Morphew’s Founders on Creating the Ultimate Designer Vintage Warehouse

by Paige Reddinger

When Bridgette Morphew and Jason Lyon first joined forces as Paradox, they created the ultimate warehouse of designer vintage—and became a treasured secret for the world’s top designers. Now, their retail business, known as Morphew, offers up rare designer finds—and recently some original creations—to the public.

Where did you meet?
Bridgette Morphew: At a fashion show in our hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. We each had our own lines, and we were part of an art cult called Vitale Brothers. We both cut up vintage and made our own designs. St. Petersburg, Florida, was the retirement capital of the world, and back then, you could find vintage like you wouldn’t believe. We didn’t have Bergdorf—all we had were flip-flops and cutoff jean shorts—so we found our inspiration in thrift stores. It was like a treasure chest. I literally found two ounces of gold in a pair of shoes once!

How did you partner up on the business?
Jason Lyon: I eventually moved to New York and worked for a studio where we did original textile designs and collected a bit of vintage. That’s when Bridgette saw a huge opportunity. Bridgette has had a few businesses, so she went back to Florida and brought all this vintage clothing back to New York and schlepped across the Garment District, working with different designers. That was in 2005, and we were selling vintage to designers for design—our company was called Paradox. Now they call us, we don’t call them.

Which brands are you working with these days?
Morphew: We work with all the top brands. Valentino, for example—they’ll have an esoteric idea, and we already know what they’re going to want before they want it. It’s our job to be six months ahead of them. Also Ralph Lauren Collection…
Lyon: …And we recently started working with Marc Jacobs’ team. They bought some really beautiful pieces, so I’m excited to see how it inspires the collection this season. Esteban Cortázar is a good client of ours—he loves playing with the vintage. You would never know that looking at his runway, because his designs are all so original, but he will look at the cut of a sleeve or the way something’s draped, just like an architect.

When did you expand the business?
Morphew: In 2013, we opened our doors to the public as Morphew to sell to consumers, stylists, costume designers, personal collectors, and a lot of celebrities.

Who are some of the celebrities that have worn pieces from Morphew?
Morphew: All the Kardashian sisters, except Khloé.
Lyon: Suki Waterhouse just came in and bought an original design. Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie, Aerin Lauder, Kylie Minogue, Florence Welch, Sophia Bush, and Kim Kardashian have all bought original pieces as well.
Morphew: Miley Cyrus just bought a whole bunch of pieces. Gloria Vanderbilt hasn’t bought an original yet, but she’s a supporter of us. We personally helped Gloria shop for the launch of her documentary with [her son] Anderson Cooper. We got her Issey [Miyake] for her press release.

Does the Paradox part of the business still exist?
Morphew: It crosses over a little bit. We also have a print archive that is also a part of Paradox. We have 6,000 vintage trends, and we also print fabric.
Lyon: Morphew was created as more of a retail platform. The Paradox end of the business is already working well. Designers or design teams will call us and say, “Hey, can I come in on a Sunday? I’m in town for one day.” Or for example, recently we shipped out three trunks for the Kooples to shop in L.A.
Morphew: On September 1, we started being represented by The Residency in L.A. Vintage has become so popular, so Jason and I thought, “Well, how do we set ourselves apart?” I said, “Well, let’s go back to where we started and start remaking the stuff again.” So we started reworking the vintage. Jason is a self-taught couture designer. We sold his first piece to Valentino.
Lyon: I wanted to create beautiful things that were one-of-a-kind. I like creating original designs and using antique textiles, because I like the poetry of the handwork that cannot be replicated today.
Morphew: I knew from our past what Jason could do, so for two years, I was knocking on his door, saying, “What are you going to design?”
Lyon: We definitely sound off on each other with our ideas.
Morphew: I impulse-bought this really expensive fabric, and we had it for three years, just sitting in our storage. I said, “We need to get this fabric out and do something with it.”
Lyon: The bodice is like an Eastern European Victorian piece, and the hem came from a sari, and then the piece panel in the middle is from something like an Indian textile. The skirt is from the ’50s, but it was obviously made with a luxury textile. So that’s a lot of the inspiration for the collection that we’re going to be showing during New York Fashion Week—that Eastern European aesthetic of embellishment and enrichments and life and flowers, with a gilded quality. Obviously, we’re greatly inspired by Alessandro Michele and what he’s doing at Gucci. He’s bringing back life, fun, and color. But this collection was done with our own aesthetic.

Why is this season the right time for you to launch at NYFW?
Lyon: Numerous celebrities have been buying our pieces left and right. We have done a few things during Fashion Week in the past, but they were lost in the noise, so we wanted to show people we are actually designers. We use antique textiles, but we are creating original designs. We really want that to differentiate ourselves in the world of reworked vintage. As Bridgette says, “We used to take inspiration and sell it out. Now, we’re turning it on within ourselves.”

Speaking of textiles, tell us about your selection of vintage lace pieces.
Lyon: So much of what we’re doing revolves around the lace. We have beautiful vintage lace gowns, and we rework many of them. The Victorian gowns are often too small for a modern body. Oftentimes, the lace is really special. I was working with [Jean-Paul] Gaultier and he bought a ’30s knit dress from me that was made of a nice old cotton net. I said, “Oh, I am so excited you’re getting this, because you’ll be able to reproduce this and do it justice.” He just looked me straight in the eyes and said, “No, I cannot ever get this kind of net.” I said, “But you’re a French couturier!” He said, “This quality doesn’t exist anymore.” He was buying it because he liked some of the design lines. Historically, lace was worn by wealthy men because it took hundreds of hours to make and was therefore very expensive. It was like wearing a fancy watch.

Any other recent finds?
Lyon: We just bought an Esteban Cortázar polyester dress and the average vintage market price for it is $300, but the design is so cool. It’s what we call a “straight to factory” dress—a fast-fashion retailer will copy it, they’ll make a million bucks off of it.
Morphew: Then they’re happy with us, and they get a bigger budget to spend on us. The accounting department didn’t mind our invoice quite as much. So we work with companies beyond the big high-end fashion houses as well.

What are some of the rarest pieces in your collection?
Lyon: We have a top from McQueen’s shipwreck collection that’s constructed from shredded chiffon. I love it as a piece of fashion history, because that collection is what brought shredded chiffon into the fashion dialogue. We have a lot of really early Issey Miyake, too. I have this Jean-Charles de Castelbajac coat that is made out of teddy bears—that’s not exactly fashion, that’s art. We have some Versace looks with the Andy Warhol prints. We have a leopard Norma Kamali coat that was worn by Madonna that’s from 1987, or maybe earlier. We have a Versace chain metal dress from 1996 that still has the original price tag on it. It was $56,000! If you factor in inflation, that’s about $86,000 today. That’s why I think people are loving the Gucci aesthetic right now, because they really feel like they’re getting something for their money. It’s real design—not just something basic that’s done in expensive fabric.

Which trends do you think we’ll be seeing this season?
Lyon: More color, embellishment, and florals. Disco boho is a good way of putting it, thanks to the metallic, ruffles, and lace. On the minimalist front, you’re going to see more architectural clothes and oversize pieces. Comfort is still a big theme, too—that whole tracksuit moment is going to be insane. They’re going to be so ubiquitously all over the place you’re going to hate them in six months. Because there’s so much political unrest in the world, people want comfort and fantasy. Quilting is something we are loving right now. There are a lot of conversational elements in print, like birds, critters, bugs, lizards, and butterflies. Bias cuts and slip cuts are still going to be happening. That’s what the models are buying and wearing. John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana, and Donna Karan—all those ’90s minimal, slinky, ’30s-esque silhouettes. Also, right now you either wear one print head-to-toe or you need to wear four. And even the designers who are edgier and contemporary are still doing big Victoriana sleeves. Even if it’s in a washable cotton, it’s all about that element of fantasy.

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