Vintage Fashions at Decades in Blackburn

One of the fashion world's secret shops could help you find a special gift that won't break the bank. Roger Borrell reports

HEAVEN for lovers of fashion is a place reached by climbing a creaky flight of stairs leading to a large room where men once played billiards. It's a simple journey but a few have failed to make it into this promised land. Over-excited young women have been known to get as far as the door, only to lose their nerve and flee. Others, like textile graduate Hannah Livesey, made it inside and then wept tears of joy. Now, she never wants to leave.

If your dreams are filled by gorgeous swirls of 1950s taffeta spun into dramatic ball gowns, sophisticated shoes designed by Coco Chanel or exquisite Gucci handbagsall at bargain prices, then this is the place where those dreams could come true.

And it's in the unlikely setting of a Blackburn side street, inside a rabbit warren building long ago earmarked for demolition. There was a time when Decades Vintage Fashions was one of the industry's best-kept secrets, somewhere fashioner designers came to find...well, let's call it 'inspiration.' Then someone blabbed.

Fashion buyer Hannah Turner-Vaux told millions of viewers to BBC2s Twiggy's Frock Exchange that it was her favourite shop in the north - a place where she had picked up stunning items from the pre-1945 fashion world.

Inside Decades, there is an air of ordered chaos. There are items of clothing and accessories everywhere you look - wall to wall racks of maxi coats from the swinging 60s, pristine wedding dresses from the Edwardian age, cloche hats once worn by flappers from the Roaring 20s, platform shoes that would give a test pilot vertigo, glass cases packed with beaded purses, shelves full of delicate, gossamer Victorian gloves. All genuine, all ready to be worn.

It's a big room but finding the floor is a challenge. You could, quite literally, stumble over a bargain.What's more, the buildings houses another three rooms full of yet more vintage fashion.

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But don't run away with the idea this is some sort of giant jumble sale. Everything is in its place, all items have been cleaned and owner Janet Conroy has an encyclopaedic knowledge of where everything is and, more importantly, what everything is.

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