Breathing life into antique accessories

Candid Closet

November 07, 1996|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Antique buttons and old lace speak to Cindy Rief of history. When she plucks a hat pin or belt buckle from an antique store display case, she imagines the woman who wore these accessories and the world she circulated in. Ideally, it was an outdoorsy, Merchant-Ivory world, filled with long, flowing skirts, gorgeous textures, galloping horses and country manors.

Rief does the best she can to re-create that era, with elegant touches such as storing a collection of hand-knit sweaters in an 18th century Maryland walnut linen press, a wedding gift from her father-in-law. But she bears the weight of history lightly, transforming the effect of heavy, old textiles into one that is clean and contemporary.

Rief's love of old things extends to her Victorian home in Pikesville and the antique pieces that fill it. As co-chair of the 1996 Maryland Antiques Show, which benefits the Maryland Historical Society, Rief, 42, has parlayed her fascination with the past into a good cause. This year's show, titled "Fancy Feathers: The Tradition of Birds in Maryland," opens tomorrow and continues through Sunday at the Boumi Temple. For more information, call (410) 685-3750, Ext. 329.

Talk about your favorite things.

I have a real passion for antique textiles, handmade hats, textiles, quilts, hooked rugs and handwork of any sort. I have a lot of antique lace, and hand-knit sweaters are a very big favorite; contemporary handwork from artists in England and Wales, and American designers are too.

Explain the allure of old things.

I just love to believe there was a real life to these things before I got them.

Do you have a single piece that serves you in different settings?

One piece I really love, an oldie but goodie, is a black cavalry twill riding jacket with ebony buttons. I can pair it with an evening dress or slacks and it's a great show-off for an antique pin. It's probably 12 years old. I got it at a riding store here in Maryland, but it was made in England.

Are you inspired by any designers in particular?

I love the nostalgic look of Ralph Lauren. He has had a great influence in my clothes. I also like the clean lines of Armani suits and Armani fabric -- the way it drapes, the way it feels, the texture of the tweed he uses. I feel great in [one of his] sensational tailored jackets or a sweater jacket. I wear them with classics. Long skirts are a personal trademark.

What do you take away from these designers?

Their influences carry across my wardrobe. I'm not the type of person who goes into a store and says, 'I have to have a Ralph Lauren or an Armani.' But the way I dress is drawn from different kinds of looks. I pull it all together and make it my own.

What makes your wardrobe fun?

My accessories. Accessories have to be interesting and have a sense of history or sense of mental value. My favorite is a silver Victorian oval brooch that I found in Soho many years ago. An accessory has to have detail. I love details, [such as pieces with] bird, dog and flower motifs. And then, I love buttons, buttons, buttons.

You are known for turning old accessories into new accessories.

When I go to antique shops and shows, I will find old buttons and make them into earrings. I made crystal cuff links into earrings, too. I have a jeweler do it. I also had a horse bridle ornament made into a pin. I used a silver brush handle and made it into a belt buckle. I look for vintage fabrics to make handbags and beach bags.

My favorite is an old lace bureau scarf with my grandmother's initials that I wear as a shawl.

If you had a small dinner party at home, what would you wear to go with your needlepoint rug, velvet fruit and tapestry table cloth?

It would be very played down. I'd let my accessories speak. Perhaps a velvet T-shirt, with wool slacks and a great belt with an antique belt, or crepe silk pants with some texture.

You say you are a frustrated fashion designer. Do you still sew?

For a formal party, I bought a very simple, tea-length, ink-blue silk dress. To wear it to another party, I made a wonderful organza skirt in the same color to wear over the top. It ties on the side.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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