What's your background Rowena?
My background leading up to Revival was swing dancing. I
really got into swing dancing about five years ago and I
found it amazing that at the time you couldn’t buy swing
dance shoes in the UK. So I ordered some from the States,
waited six weeks for them to arrive and they arrived and I
found out I’d ordered the wrong size!
And you had to pay import tax too, no doubt?
Yes, waited for weeks, paid import tax, got them here and
they were completely the wrong size. I bought three pairs
and they were all the wrong size. I was a little bit annoyed
at that. I had a little bit of a gap from swing dancing due
to job commitments and that sort of thing and then came back
to it and remembered just how much I love swing dancing. I
really do enjoy going out and doing it – and blues as
well. The first girl I met on the swing scene had exactly
the same problem when I got talking to her and I said
“That’s ridiculous. Somebody should solve this.” So I
got a load of swing shoes on my credit card and started
selling them around on my lessons, but, by virtue of that I
became the ‘go to person’. “Rowena, there’s this
1940s event going on. What do I wear and where do I get it?
Where can I go and find x or y?” So, in fixing people’s
problems I started stocking various dresses in various
Were you being paid for all this advice and sourcing?
No, I continued to do it out of the love of my heart and I
did one-on-one appointments.
Did you have a ‘proper job’ at the time?
I did. I was working for the Trans-Siberian Railway for the
last five years, so that was quite niche as well. I was
selling dream holidays to go across Russia and China and
Mongolia. We had a local guide because we were all about
using the local expertise. I’m used to working in sales as
a result and in very niche markets and fulfilling
customers’ dreams – that’s what we were doing at the
TSR and that’s the only similarity between that and what
I’m doing now. (Laughs)
And why not? You know, sometimes all of these things and
skills and experiences come together at the right time. And
there are probably some aspects that are quite similar.
So you recognised a demand and the difference between you
and most people is that you did something about it.
Exactly, exactly. And I don’t come from some high-fashion
background or know all the in-people or anything like that.
But I recognise what girls want and where there’s a need
and that’s where I stepped into the breach.
Who are your typical customers?
It started off as swing dancers, obviously, but it’s grown
a lot since then.
All over the world?
Yes, absolutely and literally we have followers who, if
they’re in London for two days, they will make it a
priority that they have to come to the store. And we do
international orders. In terms of who comes to us, we do get
a lot of people who live the lifestyle, whether it be swing
or rockabilly or vintage-style living. But these dresses
just have wide appeal because they are Fab and they look
great on, quite frankly. And so we get passers-by who are
only heading for a cup of tea next door and they come in and
you hear “Ooh! Ah! Ooh! Ah!” I’ve never heard so many
squeals of delight. And we have the retro barber just across
the way, and there was a guy queuing up yesterday morning
having a look and it turns out he was from Margate. I lived
in Ramsgate and he said “My wife is going to love this
place.” So people go away and tell other people. Word
tends to spread among people who are living a certain
lifestyle but also amongst people who just appreciate
Passing trade as it were?
Yes, absolutely. So I suppose the difference is, having
started in the small niche world of swing dancing, the idea
was a London-based store crossing over to everyone who loves
vintage. There are many advantages to the repro stuff rather
than the vintage originals. It’s quite funny having the
vintage festival on in London this weekend. There is a lot
to be said for finding that one vintage original that you
love and it’s in great condition and you look after it and
so on. But for most people that doesn’t happen and my
dresses are slightly altered to better fit modern women’s
If you don’t mind me saying so, you’ve got a traditional
woman’s shape Rowena.
But for those women who have a bust and hips, the curviest
attributes, you can fit into these dresses and they will
accommodate that and flatter it as well. That’s important.
So many of these old vintage original stuff is petite and
tiny. I mean, I wear size 8 shoes and I’ve got
no chance of finding vintage shoes so the fact that
we sell Re-Mix Vintage from LA is fantastic for me because I
can actually wear vintage shoes now.
What’s the source of these Rowena?
We import most of our brands. A lot from the States, some
from different European countries and even Australia as
well. And China. We do try and stock British too though.
Is the scene big in America?
Yes, LA probably has the most concentrated amount of retro
brands of anywhere really and so we are the only stockist in
London of Stop Staring, of Trashy Diva, of Re-Mix Vintage
Shoes. So that’s really good in terms of people being able
to come and buy from us and try stuff on, rather than buy
from abroad and deal with import tax and the unknowns like
we said. In my case, what do you do if it doesn’t fit and
you want to return it?
What did you do?
(Laughs) I think I sold two of the three pairs and then the
other one is still sitting at home somewhere. I didn’t
want to pay all the money to ship it back and try and get a
Your passion for 30s and 40s? Where did that come from?
There’s no history in my family of playing the swing music
at home. I think my mum made me sit down when I was about
eleven and watch Top Hat. I think at that age I said “Oh,
mum!” But it sort of happened of my own accord. In fact, I
remember when I got into swing dancing when I was living in
Melbourne for a while. I walked past a venue where there
were a lot of bars on that street and this one bar was
emanating this very different kind of music and I thought
“What’s that?” I stuck my head in the door and there
were all these people dressed up in 1940s clothing. Well,
I’m a big fancy dress fan and always go all out on that
kind of thing. I thought these people are great and the
music’s great and it turned out it was where all the local
dance organisations all grouped together and met on a Sunday
afternoon. And they actually had a big band and people were
dressed to the nines and having a great afternoon. I decided
I wanted a piece of this so when I came back to London I
started looking up where the dance lessons were and buying
CDs and watching more of the films. So I suppose I came to
it that way.
What services are you offering? Sourcing and that sort of
The advantage here is that all of these dresses come in a
variety of sizes already. But we have a really great range
of twenties, thirties and forties fashions and there’s
always something that a girl is looking for that isn’t in
existence and if there’s a demand for it then certainly
we’ll try and source it.
If someone sees an item in a film, for example?
A lot of the Stop Staring skirts have a very tight
pencil-type fitting. Then people were saying they wanted
something bigger in a swing style, more floaty, so we
brought in Trashy Divas. So we’re always fulfilling
different needs for different people. Shorter girls have
different needs from taller girls, so it’s listening to
what the girls are after and trying my best to accommodate
them. I suppose the other service we do in store is where we
do events – afternoon tea on Sunday and a bit of dress
shopping at the same time. And then talking to other local
businesses and doing hair and make-up events in store. I
have a great idea for Christmas and think we should do a
'guys only' night. Because it always seems that guys never
know what to buy for their partners. So they should come in
with a photo of their partner and say “This is the kind of
thing she has and I’ve had a look in her wardrobe and know
she wears roughly this size. Which dress here should I buy
for her?” And then we can discuss her favourite colours
and what he wants for her and so on. A few cocktails.
There’s lots of ideas for the future.
That is a good idea Rowena. Guys don’t tend to feel
comfortable or confident choosing clothes for their partners
and whenever I have she has been appreciative but always had
to replace them!
She says “Yes, that’s my colour” or “Yes, that’s
my size” but they still need changing.
It’s always nice for somebody if you have made the effort
to actually buy something rather than a gift voucher,
isn’t it? “I’ve thought it through, I tried my best
and here we are.” But if you get it wrong you can still
What makes you stand out?
We’re the only company in London
that’s doing the vintage style reproduction rather
than vintage originals.
There doesn’t have to be snobbery about that does there?
No I don’t think there does at all. These are beautiful
dresses and loved by many and I’m glad to be a service in
London that is making them available. You can come try them
on and feel glam and glitz and live the life.
Is there going to be a Revival empire in the future? You
have an online presence as well as this shop.
(Laughs) I think we’ll concentrate on this one to begin
with but who knows? New York, Stockholm, Rio,
Melbourne. Who knows?
You also do specialist dance shoes and accoutrements...
Accoutrements can be anything from the Charleston string of
pearls which we do in a normal size but also really long
ones that would be taller than me and you can loop and loop
and loop them so they come down to that knee-length in the
1920s sort of way. For guys braces, including button-on
braces, instead of the clips. In the 1940s it was strictly
buttons. We have quite a few authentic touches here but then
we also try and be inspired by the past – we have a great
range of F. Scott Fitzgerald novels that are in beautiful
art deco covers.
Yes, they’re lovely. Are you planning on extending these
Yes, I’m always looking to expand and also to support
other local designers as well. I was contacted the other day
by a girl who said she created thirties-style frilly
knickers and wanted to know if I’d be interested in
socking those. And I said “Maybe, we’ll see.” So I’m
always interested in creating a supply of stuff that people
You mentioned British product?
We stock Tara Starlet who are a British company and an
ethical company as well so they only use end of line
materials and only make all of this stuff in the UK. They do
vintage-inspired design as well and it’s nice to give
customers that option because a lot of our stuff is
imported. But I think our customers value their glamour more
than they do their carbon footprint right now.
What about future expansion? Where do you see Revival and
yourself in five years apart from on some beach with a
years’ time I hope we successfully manage to listen to our
customers and have a store where they can spend time here
with their friends. And therefore we have gone on to
A store like Biba?
Yeah, a lot of our suppliers have their own shops perhaps
but this is quite unique. There’s not a lot of shops
around the world who bring together all reproduction and
different brands all under one roof. This is key in terms of
being able to put together Tara Starlet shorts with a Nicole
Katherine blouse and being able to see all reproduction stuff
in one space. So maybe that is something we can take
What are the best things about what you do?
It’s about making people happy. What I said before about
those squeals of delight, those "Ooh and Ahhs."
That’s what makes my day rewarding – they love it.
You can’t get that with online.
No. All the time I was doing online I always
invited people to my house to try things on. So I did
have a lot of interaction with my customers.
And you were at the fairs?
Yes, the swing fairs and so on. That’s why I knew this
shop was necessary.
Some people who promote on my site – and they all have a
web presence, say they’d never open a shop and some say
they have to have a shop. Strange isn’t it?
Offering that service where people could come to my house
– being online and seeing a few dresses they like and
knowing they’re going to buy at least one. I have a lot of
Londoners come to see me but I also have a lady from Brighton
and a lady from Derby and people will make a special trip to
Revival just to try on all these dresses. The lady from
Derby has even come back and bought a dress she didn’t buy
on the day but knew was her second or third option as well.
She comes back time and time again. It’s those girls,
coming to my house, looking at the dresses and having a natter
and a cup of tea and trying the dresses on and hearing the
squeals of delight. That is how I knew, by talking to my
customers, that this was the right step for me. Now we hope
to make this shop a success and our home in the future.
You are also offering quality, individuality and all those
sorts of things that can't be found elsewhere.
I don’t deny that some women do love vintage originals so
they can be pretty sure their items are unique. You may turn
up to a Blitz party and see several girls wearing the same
dress, but in 1940s rationing wartime the same thing would
have applied. We do have a big selection of styles and
manufacturers here though and these dresses really do look
very different on different ladies. They can look like two
different dresses. But our customers will come and see for
themselves and see what they like. As for quality and
affordability, we cover the whole spectrum from £40 through
to £400. The difference in the quality is reflected in the price
and the high-end items are hand-made by small teams of
expert seamstresses in Germany which will be completely
different from the items mass-produced in China.
Well, thanks Rowena for that great insight into Revival and
your vision for 1930s and 1940s retro.