Atomic Passion

Atomic Passion


Neighborhood: East Village
Type of Place: Vintage Clothing

Walking down East 9th St. recently, I was struck by the number of design-oriented shops it's home to these days. Some of them, like the terrific Elaine Arsenault (handbags) and Dinosaur Hill (toys), I have already written up for this column; others I look forward to exploring. But wow--a trip along this stretch (and this is true for much of the Lower East Side, as well) makes you wonder if the area's rough-and-tumble days were a collective hallucination.

Jumping out from the parade of serene storefronts was one that looked more crowded and in-flux. The shop's door was open a crack; a Velvet Underground tune poured out onto the street. A-ha. Sensing a still-thriving link to the past, I ducked in to look around.

Turns out the hunch was right: Atomic Passion, which sells like-new vintage wares, has been in this location for 15 years, and although that's not so long in the general scheme of things, it might as well be decades given the change in the neighborhood in that time. I asked Justin Vogel, who co-owns the shop with Gigi Elmes, what he thinks about having been so ahead of the game in the now-everywhere vintage trend, and he answered that he's struck more by the number of shops in his hood than by how vintage has taken hold. "We just can't believe how much retail there is here now," he says. "When we opened it was--well, us."

The goods here are in such great shape that for a minute I didn't even realize the shop was vintage. A snappy red scarf reading "For People, Not Profit" ($16) looked brand-new. But when I spotted a pair of rainbow suspenders ($24) and acid-wash denim boots from the 80s ($110) I knew I was in vintage-ville. (I can't say I'd recommend digging the acid-wash jeans from the back of the closet; mine, at least, looked bad enough the first time around. But these boots were--somehow--adorable.)

Speaking of boots, the shoe supply here was especially impressive. I found, in top condition: fabulously sexy Givenchy stilletos from the 70s ($125); pink suede ankle boots, $110, that would look great with a hot-pink cashmere sweater on a nearby rack ($30); 70s white leather wedges ($58); and much more. If you're planning to get to the big rally in D.C. this coming weekend, or to other upcoming political events, you won't go wrong with flag-striped Doc Martens style boots (for men or women, $125) or star-and-stripe boots, $150 (more for women, perhaps; but then, David Bowie could have worn these in his Glam days).

For guys, the array of suits and jackets is impressive and includes a great green sharkskin suit, in apparently perfect condition, from the early 70s ($125). Accessories are also well represented; I loved a straw bag adorned with died-purple straw grapes ($20). I couldn't argue with the tag that described a black blouse with blue ribbon as a "super-cute crochet top" ($65); and the nighties (from around $30) and camisoles (from around $20) would go far toward spicing up Valentine's night. Housewares are also available; I especially loved the Fiorucci tins (Fiorucci jeans were sold in them back when), $45.

All in all, a great shop--and one that's planning to stick with its winning hand. "We were here when no one was doing vintage," says Vogel, "and we'll always love great vintage pieces." Some things, thank goodness, don't change.   - Pamela Grossman; Jan 20, 2007

Atomic Passion
430 E. 9th St.
New York, NY 10009