Robert Black has spent his life hunting for treasures. As the founder of FORD/Robert Black Agency, he canvassed the fashion capitals of the world scouting for top models and talent. Now, as the co-owner of Fashion by Robert Black, he’s unearthing a different sort of artistic commodity: vintage couture.
By design, the 2,500-square-foot boutique he runs with business partner Doreen Picerne is located in Old Town Scottsdale.
“We wanted to be in the arts district where affluent travelers shop and who view fashion as art,” he says of the space, which is housed in the historic White Hogan Shop building.
The vintage boutique, which opened in 2009, sells women’s designs, select men’s items, jewelry and accessories that date from the 1920s to 1990s. Among the racks are familiar names like Oscar de la Renta, Bob Mackie and Geoffrey Beene, as well as couture created by TV, theater and film industry designers—a favorite of Black’s—such as William Travilla, who dressed Marilyn Monroe for the silver screen.
“I’m attracted to film designers because there’s an extra something, an element of punch in their creations,” he says.
The transition from discovering supermodels to securing one-of-a-kind designer frocks for resale was a natural leap for Black, who spent the ’80s building his Valley-based Robert Black Agency into an internationally-recognized model and talent agency, and then formed a groundbreaking partnership with FORD Models Inc. in 1994.
Black sold the agency in 2005, but didn’t abandon his love for discovering unusual but beautiful things.
“I’ve always worked with designers and have been surrounded by Auntie Mames who dressed to the nines,” he says, referring to Mame Dennis, the eccentric fashionista portrayed by Rosalind Russell in the 1958 film “Auntie Mame.” “And I’ve always been interested in fashion and art. It feeds my artistic side.”
Fashion by Robert Black specializes in rare clothing, yet the stylish Black doesn’t think it’s necessary to be draped in head-to-toe designer clothes to be fashion forward. He points out his Yves Saint Laurent jacket that’s paired with a denim button-down shirt from Target, Gap jeans and Gucci shoes.
“It’s not economics. You can look spectacular if you put a little effort into it,” he says, adding that he encourages his clients to mix up their vintage style. “We’re not in the costuming business. We want customers to put a contemporary twist on their couture outfit, add modern makeup and accessories and make it their own.”
Though Black views fashion as a form of creative expression, dressing well, he says, is a matter of pride and self-respect.
“We live in a disposable society and I think the eras of clothing we represent in the boutique celebrate a time when people cared about the way they looked. The clothing also represents quality. That’s why it’s still here.”
Black and Picerne have traveled the world searching for haute clothing with a past, and select items with price points that range from mall to museum budgets.
“We’re not a thrift shop, but we do offer bargains on used, out-of the-ordinary clothing in perfect condition with a history,” Black says. “People want to know that story and feel special. It’s about the find and then letting it go to our customer to have a wonderful new life.”