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Kenyan Lewis and Grace Kelsey’s Vintage Clothing Collection Fills Five Closets

Kenyan Lewis was a visual merchandiser for Earnest Sewn when he met avid vintage collector Grace Kelsey five years ago — the two were a fated match, drawn to each other by a shared love of all things old, weathered, and storied. Today, the couple lives upstate in Accord, New York, their home packed with vintage finds: suitcases, blankets, Popular Mechanics magazines and Montgomery Ward catalogs, radios, speakers, electric fans, clocks — and, of course, clothes: Their collection of early garb from the late 1800s to the early 1900s fills five closets. (Unsurprisingly, their ever-expanding collections were the linchpin in their decision to leave the Lower East Side three years ago.) Each month, the pair traverses the country in their 1953 DeSoto Firedome hunting for props, vintage clothing, and furniture. Their joint business, By Kenyan, provides merchandise from the late 1800s to the forties to retail stores and restaurants embracing the throwback Americana trend.

Though they’ve worked with retailers and designers like Polo Ralph Lauren, Wool & the Gang, Alice Roi, Save Khaki, House of Waris, and the Gap, they’re making their rare finds available to individual enthusiasts for the first time online. This week, the collectors are partnering with Lower East Side boutique Gargyle, releasing a small trove of vintage housewares and décor on the boutique’s site. They’ll launch their own e-commerce site this summer, featuring a rotating cache of 50-odd items. We caught up with the vintage mavens to discuss their favorite vintage sources and "lived-in" style.

Where are your favorite places to scout vintage finds?
Kenyan: Mainly on the road, at antique malls, flea markets, and salvage yards from New York to Utah. Our last road trip was to Pennsylvania, but we were in Puerto Vallarta doing the interiors of a restaurant recently and went shopping for stuff there as well. I’ll take road trips three or four times a month for a week or two at a time.
Grace: We also get phone calls and e-mails from people all the time, saying, "I think you might be interested in my grandfather’s couch."

What about in New York?
K: I would say Paula Rubenstein and Stock for vintage clothing and boots.
G: For props, Build It Green in Queens.

After traveling around the country, do you find vintage egregiously overpriced in New York?
K: Sure, it’s overpriced, but it’s already preselected for you. Most Manhattan residents don’t have a car, so they don’t have that luxury.
G: Plus, the overhead of rent for retail stores is so high — I think that’s part of the reason they need to charge such high prices.

Who are your favorite designers?
K: Ralph Lauren. He has such a complete aesthetic and there’s such detailing in the clothes.
G: His presentation is so complete — when he does a collection, you feel like you’re transported to that era.

How extensive is your collection of vintage clothing?
G: It’s the size of about five closets and 30 suitcases.
K: We’re both pretty obsessed with nineteen-forties workwear; we wear it all the time.

How would you describe your personal style?
K: Old and weathered. A weathered barn with a dusty tin roof on the side of the road — that’s me. I dress like a factory worker from the forties.
G: Rustic, with a lived-in patina. It looks like old cracked leather. I wear a lot of printed cotton day dresses from the forties — they’re called feed-sack prints.

What trends are you appreciating right now?
K: Any take on reissued workwear and work boots. I think the milkman look is going to come in for guys: starched straight-leg khakis and shiny black shoes, kind of like what your grandpa used to wear.

Any trends you’re ready to see retired?
K: The bearded woodsman look.
G: I’m really tired of skinny jeans.

What’s one item you’re saving to buy?
K: The iPad 4. When it comes to technology, we’re all about up-to-date stuff.
G: A waterproof camera.

What should every woman have in her closet?
G: A comfortable flannel shirt and a fitted jacket.

What about men?
K: Two good suits and wingtips. I think every man needs a good vintage-inspired linen suit.

What’s something you never leave the house without?
K: My Brooks Brothers vintage fedora.
G: Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Photo: Melanie Acevedo

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Cut® are registered trademarks of New York Media LLC.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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