Across from Trinity Bellwoods Park on Queen Street West, a shop named 69 Vintage immediately grabs your attention – unique clothing pieces surrounding the storefront and big, white letters reads “69 Vintage… 10 Years Later”. Owner Kealan Sullivan opened her third store in August, and with a lifetime experience in fashion and vintage, she looks forward to the first full year in the Bellwoods strip.
Novella: Why did you choose this area and this name?
Kealan Sullivan: The name I had purchased when I had partners eleven years ago. I thought it was quite strong, and a little bit bold. It also had a nostalgic feel, but it had an innuendo feel as well. I just thought it was appropriate, and especially for what we were doing then, I thought it was really suitable to our aesthetic and for our personalities. So when I bought my partners out, I kept the name. That was a very conscious decision. And this particular location is a location I had my eyes on, always, even before we opened at Dovercourt. Obviously being close to the park, I felt most comfortable here. This neighbourhood, this corridor, attracts everybody, all kinds, and it’s developed really beautifully, with the French pastries shop and the French boutique, then I am here and that offers something else. Queen West, ten years ago when we chose the Dovercourt location, it was just so cutting edge and it was still affordable. It was really cool to be part of something super new, as it was developing. Settling here is right between the original 69, then I did a very specialized boutique called “V” a few blocks east of here. This one is in the middle in terms of what I was doing at both shops and also physically in the middle, so it has worked out well. It very much feels like home here.
Novella: You’ve been around for eleven years, so how did you get into this line of work?
KS: We got the lease in 2003 and opened in 2004. This was a very natural progression of my personality. I very much was overly consumed with collecting vintage as a younger person. I lived in Kensington Market for a few years and I was active in all the shops, always going and negotiating and digging through the back rooms. I became very good friends with all the storeowners there, eventually working in one of them. I was very committed at the age of probably eighteen, I would say, to doing this, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to partner with that shop I was working at, but my boss at the time wasn’t prepared to for something like that. It was intimidating, as it is to start any business, so I just slowly trucked my way down all the channels until I finally had the confidence – I started at the right age, around twenty-seven.
Novella: What inspires you?
KS: What inspires me the most is people’s style. When I see that one in one hundred person who just has an authentic take on their own style, that’s the most inspiring thing for me. And obviously, there are icons throughout time, often times that was the vision of a stylist or someone behind the scenes, but the way they projected their character through clothing is exciting to see. In terms of style, that’s what inspires me. The potential, also, like seeing things that have been forgotten about or left out of style for a while, I get really inspired by that, because I think how can you wear this in a new way, how can this be something revisited? That definitely inspires me.
Novella: How would you describe your brand of 69 Vintage?
KS: It’s funny, because right now, I feel like it is in transition, but I also think that’s kind of my brand. Somebody asked me once to describe my personal style, and I said it was always in the flow, because I’ve never settled, I will never settle on a personal style or a personal aesthetic. And same with my business; there has been a lot of transitions and experimentation, so I think now it really is about being adaptable and being unpredictable and being kind of playful and a little bit erotic, but also classic. I think that’s what that is, so it’s hard to define. But when I define it, and I can encapsulate all of that, I think I will be very satisfied. Even for spring, I’m changing the whole store again, into a whole beach vibe, and a little bit whimsical and hippie. It’s ever changing.
Novella: Where do you pick your pieces from?
KS: Everywhere I go really. I can’t go even into a different neighbourhood in Toronto without scouting something. I can’t go on vacation without scouting something. I can’t even visit a friend’s closet. I also have a huge inventory. As long as I’ve been selling, I’ve been collecting. Sometimes there come a point where I am ready to bring out a specific collection, because I feel like celebrating it or the timing is right in fashion. Or even if I open my storage unit to find a collection of dresses that needs hemming and beading, but then I can unleash fifteen gorgeous pastel dresses at once. It’s really fun, and my eyes are constantly roving.
Novella: What are you particularly excited for this year for your shop?
KS: I have freed up a lot of time, coming from three shops down to one and downsizing, so I’ve committed spending time to being creative. I have started doing a lot of customized pieces, which I’m really excited about, because that’s really what I wanted to do eleven years ago, and I got caught up running a business instead. So now I can just put my own spin on individual pieces, whether it’s restyling it, adorning it, cropping it, whatever the case may be. I’ve done it for many years, but I’ve never put my name on it, because I wasn’t prepared to devote enough time to back it up. But now I have new amounts of time and new resources to do that.
Novella: Do you participate in Vintage Crawl?
KS: Yes, we had a great one here in fall and I am looking forward to the spring one. We are going to have much later hours, maybe 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. to offer a variety mix in the summer. I’m not getting too ahead of myself, but whether it’s treats for the park or what have you, just celebrating the area.
Novella: Who or what influences you most right now in the fashion world?
KS: What’s influencing me now is my experience at Burning Man. I went last year and that kind of has changed a lot in terms of how I view my own personal style now at this age, as I am forty now. What I saw at Burning Man and what I permitted myself to wear again, I pulled out pieces from my raving days. It’s the perfect mix of a hippie raver futuristic rocker. I was very inspired by this entire culture and the freedom that people feel and experience. There’s definitely a little bit of the memory of everything that I’m doing, mostly for spring and summer, with a lot more skin and colour. Winter here is more refined for me, I’m a lot more classic in the winter. I love army wool and long, structured wool pieces.
Join Club Novella to receive 15% off at 69 Vintage until February 22nd. Follow @69_vintage to keep up with all that Kealan is up to, post your best vintage look and hashtag #NovellaVM.
Photos by Celia Fernandez