Among the many shops on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles sits a vintage store that some celebrities and designers keep to themselves.
Just make sure to not confuse it as a thrift store.
“‘Thrift’ store is a dirty word to us,” Michelle Webb, founded and runs the vintage store along with Renee Johnston, told Yahoo Finance (video above). “Catwalk is a fashion emporium where people in the entertainment business and people that are interesting already and they don't want to look like everybody else.”
The marquee list of patrons — according to Johnson, Webb, and press reports — include Miley Cyrus, Tyler, the Creator, P. Diddy, Mike Epps, Jimmy Choo Co-Founder Tamara Mellon, Zendaya’s stylist Law Roach.
“The Gucci's t-shirts, the vintage Gucci t-shirts that we sold 20 years ago are now worth like eight times more because you can't find them,” Webb said. “You can't find them anymore. In 20 years, we've amassed a lot of clothing.”
‘We don't want to be loading furniture and we need to focus’
Johnston’s job as a costume designer and stylist — which included working on set for “This is Spinal Tap” and as a stylist for Larry Flynt’s Hustler Magazine — led her on one of The Rude Boy’s music video sets, which Webb supervised as a video commissioner for Atlantic Records.From there, they teamed up to work on projects like with En Vogue and eventually Catwalk.
“We were like, ‘What are we doing? We can't do this. We're two women. We don't want to be loading furniture and we need to focus,’” said Webb.
In a time where the secondhand apparel market is booming –– a recent Thredup study estimated that it will be be valued at around $51 billion in 2023 –– the duo moved their retail operation to California and bought a space in 2001.
“We basically had to gut this whole place and make it into a retail spot,” Johnston said. “If we had started over now, I would have taken that money that we invested into this store and I probably would have looked for a commercial property and bought our own building.”
Catwalk pays homage to the fashion runway as well as 1960s “Catwoman” Julie Newmar, has been considered by regulars as two things: a secret and a fashion museum. The owners have qualms with both of those labels.
“Is it a museum? No,” Webb said. “We're a retail store and we love to sell and we love to keep the legend living.”
‘They can find a Victorian piece here, if they ask’
The owners are hoping to educate the younger generation on the different trends through the decades, but they know the first priority is selling.
“We're resurrecting older pieces that are coming into fashion. We have all the Gucci, YSL, Chanel,” said Johnston. “If a designer comes in and they want to look at hand Victorian lace, they can find a Victorian piece here, if they ask. We go all the way up the 20s, the 30s, we do have 40s.”
“70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, rock 'n' roll t-shirts, Western, hippie, athleisure,” Webb added. “Vivienne Westwood and Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Betsy Johnson, Diane von Furstenberg, and an older pieces that go back to some older couture pieces, some earlier gowns and dresses.”
When Hollywood designer Lou Eyrich needed to find a wardrobe for her latest project —FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” — she found her way to Catwalk and collected a selection of Versace jeans.
Other celebrities and designers might go in for their next idea. And, unfortunately for Catwalk, they don’t generally disclose where that inspiration came from.
“Some people do keep us as a secret. We are their personal resource and they don't really like to give up the information,” said Johnston. “But when you have customers that we have worked with that repeatedly come back to see us 2 Chainz or Trinidad James or even Diddy... When they come here, they come because they know that they're going to get a great item that is unusual original and they love it and they get great feedback.”
‘It's all a big cycle’
When it comes to the future for Catwalk, all ideas are on the table for Johnston and Webb: They have been putting more time on their website online, hoping to attract outside investors to perhaps grow their smaller venue into a full-blown department store. The duo are also planning to play with the museum idea people keep bringing up.
“Yes, a gallery where we could represent a different designers and clothing that may have been forgotten,” said Johnston. “Styles that are not in vogue right now, but do come back into vogue like a pink Ralph Lauren t-shirt.”
In any case, Johnston and Webb are not worried about competition, inventory, or future trends of fashion. No matter what decade we enter into, some things never die — and vintage is the future: According to Thredup, secondhand apparel will fill up one-third of people’s closets by 2033.
“People are asking for the same stuff and it's all a big cycle,” Webb said. “A pink Ralph Lauren t-shirt. That's forever. Leopard is forever. People are going to always wear dresses, they're going to always wear jeans.”
“Fashion today is the best that it's ever been,” Johnston added. “I believe that you can do whatever you want to do. You can wear whatever you want to wear. You can be who you want to be. You can be original, you can follow the trends.”
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