No trip to Portland is complete, to me, without a trip to Xtabay Vintage. This place is the Bomb! it’s so lovely and special inside and one can’t help but absorb the glamor that oozes from every corner. I was lucky to run into the owner Liz Gross, who was kind enough to grant me an interview. She’s owned & operated Xtabay for quite some time now and the shop (both in person and online) have become a fixture in the vintage clothing community. Read on to meet Liz and find out about this extraordinary business and woman behind it:
Jennifer - Congratulations for being a Rock Star Female Entrepreneur! You've been in business for quite some time now. Please tell me a little bit about your background and how long Xtabay has been open -
Liz - Thank you! I can't believe it's almost been 18 years. I opened Xtabay in August of 2001 with a ton of vintage clothing and a $7000 bank loan. After dropping out of Rhode Island School of Design where I was studying painting, I was hired at a vintage shop in downtown Portland called The Big Bang. That is where my love of vintage clothing really took hold. I started making extra money being a picker, selling to local vintage shops around Pdx and helped open the shop Lady Luck Vintage on SE Burnside. After a somewhat dramatic falling out with the woman I shared Lady Luck with (over a silly boy no less) I acquired the space I am in now.
Jennifer - Why did you decide to open up a vintage shop?
Liz - I always wanted my own shop, I had imagined Xtabay when I was 16 and found my first copy of Yma Sumac's Voice Of The Xtabay at a yard sale.
from the website:
THE XTABAY, FROM AN ANCIENT LEGEND
The Xtabay is the most elusive of all women. You seek her in your flight of desire and think of her as beautiful as the morning sun touching the highest mountain peak. Her voice calls to you in every whisper of the wind. The lure of her unknown love becomes ever stronger, and a virgin who might have consumed your nights with tender caresses now seems less than the dry leaves of winter. For you follow the call of the Xtabay... though you walk alone through all your days.
Jennifer - The shop is so beautiful and glamorous. Did you design it yourself? or did you have a designer help you?
Liz - Thank you! I did design it myself. It has evolved over the years quite a bit. Originally the walls were all gradient shades of coral and the decor was decidedly more lounge like. Velvet nude paintings and Treitchikoff girls.We even had a mens section! I updated the design in 2010 and made it into a much more glamorous, feminine space. I collected loads of gilded Italian chandeliers and painted the walls a soft dove grey. We removed the "mens department" all together and decided to focus on higher end pieces.
Jennifer - Do you ever dress in Vintage? If so, do you have a favorite era?
Liz - I do! I tend to wear vintage coats on a daily basis. My favorite designer to wear personally is Bonnie Cashin, I live in her coats. When I get dressed up (which is really rare these days) I tend to wear 40's dresses or wiggle dresses. I have a few floral print Peggy Hunt cocktail dresses with her famous illusion fabric necklines that are my favorites and a couple go-to Dorothy O'Hara dresses as well. I love the look of the 50's full skirt dresses but they do not flatter my figure.
Jennifer - When I first came into your shop, you had a small rack of bridal gowns. A little bird told me that now you have your own Bridal Shop, entirely separate from Xtabay. Would you tell our readers a little more about that endeavor?
Liz - My venture into bridal is a complex and confusing story even to myself. In 2011 I created Xtabay Vintage Bridal Salon in a beautiful space right above Xtabay. The focus was vintage wedding dresses and accessories. It was an instant success but was plagued with the problem of size issues. Most vintage wedding gowns are very small. The average size of a bride in 1950 was quite small. We struggled to find things that would fit a variety of sizes. I sourced vintage inspired gowns to fill the gap. In 2013, I took over ownership of The English Department from local designer Elizabeth Dye. The English Department was the first small independent bridal boutique in the country. It was quite an undertaking to run two bridal shops and a vintage clothing store. I think I must have been insane. After a couple years downtown I decided to consolidate the two and move The English Department into the Xtabay Bridal space. Are you following this? Haha... The English Department took over Xtabay Bridal and now we only focus on new designer wedding gowns from local and national designers. However, due to an increase in competition over the last two years we are thinking of going back to being a vintage bridal salon.
Jennifer - Bridal is pretty specialized. How do your bridal clients differ from your regular vintage clientele?
Liz - Our bridal clients and vintage clients occasionally cross over. We sell a lot of mother of bride dresses as well as bridesmaid dresses.
Jennifer - it looks like only the most special pieces go up online in your Etsy Shop. Do these pieces live in the Brick and Mortar location or are they only available online?
Liz - I am terrible about getting things listed in our Etsy shop. For the past couple of years I have had the fortune of being able to sell a lot of my pieces on Instagram. I'll post a picture on my Instagram feed and usually the item will be sold in a few hours. I recently added a few high end pieces from the 1920's to the Etsy shop, we usually keep them behind the counter at Xtabay, to prevent them from being damaged. My goal is to try to add at least 50 items to the Etsy shop this summer so that more people will have an opportunity to shop with us.
Jennifer - All of the vintage clothing in your shop seems to be in excellent condition. Do you find them this way, or are there measures you take before they reach the rack?
Liz - I am so lucky to have a really talented seamstress who is fantastic at restoring and altering vintage dresses. I have a second full time job doing laundry! I have piles of things all over my house waiting to either go to the dry cleaners, get machine washed or be soaked in the bath tub. We work really hard to make them look brand new.
And here is Guy getting cozy with a vintage petticoat. Such a glamorous life for Guy!
Jennifer - I remember meeting Gabe the first time I visited Xtabay. Gabe and now Guy are such delightful shop companions (even thought they are and have been somewhat naughty). How many Pomeranians have you owned and can you tell me their names?
Liz - I love Poms! So far Gabe and Guy are the only two I've ever had but I did convince my mom to rescue one! We actually have about 4 shop dogs around upstairs on a regular basis-- Louise, Guy, Matcha and Cindy Lou. You could say we're dog crazy. If I ever close the shop, I think a small dog doggie daycare would be next on my list!
Thank you to Liz for such a great interview! I loved hearing about how she created this wonderful and successful business. It takes a lot of work to run a business but Liz does it with grace and beauty every day with a little support from her staff and a few of her four legged friends.
I don’t wear “True Vintage” clothing very often, as my job demands that I get down and dirty with messy fabric, children and lots of moving around. I’m also the biggest Clutz so I have to be VERY careful when I wear vintage as to not destroy it. I do LOVE it though and find myself buying the occasional piece. I could not resist this hand embroidered 1940’s blouse, while shopping in Xtabay. So here I am wearing it right before I went to work. To spite it’s age and delicate nature and being made of super fine silk, this blouse is really well made. It’s got a quality of fabric and workmanship that we don’t see very often and I’m so happy to call it my own.
Xtabay is located at 2515 SE Clinton Street Portland, Oregon 97202
or you can also find Xtabay on Etsy!
Until Next time, Happy Vintage Everything!