Even at a young age, Zoe Levin had an interest in the world of vintage fashion. She and her grandfather David Ackerman spent many summers together in London. As a button designer and manufacturer, he and Levin would scour the crowded antique markets in search of interesting designs to inspire him. Her grandmother's expansive closet was also a source of inspiration, brimming with handmade dresses and custom shoes. That exposure provided the groundwork for her expertise in vintage fashion.
In her teenage years, Levin began collecting vintage pieces of costume jewelry. In the early '80s when she moved to New York City, her collection quickly expanded. She explored West Side antique markets, Upper East Side stores and private collections in search of exquisite and unique clothing. Among her favorite pieces she gathered are those from the '40s to '70s. They include beaded cardigans in cashmere blends, swing coats in soft pastel wools, cats' eyeglasses and silk shantung cocktail dresses.
"I would wear my finds to parties and events and would always receive admiring comments about the style or fabric of the outfit and its unique nature," Levin says.
She was soon overwhelmed by the requests from family and friends in search of vintage pieces they could wear to events.
In 1999, when she moved to Englewood, Levin transformed her passion for antique garments into her vintage fashion consultant business, A Backwards Glance. She rents and sells her pieces to private clients, fellow dealers and partners in the movie industry. Levin currently has select items online where interested customers can browse, and in the future she hopes to showcase her whole collection. Prices range from $25 to a few hundred, depending on the product.
Items such as feather headpieces from the '30s, snakeskin clutches of the '70s and chiffon cocktail dresses from the '80s make up a sample of some of her offerings.
The vision of her business is to provide a unique alternative to label-conscious consumers by promoting fashions from a bygone era as relevant and exciting to today's woman. Levin and her collection strive to be "different," either by incorporating one vintage item into an ensemble or by creating an entire synthesized look.
It is unknown how many pieces Levin has compiled over the years, but she estimates her collection to be nearly a thousand. Amid high-end labels and prestigious dresses, the most treasured piece in her collection is her grandmother's 1950s engagement ring.
Levin is looking forward to the upcoming television series The Carrie Diaries. The show, which is set to debut in late 2012, will adorn its stars with luxurious pieces from her vintage collection.
"They took cocktail dresses, evening coats and many other brightly colored pieces from the '60s through '80s to work with. The exciting part is seeing which they choose to dress the actresses in," Levin says as she anxiously waits to see which pieces make the final cut.
Levin has high hopes for the future.
"It is a personal dream of mine to be able to work with talented [Mad Men] costume designer Janie Bryant," she says.
Levin continues to build her collection, acquiring pieces from estate sales, auctions and fellow buyers. She is especially excited when she finds Art Deco jewelry and clothing from the '50s and '60s, her personal favorites. n
For more information on the collection, email email@example.com