In 2013, Hannah Conzelman set out from her home in Mountain Brook for Melbourne, Australia, intending to complete a one-year assignment as a social worker. That year turned into nine years, and when Hannah returned to Birmingham, she brought along a bustling online vintage clothing boutique called Devore.
“I had always dabbled in wearing vintage clothing,” Hannah says, “In Melbourne, I stumbled upon a vintage clothing shop specializing in the 1940s and earlier, which is exactly the era I’m interested in.” Her find prompted a career trajectory that continues to this day.
Feeling burned out by the demands of her job in social work, Hannah approached the antique shop’s owner with an unusual proposal: She offered to sell ten pieces from the shop, guaranteeing an excellent return. “She thought there was no way, but I did it,” Hannah recalls. After that, Hannah (who was 25 then) and her 73-year-old mentor became business partners.
Hannah learned everything she knows about vintage clothing from her mentor. “She would show me the construction of different dresses and fabrics and how to identify what era they are from,” she says. “We would sit there for hours and hours. So, whether it be the seam work, the buttons, or the addition of a zipper, I can pretty much look at a piece within 30 seconds and tell you the era.”
Inspiration Behind Every Piece
Hannah brings her love of history to her upscale vintage collection, which ranges from the Victorian era through the 1970s. “I’m super interested in historical clothing in general,” she says, “as it connects to women’s rights. You see through the eras when women started to gain their rights, in the 1940s during the war when they went to work, and you can watch the construction of clothes change. It is so amazing.”
Technology’s impact on the clothing industry also matters at Devore. Hannah explains, “After the ’40s, when machines started taking over a lot of these things, the skills disappeared. But no machine can mimic a seamstress’s work.” Devore’s collection focuses on natural fibers, including organza, silk, linen, and cotton; each piece is lovingly restored by hand. As Hannah puts it, Devore prioritizes pieces “not touched by a machine.”
She achieves this through a meticulously curated collection ranging from antique lingerie to vintage overcoats. She also prizes the help of a local dressmaker and seamstress. “She reworks many of my pieces and brings them back to life,” Hannah says.
After her mentor closed the Melbourne shop, procuring Devore’s selection in Australia was a challenge that ultimately led Hannah back to Birmingham. Here, she is in closer proximity to the pieces that most interest her. She sources her collection from all over the world, from auctions in Paris to museums in New England. Devore also houses local treasures from historical estates and interested sellers of family heirlooms.
International Clientele and Local Patrons
Each item at Devore is hand-selected and expertly restored before being presented on its website. Most of Devore’s clientele is overseas, so Hannah prioritizes “photographic storytelling and shoppable editorials to bring antique pieces back to life,” as Devore’s website explains. The story unfolds in photos showcasing each exquisite piece.
E-commerce remains a cornerstone of Devore’s business, with much of its clientele residing in London, Los Angeles, and New York City, as well as throughout France and Japan. Devore’s online success laid the foundation for opening the brick-and-mortar location in Pepper Place in the summer of 2022.
While Hannah loves pairing buyers with the perfect piece, the Devore shop only opens by appointment. This is a requirement due to the nature of her collection. Hannah explains, “Devore is like a museum of really old pieces. I source many pieces straight from museums selling off their archives, and they’ve kept these pieces in drawers you can’t even touch. So they just can’t be handled a lot. I only let in one client at a time.”
Sustainability and Contemporary Influence
Devore’s collection stretches back to the mid-1800s, but Hannah is particularly fascinated with the 1930s. When it comes to her personal style, Hannah says, “I believe in creating a fashion story, like a puzzle. You can wear a dress that is 100 years old from the ’30s, but it can look completely contemporary. You just have to pair it with the right pair of Prada satin ballet flats and a designer bag. Then it looks phenomenal.”
“In terms of ethical shopping,” Hannah continues, “that spills over to the rest of my life. I buy all my designer items secondhand.” From her vintage car to her historical home, Hannah’s value of sustainability is evident. “I just don’t see a reason to buy new things,” Hannah says, “There’s enough stuff.”
Hannah offers her vintage styling expertise to her clients, whether they come to Devore looking for a vintage wedding dress, cocktail gown, or everyday pieces. Sustainably connecting the contemporary with history fulfills Devore’s mission with each one-of-a-kind piece.
Passion Inspires at Devore
It’s hard to miss the passion behind the collection at Devore Vintage. Hannah says she still has a heart for social work and plans to follow that passion in some capacity alongside Devore. She says she learned from her entrepreneur father that following one’s passion is the key to a life well lived. “I believe that if you can turn a hobby or a passion into a career, then you’ve reached your highest self,” Hannah says.
You can shop Devore Vintage online at shopdevorevintage.com and follow Devore on Instagram at @DevoreVintage. Hannah sees clients by appointment only, which you can book here. If you have a piece Hannah would be remiss not to see, contact her at [email protected].
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