Last week I had the opportunity to interview Lou Choklat, the owner of Foyer Vintage Store in Brooklyn, hands down my favorite place to shop! In fact, I don’t think I have ever visited and walked out empty handed. Lou has such a wonderful eclectic collection of vintage clothing, jewelry, handbags, home decor, and small furniture. See some of my favorite pieces featured in past posts here, here, here and my favorite necklace here.
Tell us a little about yourself: I am pretty nostalgic about the world as a whole, and have always been, probably this is one of the reasons I ended up opening Foyer vintage store.
Where are you from? When and why did you move to New York? I come from an interracial family (Finnish and Moroccan). I grew up in the middle of Finland, and my vivid memory of my teenage years is that I was surrounded by cold, snow, icy lakes and forests. As a teenager it felt rather confined and isolated from the rest of the world. That is when I started to imagine and dream about travelling to, and or living in exciting big cities such as New York.
You have quite a diverse background. Tell us a little about your career path: At one point in my journey here in New York, I started to do Flea market and street vending. At first with imported goods and later with used goods. This enabled me to go back and finish college which was one of my dreams. Now, I am a licensed Art therapist and I have spent most of the last ten years immersed in the field. It has become an integral part, and another great passion of mine and I love it. However, when I worked years in a clinical environment, I slowly started to miss vintage, antique items, the excitement of seeing and experiencing objects of the past and the informal existence, as well as longing to be with others who share the same interest. In addition, one of my first dreams as a teenager was that I would one day have a store in New York?! Seriously, and now I own Foyer Store in Brooklyn NY! Ideally, I would like to continue working as an Art therapist on the side.
How did growing up in a small town in Finland help shape your interest in vintage clothing? At the time I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, like I mentioned before, Finland was still very isolated from the world and trends, fashion, and music took time to reach there. Also, there weren’t many stores to buy clothes, if you wanted something special to wear you had to make it yourself or have it made. I am actually one of those persons who witnessed my mother and aunt one time use our window curtains to make their outfits to go out dancing that night. Also, in those days people would care for their clothes better, as they were not so readily available as today. And, in my opinion, I am sure everybody agrees that the quality of vintage clothing is for the most part much better than today’s wear, even as compared to current designer brands. Many of my customers desire something unique, and are willing to tailor them, instead of buying from the mass market. Ok, I admit I do buy my black pants, t-shirts etc. cheap from one of those mass marketers and they usually last up to two washes!!
What inspired you to start Foyer? I have always respected and looked up to small business owners. I grew up with my grandmother who owned one of Finland last public Sauna’s, as a child I was there watching every aspect of her running the business. Then later my mother opened her own hair salon in the eighties (and still does today!!), and there as well I learned a lot, and my mother continues to guide me and give support when I am having a hard day. So, as you see, running a business seems to run in the family.
Your store is beautifully curated. To what do you attribute your wonderful aesthetic? Thank you Zoe!! This I think comes from the creative part of me which also runs in my family as my father is an artist (painter), but I think all my family members have an artistic side or at least a love of the arts and culture. Growing up, our house was a very wild combination of Moroccan and Finnish aesthetics and artifacts, furniture and art. And, today when I arrange my store I feel as if I am constantly arranging a “Still Life”, this is the part that I enjoy the most. But it is not always easy and it is constantly oscillating between chaos and harmony, depending on the day and what sells. Also, first and foremost, this is a business, and I have to make money, so I of course keep this in mind when I display the items. My simple goal is to make it so tantalizing to customers that they are not able to leave without buying something. I also want to provide an interesting shopping experience to them.
How do you find the pieces for your store? This is like asking the recipe for Coca-Cola!!
What are the biggest challenges you face with running your own store? When I opened the store I knew I was going to run into all kinds of challenges and I have, but I take it it is only part of the business and I have to take it as such. But, I do have to say that reality TV- is causing a lot of havoc in this business as well. Consumers are fed with all kinds of misinformation and bad habits through these shows and that can be quite annoying at times. And also, the fact that many think that vintage and antiques are a dime a dozen. Ok, it might have been back in the day, but it is getting much, much more difficult. And, by the way the future does not look so good either as so much garbage was produced after the eighties… well that is my opinion. Hopefully, things will change in terms of innovation and creating better quality items in the future. I can see that already happening somewhat, and I do see a demand for it.
What do you love most about having your own store? I love to display, mend, polish the items and to see them transform from something discarded to merchandise again, and while I do that, I often feel that I tap into the collective unconsciousness’ of the past. It is very therapeutic to me, as if I was creating a watercolor painting or listening to my favorite music. I also love meeting new interesting people and collectors. I even like sweeping the front steps and talking to neighborhood people! That really makes me feel like an old fashioned proprietor.
What are your ideal future plans for Foyer? I have some ideas brewing in my mind but too early to elaborate. But, I do think I would like “just one” more store somewhere else.
Describe what you are wearing: I am wearing a “Marimekko “Blazer that I got from a flea market and a Finnish “Kalevala” Bronze necklace from the 70’s, which I collect and is part of my Finnish past and heritage.
How would you describe your personal style? It is like my store, most of the time it is chaotic and sometimes it just feels right.
Who or what influences your style? Surprisingly, I don’t like shopping for myself, I seldom find something that I really like and that I feel looks good on me. For that reason, I like to keep it simple and instead emphasize by using interesting accessories.
What are you proud of? That I am not afraid of following my dreams, no matter how absurd they sometimes may sound.
What is your favorite spring recipe? My Finnish aunts ”Strawberry shortcake”.
This entry was originally posted on Zoe's Fashion Feed on 05/25/2013 under Designer Interviews