Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Viva la Vintage

February 1st, 2016
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Unique Finds

Hailed as a ‘vintage clothing legend’, Irishman Oliver Harkness loves nothing more than the hunt, being on the road, whether that road leads to an auction in Ireland, a flea market in France, or a thrift store in Iowa. Scotland, Germany, Brazil, Peru and Japan are also within his trawling radar as he seeks out unique vintage pieces.


I look for those one-offs all the time, and it makes my day when I find them. I know a fair few places, but the best places are always the ones you go to for the first time. It’s always the weird places.

A self-proclaimed shopping addict, Harkness has been sourcing vintage, especially denim, for decades. As a teenager he used to have a stall at vintage mecca Camden Market in north London. But then Harkness visited his sister in Manhattan and fell in love.

I came for a holiday and ended up staying 26 years.

Harkness supported himself by  working in clubs and sourcing American vintage for friends  and clients back in England. Until he experienced his Damascene (or rather sushi) moment:

Twenty years ago I was working for a sushi bar and some Japanese guy came up and said I’ll buy your jeans  for $250. I had only just bought them for $10.  I said I’ll be back in five minutes. I ran back home. I lived nearby. That’s where it pretty much started. I thought maybe I could make this into a business.

Fast forward to 2016 and Harkness has two New York shops, one recently opened in Brooklyn, the other  Manhattan. The Brooklyn outpost located in ‘the up and coming’ part of Williamsburg on Driggs Avenue is about a ten minute walk south from trendy, hipster heaven.


The shop is spacious, light-filled and well-curated. Try and go when Harkness is in and can explain the back story – in his lovely lilting accent – to all the pieces placed around the shop from the original 1969 Jimi Hendrix posters to his serious collection of 45’s – soul, punk and Ska. Give it to me! Prices range from $8-$8,000. Yes, eight is his good luck number. (Mine is three, in case you were wondering).


The two shops trade under the name The Quality Mending Company, the same name he uses for his own brand of vintage-restored and vintage-inspired clothing and accessories. His own brand includes shoes made in England, sweaters in Ireland and Scotland, and jeans, socks and t-shirts in the States.



Old bandana fabric has been refashioned to make these multicoloured shirts …


and this jacket was made from 1940’s motorcycle trousers.


While the clothes are made for men, Harkness strongly advises women wear men’s clothing. Good, I’ll take this sweater then.


Stay tuned for this autumn’s ‘Fox hunter waistcoat’ repurposed from WWII British military boxers.

February, 2016