The first time I heard about Sean Crowley was a few years ago, when Rose Callahan produced a photo series and video about him and his tie collection. Fascinated by his collection of vintage clothes, I contacted him afterwards and during my last trip to New York, I was finally able to meet Sean Crowley and his girlfriend Meredith Modzelewski. Now most of the coverage about Sean has evolved around his clothes, especially his ties, but there is more to his story. While he has truly amassed a treasure of vintage clothes over the last decades, their Brooklyn apartment is fascinating tribute to their tastes – it is an expression of Sean & Meredith’s passion and lifestyle. Both of them have decorated their home together and it seams unfair just to mention him, especially because she has sacrificed a lot of closet / storage space for his collection.
When I met the two on a lovely Sunday afternoon, they kindly invited me up into their apartment and showed me their entire home. As someone who is prone to observe details, I felt like my senses were overstimulated. On the right, there was a wall full of magazines, miniature figures and vintage hats including college caps, a safari hat and a grey bowler hat – when have you seen that combination for the last time? To my left, I glimpsed at an umbrella stand full of antique canes and silk umbrellas. Later, in conversation it turned out that Sean had located an old chap who restored these old umbrellas – something I would have never thought existed in New York City. Straight ahead of me I could see a living room with a vintage rug, about a hundred liquor bottles which Sean acquired all over the place, including the internet.
As you can see in the pictures, their place is decorated with every kind of tidbit you can imagine: paintings, drawing, photographs, candle holders, boxes, figures, trays, hats… and while it would be too much for my personal taste, I admire their persistence to create their very own style based on vintage goods, militaria and memorabilia. Sean & Meredith truly are collectors that surround themselves by the things they love and I am sure if New York rent prices wouldn’t be as high, they could easily decorate a place four times the size with the treasures they have. Since it was such a lovely day, the two suggested we have a little picnic in the adjacent park, and so Sean grabbed two of his numerous blankets, Meredith brought along the tray and we had some delicious seed cake that Sean had baked earlier that day, which went perfectly with some tea and I particularly enjoyed the port wine afterwards.
How it all started
While outside, I had a chance to ask all sorts of questions and of course I was interested in how their interest in vintage items evolved and how it tied in with their careers. From an early age on, Sean was always good for a joke and quickly became the class clown. Inspired by vintage movies from the US and especially Britain, he developed an interest in clothes, one day he even wore his grandfather’s morning coat to school. Subsequently, he decided to pursue a career in the movie world, and after college he moved to LA. After a short while, he realized that this city and lifestyle was not for him and when he stumbled upon Apparel Arts magazines with drawings from the likes of Laurence Fellows and Leslie Saalburg he knew he had to move back to the east coast. Once returned, he would visit flea markets to hunt for old treasures and so he met Bobby from Boston, whom he would partner and travel together to England to buy vintage clothes and items as you know them from Ralph Lauren stores and from his apartment.
One day, his friend Derek Miller , who used to work for Ralph Lauren but now runs Barker Black, suggested that he should try to join the RL family as a tie designer. Without any formal design training in the clothing trade, he applied for a position at Ralph Lauren but because of his lack of experience, he was declined. While some would have been discouraged by such developments, Sean learned how to actually design ties and what goes into it, landing him a job with Lauren. Over the years, he has been designing for the Rugby line as well as the RRL line, which focuses on clothes with a heavily vintage inspired style.
Meredith is also infatuated with vintage items and she supports Sean in his collecting efforts even though it means that her closet space is shrinking at the same time. If it wasn’t for her slim waist and curvy hips, she would wear much more vintage clothing but as it stands it is just difficult for her to find something that truly fits. In her day job, she works as a freelance writer and social media expert but on the weekends she can visit flea markets and live the vintage inspired life they want.
The clothes of Sean Crowley
Sean is most well known for his extensive tie collection which consists upward of 3,000 ties, though that is just an estimate. His gigantic tie rack has been featured on various occasions and you have to bear in mind that every row has ties stacked on top of each other. Overall, it is a very colorful selection. In the top row, you can see his bow tie collection, which includes butterfly and batswing bow ties, as well as pointed and a few unusual shapes.
Next up, you can find micropattern ties and 1930′s inspired designs. Some of them are true vintage while others are RL replicas. Striped club and repp ties seem to be the largest part of his collection, though he seems to have a little bit of everything, including plaid ties, wool, linen or blended ties as well as knit ties. Overall, he could wear a different tie every day for more than 8 years but there is more to his collection than just ties.
Three piece tweed suits are part of his collection just as well as uniforms, a morning coat and tailcoat. Fortunately, he doesn’t just use them as show pieces, but he also wears them whenever he gets a chance. Of course, the uniforms are usually worn at parties only and I think that is fantastic. One of the hats he was particularly proud of is his grey top hat – it had signatures all over the lining dating from parties in the 1910′s – 1930′s – how cool is that?!
Apart from that, I asked to take a look at his odd waistcoats, and sure enough he had everything from doeskin, hunting vest, tattersall, herringbone, dove grey morning waistcoats etc. All of them were vintage but it is easy to see where the inspiration for many Ralph Lauren products comes from.
When I asked Sean about his thoughts on clothing etiquette and rules he made a point that he is not really interested in dressing 100% the way people did in the 1930′s, which is why they have never joined organizations such as the Art Déco society. He just happens to like the manifold options in vintage clothing and he just wears it rather than trying to match everything. So, he happily wears his the barathea silk faced tuxedo lapel with his satin silk bow tie and doesn’t care if the marcella patterns in his white tie ensemble don’t match – “That’s pedantic” he says. Personally, I like details and I also think that the v-neck of a tennis sweater looks better with a tie but most importantly it is about the wearer and how he presents himself, and Sean is a true character who enjoys wearing what he likes, and I very much appreciate that.
When I ask him about other accessories, he pulls out a drawer with all kind of suede and peccary gloves in shades of brown, grey and chamois but not black (black gloves only became popular in modern times). Also, I can find some old pocket squares with exquisitely fine hand-rolled edges – the quality of these hanks is nowhere to be found anymore. His cufflink box was rather small compared to his tie collection but it and if featured many silk knots but also beautiful chain links. Of course, he also had a wide range of collar pins, tie stick pins and pocket watches.
Vintage home decoration
Meredith and Sean have decorated everything in their home – even the kitchen and the bathroom. When you look around their apartment you find numerous little things such as knife rests, tea warmers or various kinds of silver- and glassware. Of course, when you buy vintage, you can often find true quality products for a bargain, though often times you end up with mismatched sets because you simply can’t buy a certain glass, spoon or plate anymore. In my opinion, it looks nicer if you have sets on a table that match or at least harmonize together but Sean and Meredith just decided to not care about matching at all and so their style is to almost intentionally mismatch every set. So the tea cup and saucer don’t match the plate and my spoon was different than theirs. While I probably wouldn’t do that, they created their very own style, which works perfectly for them. On the way back from the park, Sean says something along the lines of “money, can’t you buy you taste – there are so many great vintage pieces around even today but just because you have loads of money you won’t find them” – very true.
Hopefully, the two will start to sell some of their findings one day, so others with funds can benefit from their vintage expertise. In the meantime, take a look at the book Heirloom Modern by Hollister & Porter Hovey which featured Sean and Meredith along with others.
What do you think of Sean & Meredith’s style?