interview by Victoria Rumi
photography by Melissa Kuril
Rogerio De Souza owns the ever popular vintage clothing stores Flashback (2 locations) and King of Kensington in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Since 1997, Roger has been spending his time hunting for the vintage pieces that are not only impeccably designed, but are beautiful to him because of the soul and spirit they carry through years of wear and appreciation.
Tell me how you got started in the vintage industry.
Well, my mother was a seamstress of wedding gowns and I grew up with seven sisters, and you know women, they always love changing clothes. I think my influences came from them. I grew up in a house of ten women: two grandmas, my mother, and seven sisters…and I’m a straight boy, somehow. From there, a little opportunity showed up and it became my passion. I love women, I love dresses, I think one of the things you always see in my shops is nice dresses. I’m a pretty happy guy doing what I do, ten years later I still enjoy this place and dealing with customers.
What was the first store you had in the market?
Number 39 down the street (on Augusta) called Profit. I opened Flashback, number 33, after that.
What is it like to sell in the market?
The market has changed tremendously, but I think like any business in a city, they go through typical seasons that you have very interesting people coming by. The old customers were really hardcore vintage people, girls with dresses. They are not coming as much as they used to, it’s a new generation; the new comers. So there are new customers coming out of it, but it’s nice to see the old traditional girls that love and appreciate old dresses. When I started this business, I started from very little. With $2000 to rent a place and merchandise, everything started going and I have never had great expectations. I do well, it’s the only thing I do.
How do you think Kensington has changed over the years?
Historically, Kensington has changed since the 1920s and 1930s. I love the idea of Kensington market being a real traditional market, fruit market, vintage, not a lot of new stuff. There is Cobs bakery that I think fits in really well, even though they are a little chain, they sell good stuff, I buy bread there. I don’t think this is a permanent change.
Tell me how the change in the market has affected your stores.
Well, I think there is always an appreciation for vintage from people in general when change happens. SARS affected it a little bit, but even with SARS, business wasn’t terribly bad. I have customers far away in Japan, US, and sometimes what is bad on one side makes you explore the other. I believe in going fishing with more than one rod, I believe in going fishing in many ponds.
What is your favorite type of customer?
I like customers who appreciate vintage, who are very respectful with understanding old things, a dress from the 1940s or 1950s. Sometimes they are not immaculate, they don’t look perfect, those kind of people who get excited about vintage. Older things have much more detail put into them. Today if you find things really well made you have to pay a fortune, otherwise they are things that are mass produced, have no soul, no spirit, and they are artificial. When you see dresses that we sell, you know a lot of the things are what many mothers made back in the 1950s and it’s amazing. It’s very different.
In your opinion, what defines vintage?
Something unique that isn’t done in huge amounts. Back in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s, pretty much nothing was mass produced. I have a small car collection and my 1941 Buick. In 1941 they only produced 13,000, seventy years later how many of those cars are alive, maybe 500?
Do you wear vintage?
I will be 100% honest, I buy underwear and socks, besides that, and of course a new toothbrush every 3 months, there is nothing else that I buy new. I think I’m allergic to malls, every time I go to a mall I get terrible headaches. In Kensington there are a few places that sell underwear and socks that I like. I am very loyal to certain principles and vintage. I buy gas because I have 10 cars, but when it comes to clothing, no. Today I found a sweater with a beautiful fish, like a whale, in here, very nice.
Roger’s Top Ten Fashion Icons…
1. Christian Dior
2. John Galliano
3. I can’t possibly think of any more because everyone just copies everyone else!