Bella Long’s journey with Columbia College Chicago runs deep, especially for the 618 S. Michigan Ave. building, which is where she honed her love for fashion as a student. So when the alumnus returned to showcase her brand, Valentine Vintage, she was happy to return to her alma mater.
“When I was asked to do this window display and come back to a place that was the reason I moved to Chicago, it felt like this wonderful bookend to my chapter here,” Long said.
Long created Valentine Vintage five years ago while majoring in Fashion Studies and has continued to grow it since her graduation in 2021. While attending Columbia, Long worked as a Fashion Study Collection student worker and displayed her senior project in the window installation at 618 S. Michigan Ave. She has turned her passion into a full-time job and established a community that resonates with trendsetters, vintage enthusiasts and ethical shoppers alike.
The fashion studies window installation at 618 S. Michigan often showcases the work of students and faculty and features local designers, shops and artists. The window typically rotates every three weeks, allowing for an ever-changing display that never leaves Michigan Ave. bleak.
Long was contacted by Noelle Bushman, administrative assistant of the Fashion Studies department, who sparked an idea in Long’s mind to create a holiday-inspired window. Long decided to use her influence to encourage people to shop for vintage or second hand items this holiday season.
The installation is adorned with white tulle that resembles a snowscape, twinkling homemade stars floating among the garments and a selection of Long’s favorite pieces that are not shy of bows, color and sparkle. Every window component is secondhand or homemade by Long herself, which she carefully selected from her studio racks to tell this story.
“I started pulling pieces for the window that were iconic pieces I’ve had for a few years,” she said. “I wanted the window to feel fun and glittery.”
Valentine Vintage is a mirror image of Long’s aesthetic and personality.
“My style has changed a lot, and even though now I’m not always wearing ‘60s-inspired outfits, that’s still my bread and butter,” she said.
Most of the items are from her personal wardrobe, but if she decides to source something, she always asks herself if she would wear it.
“You have to really love it and believe in it and want people to love each piece on your rack,” she said.
Wiktoria Gawor, a senior fashion studies major at Columbia, assisted Long in installing the window display.
“Gifting season is here, and we should shop small and support local businesses,” Gawor said. “The window installation is an accessible way of shopping from Valentine Vintage because normally, you have to make an appointment to go and see her things. And right now, it’s just at your fingertips.”
The standout feature of the window installation is its shoppable capability, which allows for seamless purchasing through a QR code.
“Vintage is this beautiful, fun and attainable thing anybody can wear,” Long said. “I hope that’s what people get from this window.”
Long’s love for the holidays has expanded to Valentine Vintage’s partner business. Inspired by the scene in Nancy Meyers’ 2005 film “The Holiday,” Long created a small monthly vintage pop-up in Chicago, Meet Cute, where she stages a “meet cute” for her favorite curated vintage brands and the shoppers. She hosted the first pop-up in her showroom and later moved to the patio at Caffé Streets in Wicker Park.
“This is a wonderful community, and there’s a place for everybody, no matter what you sell or your aesthetic,” she said. “I want people to see vintage as not just a costume but something that you can wear every day.”
Long is preparing to move to New York City, still determining the future of her brand. However, after the overwhelming response to her window display, she is excited about what lies ahead.
“Valentine Vintage is always going to be a part of me. I’ve seen how much people really adore the brand, and it’s been very sweet and overwhelming to see how much people want to keep it around,” she said. “I think Valentine Vintage and Meet Cute will still be around, but it’ll be the new chapter in New York City. Meet Cute NYC — that sounds perfect.”
Valentine Vintage’s window display will be up until Dec. 12 for viewing and shopping. For more information on the brand, visit valentinevintage.shop or instagram.com/valentinevintage_.