Story by Paul Aguirre-Livingston. Illustration by Ayalah Hutchins.
This week, I’m taking a break from profiling fashion designers to focus on what keeps fashion in business: the retailers. As the owner of both 69 Vintage and 69 Collective/Buy the Pound, Kealan Sullivan is Toronto’s vintage queen. Kealan has her finger on the pulse on what is nouveau, but her cool-hunting skills are paired with an equally honed education in what makes an excellent vintage piece. Her taste is instinctive and sartorially encompassing: Flipping through the racks at 69, you’ll find everything from sweet satin prom dresses to original Levi’s cut-off denim vests.
Tell me about your journey. How did you get into vintage?
“It all started with collecting hundreds of pieces of baby and doll clothes from the Salvation Army, using all of my allowance at 6 years old.”
Do you have a favourite fashion memory?
“The first time I heard ‘You’re Kealan Sullivan.’ Really, it means nothing but this was my best friend’s usual response to the question I asked so often: ‘Can I seriously wear this?’ Her reply gave me courage. It still does.”
What makes you decide if you’re going to buy a certain garment for the store? Is there a “Kealan Criteria”?
“There are five rules:
#1 No damage.
#2 No fabric that pills.
#3 No fake vintage.
#4 Nothing made in a third world country except handmade goods/craft works.
#5 The more signs of love and work on denim and leather the better.”
What inspires you?
“History inspires me (literally his/her story), learned though stories, artifacts, and images of the past.”
What is the best part of your job? The worst?
“Everything amazing about my job and my business is also the worst. Sourcing vintage goods is totally unpredictable. Every day could be the day you find ‘the thing’ so there is a constant anxiety. It is a business of a lot of luck and a lot of disappointment too.”
Who is your favourite person (other than a designer) in the fashion world?
In film, which character’s style do you most admire?
“Faye Dunaway. Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Barfly, The Thomas Crown Affair, and on and on…”
Which literary hero do you most identify with?
“Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. She is edgy and unconventional.”
Lady Gaga. Is she: a fashion revolution, a fad or a fake?
“Lady Gaga is a reminder. She has carefully and expertly drawn from all of the great, liberated female entertainers that came before her (Cher, Grace Jones, Madonna, to name a few) and has brought that same spirit of experimentation and expression to a new generation.”
A few of Kealan’s favourite things, starting with the always chic Kate Moss.
Kate in vintage Dior, 2007.
The impeccable Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.
And with Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde.
The classic novel, published in 1960.
Tomorrow: Check back for part II with Kealan: her advice for novice vintage shoppers, the pieces she could never part with, and her tips on what to do in her hometown, Gravenhurst Ont. (Think bush parties and water skiing.)
In the meantime, read Torontoist’s profile of Kealan, and check out our interviews with other fascinating fashion personalities—Robin Givhan, Nathalie Atkinson, Anastasia Lomonova, Amanda Lew Kee and many more—in our Talk to Me section.