Pretty Freedom was born in the typical fashion of start-up businesses, as the brainchild (conceived over too many drinks) of two friends exhausted by corporate work life. American Apparel expats Helena Brown and Jodee Aguillon solidified their partnership after a hectic store-opening blitz for their former employer. "We realized that we were working hard, but for other people," Jodee explains.
Pretty Freedom, or "Ilus Malaya", was named for the owners' favourite words in their native languages (Estonian and Tagalog). In many other ways, the 5-month-old vintage store is a reflection of its creators. "Would you wear this?" is their buying criteria, and every piece that finds a home in the shop is something you would probably see in their own closets.
Ingrained corporate merchandising standards are hard to shake. The pair admits that they find themselves falling back on their AA doctrine, but I can't tell. The space feels like the attic you hoped your grandmother would have, full of secrets and memories and dress-up trunks. This is found-object heaven.
Curbside finds are transformed and given new life as clever shelving and lighting solutions. I ask about the vintage typewriters. I am told that they are props and "not for sale" but after a hesitation, Helena admits to a "hoarding problem". I am skeptical. Would hoarders really organize pleated skirts by colour and men's shirts by fabric type?
Evenly spaced hangers hold a curated collection of mostly mint-condition pre-worn and vintage apparel. A wardrobe worthy of Joan Holloway includes dresses that manage to be simultaneously sexy and work-appropriate, while practical milk-chocolate Celine loafers are befitting of a demure Peggy Olson. I momentarily miss having an office job.
Men's plaid flannel shirts, real fur hats, Mr. Rogers-style cardigans, and slouchy boots are reminders that fall is truly here. While I poke and covet seasonal goodies, a recent New Zealand transplant contemplates a pair of vintage leather gloves in preparation for her first Canadian deep-freeze. Yup, they've got you covered for winter, too.
In addition to vintage duds, Pretty Freedom also stocks handmade jewellery and accessories. The collections compliment the vintage aesthetic, rather than feel like afterthoughts. Romantic necklaces by Vancouver's It's Your Life, and vibrant feathery fascinators invoke times past. The recycled spirit extends beyond store props, too. A Pretty Freedom intern fashions earrings out of vintage buttons and gives souvenir spoons a new purpose as pendants and rings. While Jodee tells me that he doesn't personally craft any of the pieces, he does make a "pretty mean roast beef".
The Kensington shop, part of the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture, is unfortunately easy to miss. Unlike its neighbours, Pretty Freedom has an understated exterior that may not beckon, but becomes a delightful discovery on a lazy Pedestrian-Sunday stroll.
Writing by Dayna Winter. Photos by Dennis Marciniak.