Corliss Elizabeth Williams brought her vintage shop, The Lowry Estate, from New York to Metro Detroit.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Photography by Brett Mountain
Standing among racks of vibrant sweaters, denim jackets — one embroidered with giraffes — and funky patterned skirts, Corliss Elizabeth Williams shows off a more subdued outfit: a cream three-piece silk ribbon suit. Though it once belonged to her grandmother decades ago, the handmade suit is in mint condition.
“I have these little stories that happen when I go thrifting,” Williams says. “This year, when I was out meeting up with a dealer, I came across a three-piece black silk ribbon suit exactly like this on her birthday.”
The cream suit — that’s not for sale — inspired Williams to launch the ’70s to ’90s-inspired vintage shop The Lowry Estate. In November, the West Bloomfield resident opened the small shop in a Farmington office complex. Yet her endeavor to start a vintage shop featuring her grandmother and mother’s clothing began in 2015 in New York, where she was living at the time.
With a background in art direction, Corliss, 37, worked for publications like Time and The New York Times Magazine. But facing financial constraints, many art departments cut back.
“There weren’t any full-time positions available, so I was hopping around place to place, switching jobs every three to six months,” Williams says, “and it just got to a point like, ‘I just want to do this.’ ”
The “this” was thrifting. She took the plunge and turned her hobby into a booth at the Brooklyn Flea market. She then secured warehouse space, similar to her Farmington shop: small, square, intimate and full of her family’s objects. The window display features her grandmother’s lamp. Old photos taken by her father are sprinkled on a white vintage chest, along with a framed picture of her late grandmother riding a donkey in Greece.
Williams’ passion for clothing stems from her grandmother, Mabel Lowry, a Detroit Public Schools art teacher and principal.
Corliss Amelia Williams, Mabel’s daughter and Williams’ mother, says Mabel shopped at all the fashionable stores: Hudson’s, Saks, Demery’s and B. Siegel.
“She would shop to the point where the sales people knew her and would put things aside for her. So, we always have just been clothes people,” Corliss Amelia Williams says, mentioning the hundreds of pieces packed in her closets. “I love clothes, and my daughter has picked up on that, too.”
Corliss Elizabeth Williams returned to Metro Detroit in 2016, shortly after having her daughter, Amelia Elizabeth Williams Olu. She found a job as a creative director but didn’t give up her vintage shop. She became an Eastern Market vendor, enrolled in TechTown’s retail bootcamp and appeared at popup events around Detroit.
Karen Buscemi, founder and president of the fashion-focused nonprofit the Detroit Garment Group, has been following Williams’ journey and says she’s excited to have “another well-curated vintage store” in Metro Detroit.
“I’m even more excited that another New York-based fashion company has made the move to the Mitten,” Buscemi says. “With the creation of the Garment District (in Detroit), and everything else going on in our fashion industry, New York fashion businesses relocating to Michigan is going to be a common occurrence.”
The Lowry Estate collection ranges from $28 to $88. (Though there is an Armani suit for $458.) While the clothing mostly comes from Williams’ family closet, she also sources festive pieces from estate sales and places she won’t reveal.
“I call myself the anti-cat-eye vintage store,” she says. “I don’t have pieces that are costume-y like the 1950s cocktail dress that no one can fit in anymore. I try to get a range of sizes because the biggest challenge, especially since moving back to the Midwest, is that people are larger.”
She also pushes customers “out of their boundaries,” she says, eyeing one of her favorite pieces — a whimsical bright purple, pink and lime green skirt that looks like it jumped out of a fairy tale.
“If there’s someone who comes in and they’re like, ‘I wear black all the time,’ but then they see a skirt like that, there’s this way of convincing them to have the confidence that you can have a statement piece in your wardrobe, and it’s OK to step out of the box,” she says.
Huntington Woods native Caroline Voisine, founder of the fashion blog Polished Or Not and now based in Nashville, stumbled on The Lowry Estate at Eastern Market last fall.
“I was looking through her racks and saw this coat and was like, ‘I need this,’ ” Voisine says.
Voisine, 26, paid $35 for the plaid tweed coat that hits just below the knee.
“I generally have an issue with vintage clothing not fitting because I’m really tall, but it fits great,” she says, adding, “It didn’t have any stains; it didn’t have any weird smell; it was in great condition.”
On Instagram, Voisine posted pictures of herself wearing the coat, using Williams’ hashtag #ladiesinlowry.
“These pictures make my day because they’re smiling, they’re happy, they’re confident and they’re really rockin’ it, and that’s what my brand is about,” Williams says. “It’s about women’s empowerment, confidence and integration — like integrating timeless pieces into your wardrobe.”
The shop’s name pays homage to her grandma’s last name. But Williams also dreams of one day turning The Lowry Estate into an actual estate full of clothes and tchotchkes.
“In my head, it’s like this fantasy of this beautiful house,” she says. “It’s this secret, special, unique home. Right now, it’s kind of like a secret closet.”
The Lowry Estate
23023 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington
Building F, Courtyard Entrance
Hours: Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday by appointment only
See Corliss Elizabeth Williams’ 10 favorite vintage pieces for spring here.