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Revival Retro



Here Digger talks to Rowena Howie at Revival Retro. Born out of Rowena's passion for swing dance and the golden age of Hollywood, Revival is located in Kingly Court adjacent to London's iconic Carnaby Street and with a number of other retro neighbours. Revival Retro offers reproduction 20s, 30s and 40s clothing and dance shoes as well as a number of accoutrements.  

Revival Retro is unique in offering a big choice of styles from these three decades and items in a variety of price ranges. Revival is alone in bringing together stock from a number of suppliers from the USA, Europe and the east. 

Rowena provides support and advice for customers worldwide who are seeking a certain look or item. Or for those who want to come in and chat about vintage over a cup of tea. 

Lady's and Men's dance shoes




Digger: What's your background Rowena?

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!

Digger: And you had to pay import tax too, no doubt?

Rowena: 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 decades.

Digger: Were you being paid for all this advice and sourcing?

Rowena: No, I continued to do it out of the love of my heart and I did one-on-one appointments.

Digger: Did you have a ‘proper job’ at the time?

Rowena: 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)

Digger: 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.

Rowena: Absolutely.

Digger: So you recognised a demand and the difference between you and most people is that you did something about it.

Rowena: 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.

Digger: Who are your typical customers?

Rowena: It started off as swing dancers, obviously, but it’s grown a lot since then.

Digger: All over the world?

Rowena: 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 beautiful dresses.

Digger: Passing trade as it were?

Rowena: 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 shapes.

Digger: If you don’t mind me saying so, you’ve got a traditional woman’s shape Rowena.

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.

Digger: What’s the source of these Rowena?





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.

Digger: Is the scene big in America?

Rowena: 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?

Digger: What did you do?

Rowena: (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 refund.

Digger: Your passion for 30s and 40s? Where did that come from?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: What services are you offering? Sourcing and that sort of thing too?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: If someone sees an item in a film, for example?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: 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!

Rowena:  Yes, exactly.

Digger: She says “Yes, that’s my colour” or “Yes, that’s my size” but they still need changing.

Rowena: 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 change it.

Digger: What makes you stand out?

Rowena: We’re the only company in London  that’s doing the vintage style reproduction rather than vintage originals.

Digger: There doesn’t have to be snobbery about that does there?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: Is there going to be a Revival empire in the future? You have an online presence as well as this shop.

Rowena: (Laughs) I think we’ll concentrate on this one to begin with but who knows? New York, Stockholm, Rio, Melbourne. Who knows?

Digger: You also do specialist dance shoes and accoutrements...

Rowena: 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.

Digger: Yes, they’re lovely. Are you planning on extending these accoutrements?

Rowena: 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 are after.

Digger: You mentioned British product?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: What about future expansion? Where do you see Revival and yourself in five years apart from on some beach with a cocktail?!

Rowena:  In five 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 different continents.





Digger: A store like Biba?

Rowena: 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 internationally.

Digger: What are the best things about what you do?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: You can’t get that with online.

Rowena: 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.

Digger: And you were at the fairs?

Rowena: Yes, the swing fairs and so on. That’s why I knew this shop was necessary.

Digger: 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?

Rowena: 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.

Digger: You are also offering quality, individuality and all those sorts of things that can't be found elsewhere.

Rowena: 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.

Digger: Well, thanks Rowena for that great insight into Revival and your vision for 1930s and 1940s retro.

Rowena: Thanks David.



Revival Retro - Vintage Style Clothing and Shoes


Revival Retro – The new vintage shopping experience. Revival clothing and shoes are the very best in modern day reproductions and reinterpretations of 1920s. 1930s and 1940s.

Revival is a stockist of Stop Staring, Re-Mix Vintage Footwear, Tara Starlet, Nicole Katherine, Aris Allen and many more specialist suppliers.

Enquiries and Telephone Orders

Call Rowena on 07725818842

You can also email me:

I will be glad to offer personal shopping appointments in store or by video call. Please contact me to book a time.

I look forward to hearing from you with any questions, queries or requests.






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