An Interview with Terri Davis Stafford, Owner of Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry

Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry; Photo: Jenna Salak

Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry; Photo: Jenna Salak

Terri Davis Stafford, Chicago based entrepreneur and small business owner of Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry, invited me to her condo in Ukrainian Village last week to dish about her life as a world traveler, coming back to her midwest roots and of course, starting her own vintage jewelry business! Before we dive into the nitty gritty, here’s a quick glance at Terri’s life thus far:

Front CameraWho: Terri Davis Stafford

Location: Chicago, IL

Occupation: Founder/Owner of Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry; Personal Stylist/Consultant Carlisle

Previous Experiences: Advertising Executive (NYC), Interior Designer (United Kingdom)

Personal Style: 1960’s Modernist meets 1930’s Hollywood Regency

Background Information

Salak: Where did you grow up?

Stafford: I grew up in the midwest then moved to New York and I just returned from England, where I lived for the past 12 years.

Salak: Tell me a little bit about your background, where you went to school and what influenced you to get into the fashion industry.

Stafford: It’s interesting because I am not your typical person who’s traveled from Point A to Point B. I’m definitely of a creative mind so my journey has been a little more sporadic than most. I went to school and graduated from University Wisconsin Madison with a degree in Journalism and Psychology,  and an advertising emphasis. I have always been interested in why people do what they do, and it just seemed to fit with my passion for communications.

The two of those subject matters seemed to fit really well together and helped me find success as an advertising executive for 15 years. I met the love of my life in NYC and decided to quit my job cold-turkey and embark on an adventure, which ended up taking me overseas to England.

Salak: Did you continue to work in advertising overseas?

Stafford: In the process of quitting my job and living in England I worked as a brand consultant in Finland and Sweden. I also ended up going back to school to study interior design. From there I used my degree and creative mindset to help build home and restaurant interiors. I’ve always loved shapes, colors and textures as well as fashion from a personal standpoint so this career jump was  a natural progression for myself.

Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry

Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry

Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry; Photo: Jenna Salak

Salak: Why did you return to the states?

Stafford: Essentially I needed a change from England –  I decided to come back to Chicago and start fresh here. After moving back, I was visiting with a good friend of mine. We were talking in her bedroom and I was admiring a few vintage pieces at the bottom of her bed and I just thought, “hmm I’ve never explored that,” so I started to visit vintage shops.

Salak: Would you say then that your friend’s vintage jewelry collection inspired you to start Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry?

Stafford: My friend, who is a very well-known designer here in Chicago, had this Maltese Cross that I could not stop looking at and I said to her, “I can’t wear things like this, the piece wears me” and she said “of course you can!” It was a long, statement runway piece and it looked great on me. And she has such an eye so I trust her of course.

That necklace was what got me hunting in the beginning and from there it was the excitement that occurred around others. After I purchased a few items and began wearing the pieces around, people were literally coming up to me on the street wanting to buy the jewelry right off of me.

Salak: What drew you to vintage rather than modern pieces?

Stafford: To be honest, before I started wearing vintage I was not a jewelry person. I’m a visual person, and a woman who loves fashion, but I was never the type to wear a ring, a bracelet, a watch, a necklace and earrings. Now, I have come to appreciate a piece for its history and past rather than just trying to pile on piece after piece.

When most people think of vintage, they assume it’s old, dirty and damaged, so I really started focusing on collecting items that have been preserved really well. It’s true that there are a lot of pieces out there that have not been properly taken care of so I began to focus on pieces that looked new to me but were at least 20 years old. In fact the definition of vintage constitutes that a piece be between 20 and 99 years old. Anything that is 100 years+ is then considered to be antique. Anything that is a book piece, has a signature or is well known becomes increasingly valuable over time. Vintage jewelry is like a one-of-a-kind piece of art and the better the condition the more valuable it becomes.

I just more than anything love art history and what the influences were at the time a particular piece was made … What were women doing at the time, what was popular in fashion, what was happening in society, etc. These questions and pieces of vintage jewelry, to me, mean that every item has a soul.

Salak: What is the most rewarding aspect of selling one of your acquired pieces?

Stafford: The joy is to see someone walk away with one of my pieces knowing that they are just as happy as I was when I originally purchased it. It’s also fun to try and decipher a new client’s particular style; Most people will look at my table of things and realize that nothing really goes with one another. The fascinating part is that most jewelry buyers are attracted to a certain style esthetic and don’t even really realize it. I’ll work with a client and just let her look around – usually she is drawn to one or two specific items that end up coming from the same time period.

Salak: So you’re saying that your clients typically fall into a specific era or decade based on the pieces they buy?

Stafford: Yes, people are definitely drawn to a specific decade. You’ll look at someone and see how they dress and say “oh she’s a 50s girl” with her cardigan and pearls on then when she takes a look at what I have, she’ll end up picking the 50s pieces.

Salak: What era or decade then do you fall under?

Stafford: Me personally, I’m a 60s girl. I’ve bought a few pieces from that era that then inspired me to purchase a few patio dresses to go with my jewelry. There is just something about the 60s – the graphic patterns, beehive hairstyles and broader social aspects going on at that time, such as women entering the workforce, exploring their sexuality and really pushing the envelope.

Salak: Can you tell me a little bit more in depth of how your business is run?

Stafford: I host private parties out of my home four times a year. I will also host a party for someone else, provided they can gather at least 15 girlfriends together. I participate in trade shows and sell online. But it’s great to actually see how women interact with the jewelry.

Salak: What was the deciding factor that led you to deal with business from your home rather than opening a store?

Stafford: I just simply hate the idea of being constrained to a store. This gives me the flexibility to get around, meet more people. I was so used to having control over my schedule in England that this felt right for me.

Salak: Do you have any advice for young women who are looking to start their own business or work in the fashion industry?

Stafford: I’ve got advice for everybody! I would say, A) follow your heart and B) don’t limit yourself or feel like you’re wasting your time because you aren’t doing what you went to school for. Look at me, I am doing something completely different from what I initially invested my time and money into. That being said, you also have to be prepared to work hard.

I wake up every day and I am Facebooking and Tweeting to drum up new opportunities to show people what I am doing. Some days you’ll wake up and feel like “God I can’t do this anymore” then I’ll have a great show and watch the client walk away with a costumier bag and it all makes sense.

Salak: What is your favorite item you’ve ever come across?

Stafford: I always have favorites because the pieces rotate so quickly. I love Whiting and Davis – the designer patented this metal mesh technology and has been using it to make flapper bags since the 1920s and they are still around today.

I also love Kenneth Jay Lane’s Egyptian revival designs. Egyptian Revival began when Tutankhamun’s tomb was uncovered in 1922. When pieces were showcased during the World Fair during the 1930s, this esthetic became very popular. We then saw it resurge in the 60s after Elizabeth Taylor debuted as “Cleopatra.”

Kenneth Jay Lane, Vintage

Kenneth Jay Lane, Vintage; Photo: Jenna Salak

Take a look through the gallery for more vintage pieces available at Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry below:

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For further details regarding any of the jewelry featured in this post, please contact Terri Davis Stafford, owner of Costumier Vintage Runway Jewelry via Facebook or by visiting

Working as a Consultant for Carlisle

Carlisle Collection

Carlisle Collection; Photo: Jenna Salak

Salak: In addition to running your own jewelry business, you also work as a consultant for a high end designer brand?

Stafford: Yes, a woman whom I sold a pair of earrings to at a market event approached me about Carlisle. At the time, I was looking for a second source of income and thought that it was a good fit because it’s a similar industry and would complement my jewelry business.

Salak: Can you elaborate a bit about the clothing line and why you decided to become a personal stylist for the brand?

Stafford: Well, I met with my client and ended up having a fitting session to see how the clothes looked and get more information about the business. At first glance, I was a bit iffy about the styles and prices but after slipping on one of the jackets I realized why these clothes are so fantastic – I mean that coat just fit me like a glove. These items are pieces that you are going to have for the rest of your life, a staple or statement piece and that’s what I love.

Salak: What other designers would you compare Carlisle to?

Stafford: Many people don’t necessarily know that the materials Carlisle uses are sourced from the same fabric houses that ChanelUngaro and Valentino are using as well.

Carlisle is very classic and sophisticated and Per Se tends to be slightly more casual, but both lines are very well tailored. Per Se tended to be where a lot of my taste was. The new Per Se White Label is a youthful interpretation of the line. And I love it!

Carlisle is a high-end fashion company that offers classically tailored collections of beautiful clothes and accessories by private appointment with consultants throughout the country. Terri will have the Carlisle, Per Se, and Per Se White Label available – All are a part of the Fall & Holiday 2013 Collections, which she will be showcasing at her upcoming trunk show at the Four Seasons in Chicago. Both Carlisle and Per Se are great for professional, working women not only because of the comfortable fit, but also because of the quality of the material. Please email Terri Stafford at to reserve your spot during the Trunk Show at the Four Seasons from Sep. 16-20. 


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