Robert Black on Vintage Fashion and Phoenix Style

Jill Keig

Green Joseph Magnin dress -- 1960s, $165; yellow linen floral from the late 1950s-60s,  $125.

Around here, the name Robert Black is forever linked to fashion. For years, Black ran the best-known modeling agency in town. When he sold that business, he let his passion for fashion really fly -- opening a vintage clothing and accessory store, Fashion by Robert Black, in Scottsdale last October.

Even the storefront itself is vintage. The White Hogan Shop building at 7144 E. First Avenue once housed one of Scottsdale's favorite silversmiths. (The stuff's now worth a fortune; if you find anything signed White Hogan, buy it!) Black has preserved the building down to the old display cases, in which he shows jewelry made of vintage buttons and beads.

Want names? He's got names. How about Halston and Chanel? Culled from around the country, Black's collection only includes the best. This is no thrift store -- you won't find dust, but you will find bargains on haute couture from the past. Last week, Black sat down to chat about why he made the move and to share his true feelings about flip flops at the theater.

Why the transition from modeling agency to vintage fashion? How has it been for you?

I sold my company four years ago and I love fashion. This is a new outlet for me, and Doreen [Picerne, Black's business partner] and I are passionate about our venture. I believe a recession is a good time to open a business. You are forced to run it lean and you are in a position to expand when it comes back - and it will.

What types of items do you look for and where do you get them?

(answer after the jump)


Jill Keig

Old meets new: Handcrafted cocktail rings are made with vintage buttons by Confection Jewels - $95-$175.

​Anything from the 1920's - 1980's. Each item has to be in perfect condition, fun, high quality and out of the ordinary. If it interests us, we buy it. Initially, we travelled all over to amass an inventory to open the store with, but now we get everything from private acquisitions - people come to us with their collections.

Jill Keig

Robert Black with his collection of custom-made messenger bags made exclusively for him by Mandonia.  Look closely, they're made from men's vintage sports coats - $325 each.

What is the best way to start collecting vintage fashion?

It all depends on your taste and what you like - there isn't a right or wrong. A good place to begin is with an era or designer you are interested in and to build from there, and of course, to buy the best quality your budget allows.

What are your favorite local non-vintage stores?

Of course, we love the shoes at Neiman [Marcus], but we also like to support other locally owned stores like HUB Clothing at Scottsdale Fashion Square, The Clotherie at the Biltmore [Fashion Park] and Moody Blues at The Waterfront.

Any comments on the fashion scene in Phoenix?

Hmm... It always puzzles me that we are the 5th largest city in the US and we are not known for a particular style or look. We don't have the sophistication that we should - where else can I go to the theater, and I don't mean a movie, and I'm guaranteed to see people in flip-flops and tank tops? People here don't put in much effort or give an event the respect it deserves, but thankfully that is changing.

Jill Keig

Oleg Cassini from the 1980s, $175; custom-made dress from the 1960s, $325.

Why is that? Has Phoenix expanded its appreciation for fashion and vintage clothing?

The opening of Barney's in Scottsdale definitely made people stop and take notice - it upped the fashion ante overnight. Interest in vintage exploded when Julia Roberts wore vintage Valentino to the Academy Awards almost 10 years ago, and Phoenix has followed that trend.

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