Armed with charm, determination and a hell of an eye, Vasiliki Voulgari has built her unofficial home showroom into a den for like-minded vintage addicts
If you visit the VV vintage shop in person, you might be surprised by its appearance. This unspectacular little shop sits on Markgrafenstraße in the least cool corner of Kreuzberg, a bland little strip with low foot traffic near the Jewish Museum. None of the pieces on display command your attention immediately. Nobody – well, nobody who isn’t already in the know – would guess that this is one of Berlin’s most highly-rated vintage fashion stores. But that is just what it is, thanks to the diminutive Greek Berlinerin who has run it ever since its humble beginnings as an unofficial home showroom.
Vasiliki Voulgari is VV’s founder, owner and operator. Any time spent with Voulgari, in her store or otherwise, is an experience charged with the strength of her personality – one that mixes hospitality with the DIY grit of Berlin, plus a healthy dollop of self-determination. When she made the permanent move to Berlin five years ago, she was looking for a new challenge. She had already established her first vintage store in Greece, which she still manages remotely. “When I started selling clothes 13 years ago in Athens, there wasn’t a trend for vintage,” she recalls. “It was more about presenting outfits for friends.” The Greek capital was still reeling, financially and emotionally, from the financial crisis. After a few trips visiting friends in Berlin, Voulgari decided she would come and build a business here. “I believe in manifestation, that’s how I live my life. I knew that people would come.”
At first, she didn’t have the money to open a shop, so she ran it out of her apartment. VV’s original incarnation was as a room on the sixth floor of a Plattenbau on Alexanderplatz. “It was a secret place,” she remembers. “You had to know my phone number because you had to call me to get in.” Among the fashion cognoscenti, VV became a place of mystique, its reputation bolstered by a brilliant Instagram game. “I always referred to myself back then like a drug dealer,” Voulgari remembers. Her clandestine set-up came with advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it was intimate – the space dictated that customers had to get to know Voulgari if they wanted to buy anything, which perfectly suited her personal approach. On the other hand, the underground success could never last. As word got out about this unusual store with good prices and an impeccable selection, things got out of hand. People would queue outside the Haustür, sometimes 20 deep. One influential fashion site announced that VV was the best vintage store in Berlin, perhaps Germany. “This kind of fucked me,” Voulgari says. “I had people lining up outside my place that had come from Japan.” First the neighbours complained, then the Ordnungsamt arrived. Soon the secret shop was shuttered, and Voulgari was kicked out of the apartment. Finding herself homeless and jobless after five years in Berlin, she decided to find a real shop. Within a month, she had found the shopfront on Markgrafenstraße in Kreuzberg where VV currently operates.
The collection at VV is hard to characterise – in fact, it isn’t always precisely vintage, since much of what Voulgari sells is excess designer stock from Greece that has never been worn. Part of its appeal may be the ready availability of smaller sizes, a rare phenomenon for second-hand clothing in Germany. “I would say it’s mainly 1990s to 2000s in terms of style,” she explains. “I have some elements that feel more 1970s, but I try to cover a lot of things. I think anyone could shop here, from 15 years old to 85, it’s no problem.” Voulgari says she finds inspiration in the people she meets. “Whenever I’m outside, or on public transport, I’m always watching people to see what they are wearing. My biggest inspiration is old people – they always blow my mind with their colour combinations,” she says. “But when it comes to buying clothes, I just follow my instincts. And so far I haven’t been wrong.” Sometimes she even buys clothing simply because she could picture it on a friend, or on a regular customer; whether that person buys it or not is irrelevant, because it’s all part of her intuition about if a certain piece will sell. Visitors to VV receive a personal shopper-like experience, benefiting from Voulgari’s ability to pull out a piece that meets the desires of any style-conscious young Berliner – one that fits both their style and their body. She believes it is this connection, not the mystique, that keeps people coming back.
Voulgari also finds inspiration in the spirit of Berlin itself, a city whose history, artists and club culture have all contributed to the strength of the local vintage movement. VV is a shop built in the image of the people that visit it, and imbued with the zeal – and personality – of its owner. For anyone eager to find out what that means, the time to visit is now because, in Voulgari’s own words: “I’m not sure how many more Berlin winters I can take.”