By Simon Albaugh
HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – Most days, City Mayor Karen Majewski is sitting in the storefront of Tekla Vintage. Close to the center of the Jos. Campau streetway, it looks like one of the floors of an old department store transplanted straight from the ‘50s. The jewelry counter glimmers off to the side and luxurious fabrics seems to glow from the dozens of racks.
Majewski says this is just the beginning of her collection. She explains that all the pieces could fill three stores with all of the vintage clothing she’s collected over the years. Since the ‘70s, she’s worked to refine a taste that she says transcends styles and trends. “It’s just about the feel of the fabric, the cut, the design,” says Majewski.
Mayor Karen Majewski sits at the counter of Tekla Vintage
The golden age of vintage, if there were one, was just beginning when Majewski first started her collection. The 20-year rule, mandating that anything less than 20 years old can’t be considered vintage, was taking the search back to the 1950s when clothing went through a high-point of quality.
“I’ve been doing this all my adult life, in one way or another,” Majewski said. And the results of that collection have now become an inseparable part of Hamtramck. Similar to the diversity of the city, there’s a world of clients who come in to browse. Everyone from native Detroiters and hipster transplants to French tourists and Japanese Vintage Dealers have bought from the small store.
It’s all part of Majewski’s life mission, she explains. In an illustrious academic career, dancing and even entrepreneurial pursuits, it’s about finding beauty and sending it out into the world. It’s her life’s mission, she says, “finding the beauty and the value of the things that other people have discarded.”
“This authentic stuff should be out in the world, right?” Majewski said. “It should be out in the world. And it should be worn until it falls apart. You should spill wine on it. These aren’t museum pieces, and they deserve a life out in the world.
“You know, your mother loved them, your grandma loved them and wore them and now they need to not sit in somebody’s trunk or closet, they need to be set free. And I hope that when people wear them, they feel like they’re setting themselves free.”
Joanna Komajda-Smith shows off the Rat Queen in the Window (Right)
RAT QUEEN VINTAGE
There may be no other place quite like it. Not in Hamtramck, and not outside the city. Helping define the city’s eclectic clothing culture is Rat Queen Vintage – complete with a real rat queen in its storefront windows.
Okay, so it’s a masked mannequin. But walk inside and you’ll find a well-curated collection matching the funky vision of Joanna Komajda-Smith. Coming into Hamtramck’s vintage clothing scene just two years ago, she’s established Rat Queen as a Vintage institution in the city.
With all the vintage stores operating in the city, there’s bound to be competition. This is something that Komajda-Smith says she loves about her store’s location.
“Competition is good, because every vintage shop owner has their own aesthetic completely.” Komajda-Smith said. “We all like vintage, but you can’t walk into two, three, four vintage stores and find the same inventory. We’re not a chain. So every single vintage store is going to have completely different stuff. All of our aesthetics are different.”
When you have enough stores, each with their own aesthetic and Niche, a city can become a sort of destination for vintage clothing. While each owner is looking to keep the look of their store special, people have started to come to Hamtramck to shop at all the vintage stores.
So each store looks to set themselves apart. This is how the curatorial skills of each owner comes in. Komajda-Smith says this is a nuanced process. Not only is it design and texture, but it’s feeling.
“Just because something is vintage doesn’t mean it’s good,” Komajda-Smith said. “If I don’t like it – if it doesn’t move me in some way, doesn’t make me emotional or make me go oh my god, that is like the baby Jesus of vintage” then it doesn’t make it on the racks of Rat Queen Vintage.
LO AND BEHOLD
Although not exclusively a vintage store – and not exclusively anything really – this combined record shop, vintage dealer and workspace comes right out of the old, DIY Culture that once showed anything was possible in Detroit. Run by Richard Wohlfeil, this space where books have been written, music produced, and generations connected feels like an enclave in itself straight from the 1960s.
Walking into the store, you’ll see people browsing the vast record collection. People from all walks of life come in for the crates of R&B, Soul, Folk and Rock-n-Roll vinyls that are amassed over every corner of the storefront’s showroom. To the sides, you’ll see old clothes in funky styles and a massive collection of old cassette tapes and used books.
Lo and Behold is run by Richard Wohlfeil. Although he’s the owner, he looks more like a transplant straight from the art world of 1980s SoHo, New York. When anyone has a project they need done, a record pressed or music recorded, he opens up the space.
“We sell records,” Wohlfeil said. “And, more than that we make records. Publish books, restore old prints. Sell them… You know, it’s like a workspace. It’s a project space.”
Recently, someone worked for the better part of five years to research, write and publish a book out of the storefront. Sitting at the center of the store is a stack of fresh copies. “So you know, I’m honoring his book,” Wohlfeil said.
Not exclusively anything, Wohlfeil calls the amalgamation of selling space, records and creative publishing equipment a hub for creatives.
“That’s how this whole place is, you know. It’s like a little incubator.”