by stephanie dunn | April 10, 2014 | Style & Beauty
Tucked away in North Miami Beach, Madeleine Kirsh’s vintage shop, C. Madeleine’s, is brimming with style from days gone by.
Among the standout finds at C. Madeleine’s is this Mary McFadden minidress from the 1980s, cream silk organza hand-beaded with pearlized glass beads and micro sequins in an Art Deco pattern.
On Biscayne Boulevard, amid concrete strip malls selling fast food and even faster fashion, C. Madeleine’s stands as a portal to the past. At 11,000 square feet, the vintage showroom by Madeleine Kirsh houses 10 decades of fashion, with one-of-a-kind pieces dating from the Edwardian era of the late 1800s to the grunge trend of the 1990s. While the location of C. Madeleine’s is unassuming—unglamorous, even—its lust-worthy inventory serves as a reminder that the most difficult things to find are often worth the journey.
The store is organized like a museum, with each zone representing a specific period. Near the front, a couture designer area displays the most “important” pieces, like a lushly tiered, off-the-shoulder Simonetta gown from 1952. The psychedelic ’60s are nearby and easy to spot. There’s a corner devoted to outerwear from the ’70s, brimming with funky shags as well as capes and faux furs. In the back, beside the men’s area of Pac-Man tees and Bermuda shorts, is a tented “multicultural area,” where hand-embroidered vests and weathered Western wear take center stage. The southernmost corner houses the rarest finds: cream-colored confections from the ’20s alongside Victorian bracelets and hairbrushes. Then there’s the ’90s region, with its plentitude of safety-pin-covered denim jackets.
Madeleine Kirsh at her glamorous vintage mecca C. Madeleine’s.
At 62, Kirsh herself embodies an ode to personal style. Her outfit—which she admits to changing “three to four times per day”—is a mash-up of layers, decades, textures, and places. Today, her gray-green eyes peer through rhinestone-studded cat’s-eye glasses. Her violet bob is nearly the same shade as her oxblood lipstick, which, of course, matches her nails. Jewel-toned crystal strands spill down the front of a silk kimono, and the look is finished with sheer black tights and pointed-toe boots. “With attitude,” she says, “you can pull off anything.”
The sartorial force got her start in interior design and originally opened the shop as an antiques store, but eventually her love of clothing took over. Still, though, she rounds out the store’s décor with kitschy sitting areas, retro boudoir vanities, and even an old ice cream shop façade she discovered in Paducah, Kentucky. Every item has a story. Every detail evokes a feeling.
A selection of colorful jewelry on display, to set off that latest fabulous acquisition.
“In the past, shopping was an art,” says Kirsh. “My mother and I would sit and sip coffee—or Champagne on a good day—as saleswomen presented the most gorgeous pieces. One day, they brought out a magnificent Oscar de la Renta gown. My mother, slipping it on, turned to me and asked, ‘Do you think Daddy would mind me spending so much money?’ And all I remember, even to this day, is how strikingly beautiful she looked, standing there in the delicate boned corset. That sort of glamour is lost today. But not at C. Madeleine’s.”
Kirsh opened the store 12 years ago, thrilled to discover that, despite its overall newness as a destination, South Florida was a treasure trove for vintage. “By the ’50s,” she explains, “Miami was the new French Riviera. Women flocked down, bringing all of their fabulous belongings with them. So you’ll find incredible pieces from the ’50s to today right here in South Florida, oftentimes from the grandmas in Palm Beach. For older pieces from the ’20s and ’30s, I have to travel to the more metropolitan cities of the Midwest, like Chicago, where women dressed to the hilt years ago.”
While she stows away select irresistible pieces in her personal archive, Kirsh saves the rest for her customers—savvy locals, bicoastal costume designers, and clients who fly in from England, France, and South America to admire original designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, and Christian Dior. Such iconic names also bring in their fair share of celebrities. “Pharrell Williams adores our Chanel,” she says. “Katy Perry loves the ’80s. Then there’s Miley [Cyrus]…. She’s off the charts with her taste but has a tremendous sense of fashion.”
Ultimately, C. Madeleine’s is a labor of love. “This store is a piece of me, an amalgamation of my loves and treasures. At its heart, though, it’s an experience, an experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.” And, with that, she breaks out the Champagne. 13702 Biscayne Blvd., N. Miami Beach, 305-945-7770
photography by gary james