Revolver

by Christie Chisholm, LocalFlavor Magazine, November 2010

Das Anastasiou is a fan of cool. In the early ’80s, as a mod Londoner who had a mother with a clothing factory and a personal distaste for all things new, he fled to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and got a job working in a vintage clothing shop. He loved it. He learned the trade, climbed the ladder and eventually opened his own vintage store 14 years ago. Originally named Sparky’s and now called Revolver, Anastasiou and the store, which is co-owned with his wife, have been in Albuquerque for seven years, occupying prime real estate along Central in Nob Hill.

Anastasiou is not a T-shirt-and-jeans man. He owns a single pair of jeans (vintage, of course) and can’t remember the last time he slid them on. He finds the casual clothes most Americans wear as a daily uniform dull and uninspiring, and a bit uncouth. You’re most likely to find him in a blazer, button-up shirt, skinny tie and slacks, wearing “shoes,” as he calls them, never sneakers or, god forbid, flip-flops. He likes his clothes cool.

He likes other people who wear cool clothes, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean dressing like him, he says. It means “having personal style”—being unwilling to look like everybody else and putting care into how they present themselves. He finds modern fashion an oxymoron, believing all true revolution in the way people dress ended with an abrupt halt in the ’90s, when grunge came in and self-respect went out. 

And so Anastasiou has surrounded himself with a fortress of cool—sharp, tailored suits and shiny cufflinks, chiffon cocktail dresses and hand-beaded clutches, and a revolving auditory assortment of Donovan and the soundtrack to 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair. With thousands of pieces squeezed onto racks and shelves, perched carefully in glass cases and dangling invitingly from walls, Revolver is a colorful, crisp confection of cool. And Anastasiou looks right at home.

The hipness of vintage clothing is nothing new; but in the past three years, it’s a trend that has perhaps grown stronger due to the popularity of “Mad Men” (Anastasiou must realize this, as he put up giant signs in his display windows reading the name of the ’60s-based TV show). That cultural meme is aided by the recession, which has pushed more people to buy old rather than new. Not to say all vintage clothing is cheap—the items you’ll find in most vintage shops are usually in excellent condition, and they’re priced accordingly—but, as Anastasiou puts it, “Why go spend $1,000 on a suit when you can go here and find one for $150 that’s the same quality or better?”

Mixed in with the vintage trend is a gravitation toward recycled clothing of all sorts; thrift stores have become an increasingly popular place for fashionistas, especially twenty- and thirtysomethings. But Anastasiou isn’t interested in just anything from the past. He sticks strictly to vintage, which generally includes clothes from the ’20s through ’80s, and he looks all over the country to find the highest-quality pieces possible, estimating that he receives regular shipments from about 10 states. He won’t reveal where he finds the items that make up his massive stock, but he says, almost emphatically, that he doesn’t buy any of it from stores. In more than 20 years in the business, he says he’s gathered vast resources, and they allow him to keep his racks full. “I can make a phone call for men’s shirts,” he offers, “and within a couple weeks, there will be 500 shirts here.”

A portion of Revolver’s inventory is sourced from locals who come in to sell clothing, although because Anastasiou is so selective, he only buys a small percentage of what enters his doors. Many of the clothes he buys from that group originated in Albuquerque; they come from high-end shops in town that closed decades ago, like Paris Shoes, The Crystal Room and Stromberg’s. 

Anastasiou also takes pride in the fact that nearly all of his stock is American-made. Aside from some cheap sunglasses made in China (requested by customers), all items, down to their fabric, were constructed in the U.S. Anastasiou finds a joy in buying vintage clothes—like a treasure hunt, he combs through hundreds of articles to find a few standout pieces. Jewelry is his favorite thing to buy, especially '30s celluloid and '40s Bakelite. “I never get tired of it,” he says. “It’s cool. They don’t make jewelry like this anymore.” A number of the items in the store, including a lot of jewelry and sunglasses, are “dead stock,” meaning they’ve never been used—they’re fashion relics finally being bought for the first time.

Anastasiou doesn’t really care for that word, “fashion.” He associates it with an industry that’s sole purpose is to sell, not invent. “Fashion is death,” he says, without the slightest hint of melodrama. “It’s an entity created to buy clothes that in two or three months are out of style.” What’s in style at any given moment doesn’t generate much interest for him, either. “How many embellished T-shirts are you going to see?” he adds with a smile.

The natty shop owner equates the way people dress with the way they feel about themselves and each other, as a culture and as individuals. He’s shocked when he sees young women walk past his shop windows wearing pajamas and slippers. The downward spiral started in the ’70s, he says, when jeans became more popular and T-shirts and sneakers hit the scene in a big way. “Things that were at one point athletic became everyday wear. That’s what killed fashion,” he says. “All the comfort clothing, I think it looks terrible. I see people with a lot of disrespect; they look like slobs. It’s a culture in decline.”

But Revolver isn’t about the devolution of American culture; it’s about discovery. Anastasiou’s favorite part of his job comes in customers’ excitement over finding something they love, something “cool,” something they’ve never seen before or that’s rare. “It’s about sharing,” he says. “When they see it, and they get excited, that’s what excites me.” For the fashion-minded shopper who’s looking for a one-of-a-kind piece, he says, who wants something special and, of course, cool, it’s hard to do better than vintage.