In the Trade
You say you’re having trouble selling your inventory in today’s market? Alice Lindholm has an answer that sure seems to be working for her. She doesn’t sell her stuff at all—she rents it.
Lindholm, along with her husband, Ron, runs Right to the Moon Alice in the hamlet of Cooks Falls near Roscoe at the southern end of New York’s Delaware County. For 25 years or so, Alice sold vintage clothing. She now only rents it—for films, television shows, commercials, and the theater—and she’s doing better
Alice Lindholm in her element.
than ever. (But don’t come here if you want to rent a poodle skirt for your high school reunion. Alice doesn’t do individual, short-term rentals. She deals only with entertainment industry pros.)
“Last year was the best year we’ve ever had,” Alice said. “We worked seven days a week every single day.”
The Lindholms work out of a former dairy barn that has been expanded and reexpanded and expanded again, so that it contains something like 40,000 square feet of old clothes. When we were setting the date to visit, Alice’s only restriction was, “You can’t come Friday because they’re mothproofing the barn.” Never heard a dealer say that before.
The 40,000-square-foot barn with one of its new additions on the left. Under the roof in the foreground are four full-size shipping containers filled with racks of clothing.
Right to the Moon Alice specializes in clothing from the 1940s through the 1990s. “We have some older stuff but not much,” Alice said. What she does have, she has in depth. If you’re doing a McCarthy-era drama with lots of FBI agents, she’s got the period men’s suits you’ll need. Or maybe your production calls for a bunch of motorcycle jackets or gold lamé dresses. Or you’re filming a steamy 1950s bedroom scene, which means your actress absolutely must have a genuine Eisenhower-era pointy bullet bra. No problem.
As a rental business, Right to the Moon Alice is relatively new and is the product of necessity. Until 2014, Alice and Ron had been selling at vintage clothing shows, but her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and could no longer set up booths. Alice said, “Ronnie’s a brilliant setup person at shows,” but the disease “ate two of his vertebrae, so we decided, ‘No more shows!’” He’s in remission now, she said; he was out doing errands on the day we visited.
As an established clothing dealer doing many shows in the greater New York area, Alice already had done some rental business, but she had never considered making it a primary occupation. “We had dabbled in film and television. One year it may have been a third of the business; another year, nonexistent.”
She recalled her first rental. She was doing a show and a designer asked, “How much are your pants?” Alice said that she replied, “I can sell you pants for sixty-five dollars.” The designer demurred and countered, “How much to rent them?” Alice made a blind stab and said, “I can rent them for forty-five.” The designer took the deal, and Alice had a new business in which she netted almost 70% of her selling price and got the clothes back too.
Women’s underwear. Flimsy bras from the 1980s are in demand. Alice said, “They’re really hard to find.”
The Lindholms were regular exhibitors at shows in the Hamptons on Long Island, at the Manhattan vintage clothing show held at the Metropolitan Pavilion, at the Sturbridge vintage clothing and textile shows held at the beginning of spring and fall near Brimfield, Massachusetts, and at Stella’s Pier shows. “We’d do really well at shows in the Hamptons; we’d do every show that was available in the Hamptons,” Alice said.
The couple’s biggest annual show was the South Beach Deco extravaganza in Miami, where they set up a 40' booth. “We sold all day long. We did well; we did well; we did well,” Alice said. They would stay in Florida from December to March. “The Deco show paid for our whole time down there.”
Alice, who seems to have an exceedingly well-developed sense of timing, noticed in about 2000 that South Beach was changing. “South Beach was the new thing, but then it wasn’t; it was tourists from Indiana.” T-shirt sellers might prosper in that market, but these weren’t the type of people looking to buy Alice’s clothes. So the Lindholms dropped Miami and concentrated on the shows in the New York area, which led to a relatively easy transition from selling to renting. At about this time, as Alice noted, “We also were selling really well on eBay and made a lot of money. But then you sensed you had to move on,” as the online-selling world evolved.
At this same time, the entertainment industry was exploding in New York City. “Thanks to [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg,” Alice said, government incentives along with the rise of online and streaming services have led to a vast expansion of the industry in New York. “In New York it’s a fairly new industry; the [former] Brooklyn Navy Yard is like a Hollywood studio with sound stages and guards at the gate. Brooklyn is rife with studios, plus there’s Silvercup [Studios] in Queens and the new Silvercup North in the Bronx.” Steiner Studios, which occupies 20 acres in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, claims to be the largest film and TV production facility outside of Hollywood. Silvercup, on the other hand, claims to be “New York City’s largest full-service film and television production facility.” Suffice it to say there’s a lot of action in the city these days.
It certainly doesn’t hurt their rental business that the Lindholms both have backgrounds that make them comfortable in the New York entertainment world. Alice was an actor, and Ron was a Broadway stagehand and lighting technician. Among other things, Alice appeared in an avant-garde Jean Dubuffet retrospective in which the actors were works of art.
She said, “We were paintings. We did it first at the Guggenheim [Museum].” The show was scheduled to go on a world tour but got only as far as Paris. “We did the Grand Palais, and then Dubuffet had a fight with the writer.” She added, “I never made money except for commercials. I did American Airlines, Maxwell House coffee, and an Alka-Seltzer one with Sammy Davis Junior.”
The couple met in a classic New York theater-world manner. Alice said, “Ronnie was doing the follow spot for The Wiz. I was doing ushering at night in the balcony. I had to work nights because, as an actor, you’re doing acting classes, voice classes, and auditions during the day. To get to his follow spot, Ronnie went through the balcony.”
As a former actor, Alice instinctively knows what production teams are looking for. “You get to know what different designers want. One told me she wanted colors like Necco wafers—licked and unlicked—and I knew exactly what she meant.” We Necco-wafer fanciers would, of course, also understand. The wafers are grayed-out and dull looking when they emerge from the wrapper but become shiny and more intense when you lick them. Alice also knows, for instance, that Woody Allen “hates blue and denim.”
The structure of entertainment productions has also contributed to the growth of the business, since almost everyone on every production is freelance and production units generally disband after shooting. “Designers, costume people, makeup people—they all scatter after the production,” Alice said. A year later, the people you worked with on one production are likely to be working on an array of projects, at least some of which are likely to call for vintage wardrobes. “It’s a very word-of-mouth business,” so personal contacts are essential.
Given how provincial New Yorkers can be, one might ask how Alice gets these folks to drive 140 miles from Queens or Brooklyn or the Bronx to tiny Cooks Falls. And there’s no train service nearby, which automatically means many New Yorkers won’t come at all. The answer, said Alice, is that “they don’t have to run around the city and get one thing here and five things there; they can get five hundred things here that they need.”
Every one of those 500 items will be individually recorded on a Right to the Moon Alice contract that lists the rental cost as well as the replacement cost should the item be ruined or lost during filming. Fancy designer clothes don’t generally rent for much more than what K-Mart stuff sells for, but they are likely to carry a much higher replacement cost, according to Alice.
The beginning of a men’s brownshoe aisle. Men’s black shoes have an equally large section of their own.
One of the women’s shoes sections. “We ship them all out in zip-lock bags,” Alice said. This helps keep pairs together and lessens the chance that renters will send them back with rubber bands around them, which is a sure way to crack delicate, old leather.
Given the intensely personal nature of the business, the Lindholms find they can’t be unreasonably dogmatic, no matter what their contract might specify. Alice gave an example. “If they ruin a shirt, they’ll maybe trade one or two back as replacements. I’m very lenient and flexible.” Everything is supposed to be cleaned before being returned, and any alterations have to be approved by her.
“Designers are incredibly respectful,” she said. Nevertheless, pieces sometimes do come back uncleaned or with unapproved alterations, the worst of which are “Hollywood hems,” which can take an hour to undo. “I get mad for a minute, but what are you going to do?”
As a rule, Alice rents items for 16 weeks, although contracts can be shorter or longer. One contract was for two years. “Everything is a negotiation,” she said. “We are considered an ‘indie’ [as opposed to the huge, long-established costume firms Hollywood uses]. We have to work twice as hard.”
The vast majority of their rentals are destined for secondary characters, bit players, and extras. Principals, not surprisingly, are likely to get special treatment with clothing of a specific color or attitude. And sometimes, Alice said, the stars’ clothing is bespoke, as were, for example, the suits Steve Buscemi wore in Boardwalk Empire, a project Right to the Moon Alice worked on.
In this field, clothing that may seem contemporary to those of us still wearing 20-year old pants has in fact already become vintage. “We’re renting nineties now,” Alice said. Even late ’90s. One project “is [set] just before nine/eleven. It’s about how the FBI and CIA didn’t talk to each other.”
Selecting the right clothing for an era requires knowledge and subtlety. For instance, she noted that “the late seventies and early eighties is a tricky era.” The wide-shoulder look was just coming in, yet many people were still dressing in the Saturday Night Fever mode of the 1970s. “We’re doing a project set in 1984, but it’s rural, so we’re dressing them in 1980.”
This is a hard picture to read, but it depicts dozens and dozens of cummerbunds in a rainbow of colors. Stretching beyond them are racks of tuxedos, formal shirts, and striped pants.
Cocktail dresses and women’s evening wear.
A small sampling of handbags. They fill a room and are hung all the way up to the high barn ceiling. Along with shoes, pocketbooks take the biggest beating. “They get destroyed a lot,” Alice said.
“Emergencies” seem to be par for the course in this business. Alice recalled one that occurred during filming of The Deuce, an HBO project featuring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco. “It’s about New York during the 1970s. As they’re in production, you get an emergency call—‘We’re having a crowd scene. We need fifty jackets!’” The series depicts the sleazy sex industry around Times Square, so the clothing must convey the flavor of New York City at a time when the city was thought to be in its death spiral. Those of us of a certain age remember the famous Daily News headline regarding a presidential declaration, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
When it comes to crowd scenes, the available clothes amount to something of a lottery for potential extras. Alice said, “For background people, they hire people to go with the clothes, not the other way.” If there isn’t a jacket that fits you, as an extra, you’re out of luck. On the day we visited Alice said, “Today, we had an emergency shipment.” An actress in an upcoming Amazon sci-fi series called Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams was being replaced. “That actress was a size four; the new actress is an eighteen.”
Clothes rented to theater productions have the hardest lives. “That stuff gets trashed because it’s going out eight times a week on actors who are singing and dancing and moving.”
Ban-Lon shirts. “They go out all the time. They’re terrific rentals,” said Alice.
A partial view of the men’s pants room. Alice now has almost her entire inventory on racks. “Nobody likes to look in tubs,” she said. Her next big job is to get every item bar-coded, which she’s in the process of doing.
When filling particularly large orders, the Lindholms call in local reinforcements. Alice said, “Good Girls Revolt [an Amazon video drama set in the 1960s] was massive for us. We had eleven high school kids here. We had to give them dinner every night.” And when there’s heavy stuff to lug, she added, “We’ll have the local football team come.”
Suits make up a major part of the Lindholms inventory. “Almost every project wants men’s suits,” Alice said. She usually rents them for $75. Women’s suits rent for a bit less because “they’re way more available” and because women have so many more choices when they need the female equivalent of a suit—skirt and blouse, blazer and pants, etc.
She has a strong kids’ department. “The most recent Woody Allen movie [which the Lindholms worked on] had lots of children.” Teenagers pose a problem. “The hardest thing to find is teenage clothing. They’re the hardest to dress. We’ve done three major projects [with teenage actors], and I’m always scurrying around looking for stuff.” Shoes are a particular challenge when dealing with teenagers. “They all have big feet.”
Children’s growth can also present a problem. Over the course of a shoot, kids continue to grow and—especially in the case of a series—they may no longer fit into the clothing that they started out wearing, even though on screen they are meant to remain the same age. Alice has a few pickers she deals with regularly and noted, “If we’ve got a big hole in our inventory—like early hip-hop denim—we send out images to the pickers.”
Alice grew up in Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, went to Boston University to study theater, and finished up at Hofstra University. Ron came from Montana. His uncles were in the New York stagehands’ union and sponsored him, which was how one got into tight New York unions. “Ronnie’s first job was the Radio City Rockettes. And he did special effects for Sesame Street,” Alice said.
While living in Manhattan in a loft on 27th Street, the couple would set up at the 26th Street flea market on weekends during the early 1980s. “We were selling antiques,” but she noticed that “we were really selling clothing and linens well.” And she had always had a fondness for old clothes. “Even as a little girl I loved hand-me-downs. I loved it.” During their flea-market period, “Ronnie didn’t want to do theater anymore, and I was aging out of acting.” So antiques, especially old clothing, became an increasingly important focus. In 1982 they bought their comfortable Victorian house along the Beaverkill River in Cooks Falls (a hamlet of Roscoe) and began fixing it up, finally moving up permanently in 1986. Coming from Montana, Ron is a dedicated fly fisherman, and the Beaverkill River is one of America’s legendary trout streams. Their house originally came with 1.75 acres, but they now own 21 acres and control a long stretch of the riverbank.
The dining room and parlor of the rambling home are completely covered—ceiling, walls, wainscoting—in decorative tin. It’s a rare and impressive survival. But it didn’t look so great when they bought the house. Alice said, “The place was a wreck. The only way you could get the layers of paint off was by sandblasting. When you went upstairs and walked around the second floor, the sand would shake out of the [downstairs] ceiling onto the first floor. For years it was like having a beach on the first floor when you came downstairs.”
The couple’s home overlooking the river.
During their house-fixing period, they discovered a way of selling vintage clothing that we’ve never come across in our years of writing this feature. They sold their wares in pop-up venues at college campuses from New York to Chicago. A friend with a connection to Cornell University was painting their house and suggested that Alice should sell her vintage stuff at the college. It turns out that colleges all over the country like to bring in outsiders to sell students goods that might not be readily available in the local area.
So Alice and Ron, partnering with everyone from student governments to one college’s pottery shop, developed a tour that encompassed 18 schools, including University of Chicago, Cornell, Columbia, Barnard, Vassar, University of Michigan, Northwestern, Oberlin, and Mount Holyoke. “We looked for schools that were arty—with good art and theater programs, and the students were well off. Cornell and Columbia were best.”
They worked this college circuit during the 1980s and into the ‘90s, by which time Alice felt it was time to move on to other things. “You sense when something has peaked. Places like Old Navy started copying vintage designs. That’s when we started doing shows.”
Alice’s sense of timing and willingness to drastically alter her business has clearly served her well. “When we were doing shows, we were just out there by ourselves like most dealers who do shows. Now we have three full-time employees and two LLCs.” But here too, Alice senses that change might be coming. New projects are having trouble being funded or are being funded at lower levels. The presidential turmoil in Washington is taking a toll, she said. “Everybody is watching their money.”
For information, contact Alice and Ron Lindholm, Right to the Moon Alice Vintage Clothing Rentals, 301 Cooks Falls Road, Roscoe, NY 12776. Phone (631) 523-5145; website (www.righttothemoonalice.com). Commercial, long-term rentals only. By appointment.
Originally published in the August 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest