WHEN she’s not busy categorising her fashion collection according to the Dewey Decimal Classification, local stylist, vintage dealer and ex-librarian Mel O’Brien is hunting down vintage clothes that fit within the ideal of her online shop, Librarian Chic.“Pearls and glasses are a staple, of course,” she says. “But it’s more about taking classic looks and wearing them in a contemporary way. Like red lipstick by day, or a mix of tweed and satin – practicality blended with imagination. I have great love for clothes that wear well, with a story woven into each item.
“When I worked in the reading room at the National Library I’d see the most fashionable women in beautifully tailored suits, outfits put together with great attention to detail. It was like they were dressing up for those beautiful books. I loved that.”
History teacher Mel says she’s still a librarian at heart. “I have a deep desire to put things in order,” she says.
“I suppose that’s why I love building a collection and I can’t resist giving all the clothes Deweys. I also feel that collecting these clothes, to pass on to women who will love and cherish them, ties all the pieces of the puzzle together for me – history, fashion and cataloguing.”
Mel says that part of what she loves about vintage – even though she prefers to call her clothes “timeless” – is that it’s a backlash against fast fashion.
“Shopping should be about curating a collection, building a wardrobe you love and will adore forever,” she says.
“If the focus is on items that are loved, and that fit in with a woman’s lifestyle and character, then they’ll never go out of style. I like to think of it as styling for savvy women; it’s not frivolous but it’s fun and sustainable.
“I like to dress edgily. I’m interested in aspirational purchases, and I want things to last.”
Along with her assistant Nathan Harris, whom she met and clicked with “over a flamboyant ‘80s bolero” at the Folk Festival last year, Mel says she sources her handpicked pieces mostly through travels to Sydney and Melbourne, but that people also contact her.
“I’ve had diplomats’ wives get in touch with me, saying they have items I may be interested in,” she says. “That’s when I find the most amazing clothes in beautiful condition that they just don’t have a use for anymore. In most cases, they’re still sentimental about the clothes and they want them to go to the right place.”
She doesn’t feel the need to hang on to pieces herself though, and says that her regular stall at Fash’n’Treasure in the Old Bus Depot Markets is a particularly delicious part of her job.
“It’s satisfying to make connections with people, and to help facilitate Cinderella moments when they find an item that’s perfect for them,” she says.
“I love the interaction between women and clothing, and what feels right. There’s nothing better than seeing someone fall in love with an item they’ll cherish. I see them coming out of the change room cuddling the clothes! And that’s what it’s about.
“I think this is the future direction of fashion, it feels right. I love the stories, meeting people, starting something.
“Fashion is definitely the love of my life.”