My Subway Style Missed Connection
Turned chic meet cute.
Around 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, I got on a B train headed back to Brooklyn, when I spotted an incredibly chic woman sitting across from me. She had short curly hair and wore a white suit (brave) with large buttons and matching pearl earrings. On her feet were black suede heels, and perched precariously at her side was what appeared to be a mini Hermès ‘Kelly’ bag made out of rubber.
I had so many questions: Was her suit vintage? Her bag fake? And what was she doing heading to Brooklyn and not the Upper East Side in an outfit like that?? Also: surely, she must be European, right…? Instead of asking her any of this, though, I did something lame: I snapped a creepy, clandestine photo on my phone and shared it to my Instagram Stories as soon as I got off at my stop.
Thankfully, Instagram made up for my pitiful shyness by connecting us almost immediately afterwards. “That’s @chipvonh” someone DM’ed me. I clicked on the profile: Charlotte von Hardenburgh. In the 10 minutes that it took me to walk home from the subway, Charlotte had already seen my photo and reposted it on her own Instagram Stories. I’d been caught! She then sent me a DM herself: “Omg that’s me lol.”
We got to talking, and she told me that she and her outfit had already had quite a night before we crossed paths. Not only did one woman come up to her at a gallery opening to say that she loved her suit so much, she wanted to wear it to her wedding, she was also complimented by a group of eleven-year-old boys on Citi Bikes—the rarest and highest form of flattery.
When I finally encountered Charlotte, she was on her way home from an event uptown (knew it) celebrating Dorothy Liebes, the American textile designer and weaver, whose work is currently being exhibited at the Cooper Hewitt. I’d actually just written about the show, which I loved. Turns out, Charlotte did much of the research for it!!! It was fate; I had to meet this woman. We arranged to get coffee in Brooklyn on Friday, and when she arrived, she was just as much a vision as the last time I saw her. (She cuts her own hair!!!)
Charlotte is a design historian and educator from Boston. She currently teaches courses on the history of design, fashion, and typography at Parsons, where she got her Masters in 2022. She worked at Cooper Hewitt for three years as a curatorial and research fellow for the Dorothy Liebes exhibit, (which I recommend you see before it closes on February 4). And now, she’s working with various institutions across the country to highlight the work of influential yet underrepresented women in design. She’s currently partnering with The Jewelry Library and Weinberg Modern to showcase the work of the prolific Jewish designer Fran Hosken, whose brass bracelets she wore on the day we met.
I could listen to Charlotte talk for hours. She is a living, breathing encyclopedia—“archives are drama” is how she describes her job—and speaks with so much earnest, tender enthusiasm about fashion, design, and the women she’s researching, it’s thrilling and intoxicating to behold. Our conversation renewed my faith in both New York City and the power of a good outfit—and I’m so grateful that we were able to meet in person. Let this experience be a lesson: if you see someone stylish on the subway, say something.
Emilia: So, tell me about *the outfit.*
Charlotte: Oh my gosh, okay. So! Do you know? She’s an amazing vintage reseller who had an online/Instagram shop, and now writes this wonderful newsletter called Are You Wearing That? She recently did one with The RealReal, where she went through and curated all of her favorites. I rarely shop online, or on the RealReal. However, I trust Subrina so much, and I saw this suit, and it was the suit. It's vintage Armani, and it was $116. When I tried it on, it fit me perfectly; I didn’t have to get it tailored. The silhouette is very much Dior’s New Look, where it’s almost like a peplum. And the tailoring in the back is just incredible.
I’m impressed that you wore white on the subway.
People get intimidated by cream; they don’t want to get it dirty. But they’re clothes! Wear them! Cream is my go-to neutral. I wear it like it’s my job. My entire apartment is cream. I always say: I have a very colorful personality, so I don’t need to wear colors.
Where were you coming from that night?
So I had two events that day: One at the Jacqueline Sullivan Gallery to see “Angle of Repose.” Gorgeous show! And then I had an event on the Upper West Side at the granddaughter of an American textile designer’s apartment. The suit had just arrived and it was 68-degrees outside; it was the perfect day for it. I actually love riding the subway, because people get to see your outfit. And, from a functionality standpoint, it doesn’t wrinkle because you’re standing.
And where are the shoes from?
They are YSL. $60. They are my go-to black heels. I found them at my favorite consignment shop in Vermont, The Dorset Gallery. My family has a place in Vermont, and that’s where I spent summers growing up. But Dorset is known for being a place where rich people from New York retire. The sidewalks are made of marble. All of the marble in the entrance of the New York Public Library is actually from Dorset. Anyway, Dorset is a lovely, affluent town with a great consignment shop. You know, there are these women, and their husbands die… I found an amazing archival men’s Calvin Klein coat there as well.
And then the bag?
Ok… So do you know Rainbow? I got it there for $20 and it’s made of rubber. I also have one in white. It’s such a good fake. At the event on Tuesday night, one of the women was like, “Oh my God, I've never seen a rubber Kelly.” And I was like, “Oh, well, first time for everything!”
It’s perfect; you can wear it on the subway and in the rain.
This is gross, but one night a few months ago, I went out with the girls and drank more wine than I think I ever have because my friend knew the chef and they kept sending us bottles. In the Uber on the way home, my thought process was: if this gets bad, I can take everything out of my bag and throw up in it. Because it’s rubber! It'll clean up easily! It’s my barf Birkin.
Incredible. You mentioned that you don’t really shop online. What are some of your favorite stores in New York (besides Rainbow)?
I’m a whore for a store. I love hardware stores. (I actually made this bracelet using a bolt that I found at one.) I love grocery shopping. I just love the experience of going in and seeing who's working there. What are they wearing? What does the store look like? What does it smell like? Actually, my undergraduate thesis was all about the ideal retail experience, from the architecture to the merchandizing.
Wow, I need to read your thesis!
Oh, it’s beautiful. I hand-stitched the book cloth. And it’s short; it’s a quick read. It’s all about how there should be mirrors everywhere and soft music by Sky Ferreira playing in the background.
Anyway, there are so many stores I love, but my current favorites in New York are: the Tumbao pop-up; Chickee's vintage; B-Chic Thrift; Express Shoe Repair (if you're buying vintage, you will most likely need a good cobbler and Vlad is the best); Trim (for buttons and trimmings); and John Derian—not fashion, but SO fun.
It seems like you find things wherever you go.
My job is to be a detective. I do treasure hunts. I know what I like, so I’m gravitating more towards textures and colors. I’m not looking for labels, and I’m very frugal. For me, it’s about silhouette. I know that certain brands will look good on me, like I know that Armani looks good on me because I’ve bought a few other pieces in person. I’m also very crafty; my mother taught me everything I know. I found this other Armani suit, for example, but I didn’t love the buttons. That’s fun for me, though, because now I get to go to a button shop and find my dream buttons. I get to make it even more my own.
I got so many DMs about your Armani suit. People loved it.
When I was at the Jacqueline Sullivan Gallery, this woman around our age came up to me. She was like, “this might be a rude question, but is your suit vintage? Where is it from? I kind of want to wear it for my wedding.” And I was like, “You should wear this to your wedding.” I think she wants to keep whatever she wears to her wedding, though, which I understand. I’m going to be buried in this suit, so I’m trying to help her find something similar.
Your suit really is such a conversation starter.
As a historian, I love being able to know the stories behind pieces. For me, with what I’m wearing, I have my own story, but I wish I knew the woman whose closet these pieces came from—or the small queer man!
Well, I’m so glad I got to know the story behind yours.
Before parting ways, I realized I’d forgotten to ask Charlotte where her fabulous cream coat was from. “It’s H&M!” she said, grabbing my arm in excitement. And with that, we got back on the subway. This time, on different sides of the platform, but I was sure our paths would cross again soon.
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