About Face with The Distinctive Dame

Margeaux Vallantyne is co-founder of The Distinctive Dame, a service born from a shared passion with business partner Evie for preserving the distinct art of vintage styling.

On Sunday 28 February The Distinctive Dame will offer makeovers at the Spotted Mallard in Brunswick, while resident band The Grubs provide New Orleans party music – classic dixieland with a larrikin Australian approach (i.e. my happy place)

We caught up with Margeaux to learn about her fascination with ye olde times, and her style influences.

TGW: What’s your attraction to the look and style of a bygone era?

MV: Its discovery played an integral part in learning to love my body and myself.

‘The ritual of adorning myself and transforming my canvas electrifies my creativity and is one of the primary ways in which I nurture myself.’

I like clean lines, quality fabric and attention to detail, which I will always find in a vintage garment.

My favourite period would be WWII (1939-45). Many of the distinct elements of this period – the silhouettes, good grooming, elaborate hairstyles, hats and the ‘make-do-and-mend’ mentality – are not echoed in our mainstream society today. I look back to it for constant inspiration as I find it to be a refreshing contrast to what is celebrated today.

TGW: As a child, what was your first introduction to fashion? 

MV: My mother. She is one of the most glamourous and well groomed women I know. No matter how busy she was with work, or looking after my sister and I, good grooming and style were never compromised.

‘As a child I’d conduct mini fashion parades – my sister being the model draped in sheets, wearing my mother’s lipstick, jewels and shoes.’

Fast forward to my early adulthood and I found myself studying fashion, costume, hair & makeup and millinery. The early impressions and memories of style and fashion certainly left an imprint on my mind and are areas of creativity that make my heart sing.

TGW: When was your first foray into styling?

MV: I used to work with a gal who loved old jazz – artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday who, at the time, were mysteries to me. She also had a love of vintage garments which was unfamiliar to me then.

After doing my own research – hopping on eBay and Etsy to see what sartorial discoveries I could find, watching films from the golden age, reading biographies on stars like Marlene Dietrich & Rita Hayworth, scouring the library for new jazz artists, and sifting through endless pages on google – my aesthetic and ideals began to morph.

After deciding to adopt the vintage lifestyle back in 2008, I went along to a vintage fair and took a class by The Lindy Charm School for Girls. 
Shortly after, they announced that they were looking for a trainee and I was the chosen one, despite my inexperience. It was an incredible opportunity – travelling Australia and teaching in workshops to women – young, old and in between. For some it was an introduction into the vintage aesthetic, and for others it was nostalgic – it reminded them of their mothers or grandmothers.

This solidified my love for the subculture and accompanying lifestyle, and it was then that I was introduced to swing dancing. Something which I still love to do.

Evie and Margeaux’s Pop up Salon at the 1920s garden party during Festival of Phryne at Ripponlea Mansion in 2015

TGW: What’s the best part of your job? And the greatest challenge?

MV: I love the chats that I get to have with my clients. I am privvy to some very candid tales and have developed some beautiful relationships with my clients. I invest all my energy into each person that sits in my chair and the return is always positive.

I also love witnessing the internal transformation, which mirrors the external one.

Women sometimes walk in feeling tired, stressed (weddings!), and insecure but I ensure that those feelings are allayed upon leaving. My space is safe, warm and welcoming for women and I feel like I’m in a privileged position to create that.

The greatest challenge would be turning somebody’s vision into a reality. Sometimes it happens on the first go and other times it takes a bit of tweaking.

TGW: Do you see the natural connection between music and style?

MV: I can see the flow on effect that music has on style.

‘[Style is] often the uniform or badge you wear to indicate what music you love or what subculture you identify with.’

I think it can be limiting in the sense that if people were to look at me they may think that I only like big band jazz, rhythm and blues and doo wop. The truth is I do love those things but I also love soul, neo soul, hip hop & beats, afro pop and classical. I feel that it’s always best to have ongoing curiosity about the world around us.

TGW: Is this the first time you’ve worked in partnership with a live music event?

MV: When I worked for Charm School we’d often have booths at events like Garterbelts and Gasoline & Wintersun and some smaller nostalgia festivals.

Last year I was in Napier, New Zealand for The Art Deco Weekend and had a pop up salon which was so much fun. We catered mainly to the swing dancers who’d need to get all gussied up for the main events.

Co founders of The Distinctive Dame Evie and Margeaux in action at their pop up salon for the National Trust in 2015

TGW: Who are your style heroes and why?
MV: There isn’t any one person I look to for inspiration. I admire those that are bold, unconventional and authentic in their sartorial choices.

‘Albert Einstein said ‘great spirits encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds’ and I think you can become an easy target if you start to break away from the status quo.’

I appreciate those I see around me – the man on the tram in his studded leather and mohawked hair, the gal with fairy floss pink hair and ballerina skirt, the woman on the train who is so elegant with her pearls and silver chignoned hair, the gentleman wearing a 3-piece-suit with accompanying pocket square and matching shoes. There is beauty and inspiration everywhere.

I am inspired by anyone featured on Advanced Style!, Yma Sumac, Erykah Badu, Iris Apfel, Tilda Swinton, Mrs Wagner, and @MissWinny1

I love also mens tailoring. People like Cary Grant & Leon Bridges; so dapper with such well considered outfits.

TGW: Where do you shop for your favourite vintage pieces?

MV: Online mainly – Etsy and eBay as well as the Facebook group Ooo La La. 
My fave vintage store in Melbourne is Clara Fox on Brunswick St, Fitzroy and if you’re willing to trek a little further The Vintage Emporium in Tyabb is wonderful.

I’m a serial op shopper too and have found some gorgeous original pieces in them. The latest being a stunning 50s Hawaiian gown for $14!

TGW: What are you most looking forward to at your in-venue pop up at the Spotted Mallard?

One of the main ways to stand out in today’s society/economic climate is to create an experience for people which engages as many of the senses as possible. It will be wonderful to provide an experience where you’ll be able to have a tipple, listen to some old tunes and have your piccie taken.

On Sunday 28th February, let The Distinctive Dame team transform you into a glamour fox, before your close up with Ruby Golddust. Choose from fingerwaves, winged eye liner, victory rolls, ruby lips and vintage waves.  All products used by The Distinctive Dame team are proudly cruelty free (not tested on animals) and vegan

Pre-bookings are available and some walk-in spots will be left open. For more information or to make a booking email info@thedistinctivedame.com.au


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