A Romance with Fabric at Pure Vintage, Pure West

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Cheryl Long, owner and creative force behind Pure Vintage, Pure West in Round Top, has come full circle. The Houston native started her career as a fine artist, but thanks to a confluence of circumstances found herself applying her talent to wholesale and retail clothing that combines western flair and feminine romance. During the 30 years her company has operated, Long has been featured in juried shows throughout the Mountain West, represented Texas designers at presidential inaugurals and been backstage with Nashville’s elite presenting them with one-of-a-kind items.

These days she hangs her beautifully embellished hat in Bastrop in a gracious Greek Revival home built in 1879. It’s her home and workshop.

With the opening of Pure Vintage, Pure West, which she operates alongside her partner Kenneth Ott, she is once again expressing herself on canvas as an impressionist.

“I think we get enough realism every day—we need more beauty in our lives,” she said.

RTR: What came first a love of art or love of fabric?

CL: That’s my chicken or egg conundrum. As a profession, it was art. I went to the University of Texas and earned a bachelor’s in fine arts, but as a child it was fabric. My mother’s family had a lace factory in upstate New York that started in the early 1900s. My grandmother brought lace scraps home with them, and I played with them. My squaw dresses [a style popular in the late 1950s that was inspired by Navajo dresses] were embellished with vintage lace, not rick rack like everyone else’s. I’ve always loved the elegance of fine fabrics and notions.

RTR: What about antique and vintage fabrics and notions speaks to you?

CL: Obviously, there’s the quality and the timelessness, but there is also the stories they represent. Frankly, it breaks my heart to see beautiful old pieces disappear. One time I acquired a turn-of-the-century silk velvet opera coat that had been originally sewn with cotton thread. The thread was deteriorating, so I took it completely apart and re-stitched it by hand.

I’ve got pickers all over the country who are on the lookout for vintage pieces. The best stuff is generally tucked away in a trunk in someone’s attic. People don’t hold on to treasured things like they once did.

Sometimes my pickers will call and say, “I’ve found a Victorian lace wedding gown, but it’s in shreds.” I tell them to send it my way. I’ll take the scraps and make something from them, perhaps a fabric rose to accent a hat.

I’m a savior of rags and scraps because I give old fabrics new life.

RTR: What fabric is your favorite to work with?

CL: I love to work with old velvets, especially those from the turn of the century. The luster. Need I say more? I also enjoy working with leather because of its broad applicability. Right now, I’m featuring a leather shirt styled using the classic western motifs of the 1950s. I wear mine as a jacket. They make a statement.

RTR: What excites you the most, the design or the construction?

CL: Design. I can get lost in the fabrics, colors and the potential of all the combinations. Taking something that was a scrap on the floor and making something excites me. My imagination gets to run free.

Construction is much more disciplined. Bags have to combine form and function. They have to be durable as well as wearable and fashionable.

I incorporate my most fragile fabrics in pillows because they can be protected from wear and tear. It takes me at least one full day to make a single pillow. One of my current favorites is built around a souvenir silk scarf from World War I. They were created to be keepsakes for girlfriends or wives who were waiting at home for their soldiers overseas. I just love to imagine the story behind that scarf. It had to be something special because it’s still here a century later.

RTR: When someone walks into Pure Vintage, Pure West, what do you want them to experience?

CL: Elegant, livable quality at all price points. In the shop, people can find things from $6 to $600.

Everyday romance may be a better way to describe it. From a fashion perspective, I design special pieces that people can incorporate into their existing wardrobes that can make everyday dressing special and special occasion dressing memorable. Take for instance my vintage lace jackets and dusters. They combine several styles of vintage lace and are perfectly suitable for wearing with jeans, a t-shirt and boots or black pants and a simple top or with a cocktail dress.

As a society, we’ve gotten lax in the way we present ourselves.  It’s as if we’ve lost our pride of dress. I want to inspire people to return to the classiness of earlier eras such as the 1940s, where dressing well was the rule not the exception. Dressing well is a form of self-expression.

To be clear, I’m not advocating spending huge amounts of money or throwing out entire wardrobes but selecting timeless pieces that elevate the ordinary.

RTR: As a trained artist, how did you end up in retail emphasizing clothing, bags and one-of-a-kind home decor?

CL: In the mid-80s I put my degree to work as a photographer documenting the historic ranches of Texas for Western Horseman magazine’s calendar. I had a front row seat to a way of life, but, as a non-ranch girl, my perspective was different. I began hand-coloring the photos. Then I tore them and added paint creating mixed media pieces with them.

On a whim, I took three of my favorite images and had them put on t-shirts. A friend saw them and got me a rep in the Dallas Market Center. It was on the heels of “Urban Cowboy” and coincided with the popularity of Dallas. Western style, particularly Texas, was hot. The Japanese were crazy for anything cowboy.

The timing was right. In a year I had a $1 million wholesale fashion business.

All of my art was hand-done. It was 10 years before computers became pervasive. Those were the days of huggy-touchy-feely retailing before people began shopping on-line.

RTR: How did that early business experience influence your current business?

CL: These days I have both wholesale and retail. Wholesale generates income and retail, here at the shop and at shows around the country, allows me to offer one-of-a-kind pieces that speak to the artist in me. I have people who collect my designs like some people collect paintings. They’re the first at my shows to see what I have that is new.

RTR: What’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever received about your work?

CL: Invariably, when people come into the shop or attend one of the shows and they see and touch my pieces, they say, “Your work is different.” I love that they understand it’s not something they will find a mall or on Amazon.

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by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Mendoza