognized Nicole.
An Australian family adopted Nicole Warne when she was only three months old. She doesn’t have many ties with South Korea, nor with Japan, which is the other half of her mixed ethnicity, except that her sister is also adopted and Korean. In fact, even her cousins are adopted. “We’re a mixed bag, that’s for sure,” she laughs. Her parents moved to Tasmania, “as picturesque and quiet as you can get in Australia”, but Nicole stayed on the Coast where she now lives with her boyfriend Luke and a male roommate. I had offered earlier in the week to travel up there and take pictures at the house but that was out of the question. “Boys are very easy going and less maintenance than girls, but they have the strangest taste in home décor…” she had objected. So today, we are going vintage shopping.
Nicole owes her success to vintage. It made her into a savvy, young business woman and a creative, sough-after brand she’s committed to develop so she can eventually “move into various fields of work whether that be clothing, books, home wares, perfumes, consulting…” she states firmly. “I think in five years time I’ll be working harder than ever before.” She launched Gary Pepper Vintage as an Ebay store and a blog in October of 2009, and moved into e-commerce a year later. Her site would push up to two hundred vintage pieces every ten days and it quickly gained international attention. “For the first two years the store was my priority”, she recalls, “but after time I realised how many opportunities I was missing by not being able to invest as much time into my blog. The store and blog used to go hand in hand and grow together but soon my blog overshadowed the store. Letting go of my store after spending countless hours on it is something I still haven’t come to terms with.”
She’s even had to stop wearing vintage. “I used to never leave the house or shoot a blog post without having at least two vintage or thrifted pieces on me. I was so stubborn like that and so proud about wearing vintage.” Unfortunately, like many fashion bloggers, there is more money to be made when the product is linked to an on-line retailer and the affiliate program pays out dividends. But she’s stayed true to her feminine, preppy style regardless, even if with age, it “has evolved into more of refined version of myself with classic pieces and a hint of colour and prints. I think I used to be a lot quirker as I would shift between dressing like an 80-year old grandma and a 16-year old schoolgirl.”
We spend the day revisiting Nicole’s forlorn passion by cramming in as many vintage stores as we can. From Grandma, we go to Zoo Emporium around the corner, stop for a juice at Kawa Cafe, then make the trek to The Vintage Fashion Emporium, where we are surprised to find about ten different vintage vendors in the basement. Shooting Nicole is a walk in the park. She’s a pro and a darling girl who gracefully surrenders to my styling whimsy or as she puts it “loves being ‘Joos-ified!’. “I never see a blog post as just a blog post,” she explains of her own work. “It’s more of a creative collaboration between you, your photographer and the elements you have to work with like the locations, lighting and styling. It’s a whole production and as it is for your blog I feel like I am just living in your world for a day.” (If god had any willful mercy he’d make my world a beach with perpetual sunlight and jack up my social media numbers so I could instagram my way to senility.) When I ask Nicole what her favorite word is, she hastily replies, “Oh can I change that to my favorite thing? I just love Love”. Add to world.