“Every two years, people say vintage is the new thing,” says Irving Baby! co-owner, Briar Petersen. “But they’ve been saying that since we started. I feel like they’ve been saying that since the dawn of time.”
The store started in 1992. Twenty-year-old Petersen, and her 19-year-old sister, Trenna Oelsnik, opened with a pile of clothes on the floor, christening it Bizarre Bazaar.
“We weren’t actually ready to be open,” Petersen says. Oelsnik agrees. “We just did it. We didn’t know anything about business. We didn’t know anything about running a store. We just learnt as we went and gave it a go.”
That adaptive attitude saw the store transition from the purely vintage Bizarre Bazaar to Irving Baby! in 1996. It added local emerging designers and in-store collaborations, the most recent of which was vinyl pop-up, GoodWax.
Over the years, fashions have fluctuated. Some trends from the late '90s and early '00s can be looked back on with a mixture of regret and fascination. Mesh vests. The Bucket hat (now clawing back from the grave). Studded belts. Butterfly clips. Irving Baby! was there for all of it, biting its tongue. “It’s like the emo thing. That came out and that was huge,” Petersen says. “You see these things explode and then they just disappear,” Oelsnik agrees.
Over the past two decades the store has moved around, starting on Rundle Mall, then Twin Street, moving to Hindley Street and ending on York Street. Highlights have included dressing Alice Cooper, chatting corduroys with the Dandy Warhols and hosting an event so rowdy the police showed up.
The event in question was a fashion parade put on for the store’s sweet 16. Sixteen local artists – including jewellery and fashion designer Naomi Murrell – presented their takes on the same basic dress. “Too much booze,” Oelsnik says succintly. “We were meant to be confined to the space, but we were spilling out on to the street,” Petersen adds. “It felt very avant-garde, just the creations that people came up with.”
The sisters talk with an easy flow, not interrupting but always leading off from what the other has said, like a Sinatra-style duet. “I can only remember one or two times when we’ve been yelling and one of us has had to run out of the store. Twice in 23 years,” Petersen says. “We’re the same size, so that caused some problems,” Oelsnik smiles.
Their surroundings, too, have evolved. When Irving Baby! first opened, Rundle Street was not the gentrified, Pressed Juice-toting strip of today. It was a bohemian refuge for the cultural fringe of the late ‘90s. As the sisters put it, it was “a little bit wild”.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” Oelsnik says. “There were particular people about town, like this really tall group with mohawks, punks, goths … ” Petersen finishes for her: “ … ferals, it was a lot wilder. In the way that people dressed and the people that were around.”
“I remember someone telling us years later that they remembered us because we were always walking through the mall with our big black hair and black coats and velvet skirts,” Oelsnik says. “We wore a lot of velvet,” Petersen says.
November 27, 2015 marked Irving Baby!’s last day of trading.
Online shopping had a significant effect on business. In the beginning, Irving Baby! embraced Facebook and found it a useful tool. But then the platform changed its outreach algorithm. Posts that were originally being seen by thousands of people were only being seen by a few hundred.
“It had a huge effect. You’ve got to be willing to pay to boost each post,” Petersen says. “I think we really tried to get our head into that online space. It’s just so much work for our price range,” Oelsnik says.
After 23 years the pair is looking forward to a break, leaving themselves time to work out what they want to do next. “I think it’s time to try and have a little bit more fun, less worry,” Oelsnik says.
That might include appreciating some of the pieces they’ve accumulated over the years. “I’ve got this animal-print raincoat which I’ve only worn once. But it comes with a matching headscarf. So I’m saving that up for when I’m 70,” Oelsnik says.
Others places to shop vintage now Irving Baby! is closed: