Leah’s Closet carries the clothes of yesteryear.
By Matthew Totsky
Photography by Brett Mountain
You never know what you’ll find when browsing the racks of clothes at Leah’s Closet in Royal Oak. It could be a vintage Dior dress from the 1950s, an Oscar de la Renta sequin coatdress from the ’70s or an ’80s-era Chanel suit.
“I like unique things,” says owner Leah Damiani. “And I’ve always had a flair for vintage fashion and styles. My mother was a big inspiration for me. I used to watch her trying on at least four outfits and different jewelry before going out, so I suppose I inherited my love for dressing up from her. I’ve been a collector of these sorts of pieces over the years and always loved shopping at vintage shops in other cities.”
Damiani grew up in Farmington Hills, but spent time over the years in Miami Beach and Los Angeles working as a stylist for photo shoots and independent films. In 2009, she moved back to the area and found a job as a hair stylist at a West Bloomfield salon. While working there, she noticed that many of her clients would compliment her wardrobe and fashion sense.
“People always asked where I got my vintage clothes,” she says. “And most of them would say how they wished there was a place in the area where they could find similar items.”
In 2013, Damiani granted their wishes when Leah’s Closet opened its doors on 11 Mile Road between Woodward and Main. Devotees of vintage women’s fashion now have a place where they can find that truly unique piece to make their own ensemble stand out.
“I modeled Leah’s Closet after the places I shopped at in other cities throughout the U.S. and Europe,” Damiani says. “I like to fill the store with the kinds of things I love, and our stock is constantly rotating. On any given day, you may come across an item from favorite area stores of yesteryear mixed amongst the famous designer names. I’ve sold fur coats from Crowley’s and Chudik’s or a hat from Winkelman’s. I also carry shoes, barware, vintage lamps and accessories, like purses and sunglasses, and estate jewelry including bracelets, necklaces and rings.”
Over the years, Damiani has perfected the art of finding just the right kinds of pieces to sell in her store. “I’ll visit the occasional estate sale, and people will bring me things that once belonged to their mother or grandmother,” she says. “I don’t really do consignments unless it’s a really special, high-end piece or a very rare item.
“I also know a vintage dealer in New York who has a warehouse. He is constantly on the lookout for interesting vintage pieces for me to sell, and he’s become something of a mentor to me.
“He’s taught me so much about this business, including some really unusual minutiae that not too many people know about,” Damiani continues. “For instance, I’d occasionally come across a vintage coat with its label sewn in upside-down. I always thought these were mistakes, but he told me that they were purposely sewn in this way by the manufacturer so that when the coat was draped over their arm or a chair, other people could read the label and know how special the piece was.
“Another thing I’d notice was vintage pieces that didn’t even have a label,” Damiani says. “I learned that a lot of these items came from Europe, and the original owners removed the labels so they wouldn’t have to claim the pieces on their customs forms. Some of these people would mail the labels back to themselves to sew back in at a later date, but many apparently forgot to do this and these gorgeous clothes have remained label-less ever since.”
It’s obvious that Leah’s Closet is more than just a business for Damiani.
“It’s my passion and I love the stories behind each piece I come across,” she says. “To me, these clothes are a part of history. If I’m wearing something from the 1920s or ’40s, I like to imagine who wore it before me and what kind of party or event they attended. Some of the things I carry are one-of-a-kind pieces custom made years ago. The people who shop here know they’ll always find something unique that no one else will be wearing when they hit the town.
“If someone tells me what they want for an event,” Damiani continues. “I will try my hardest to find it for them. I like to help people pick out something special, and it’s fun to make suggestions and watch someone fall in love with something I’ve recommended.
“Michigan is kind of a casual place, but there are plenty of opportunities to wear something special and stand out,” she says. “And dressing up doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. A pair of jeans with tall black boots and a vintage top can look amazing and make a powerful statement. I’ve also supplied clothing for photo shoots, films and vintage fashion shows like the Michigan Modernism pre-party.
“I just like to help make people look good and feel good. Every woman likes to get a compliment, and you can be sure if you put on something unique, people will notice. It’s my job to make sure you get noticed.” NS
722 W. 11 Mile Road, Royal Oak