• Tamarah Webb

Rehab’d Vintage in Chicago

By Tamarah Webb | May 2014

Photo courtesy Dionna Nicole. 

The night before the fashion show, Dionna Nicole was at home examining a puffy-sleeved tan dress. “I’ll take this one!” said Nicole when she placed the little dress on the counter of a vintage boutique in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, earlier that day. Nicole got the dress home knowing it would make the perfect outfit when she attended the show the following day.

As she looked it over, she soon realized a little TLC would do her new purchase some good. Getting to work, Nicole cut, hemmed, and glued buttons down the front of the dress.

“Oh my God, your dress is so cute,” said a student when Nicole arrived at the International Academy of Design and Technology show of 2010. It wasn’t the first time 26-year-old Nicole had received praise for one of her designs. After a fashion find and rehab ritual, admirers often asked, “Oh my, what is this?” and “Let me get that!”

Nicole has since relocated to Chicago where her edgy eclectic mixes of designs will appear in the spring issue of Level Up magazine. “It is my first time in print,” 30-year-old Nicole said. Inspired by the ’80s and ’90s, Nicole’s clothes are vintage but with a 2014 flare. “I try to keep it current, so you don’t look like you just stepped out of the Cosby Show,” explains Nicole.

Titling her collection of the Rehab’d Vintage Boutique, Nicole uses messages that suggest drug addiction like “dope” and “crack” to describe her pieces. “My slogan is ‘become a druggie for dope fashion,’” she said.  Nicole describes her customers as junkies for fashion as they come back for their fix. “We believe in providing dope fashion for the fashion-forward customer and the true fashion addicts,” Nicole said with a smile.

In Level Up’s 2014 Fall fashion show, Nicole was the feature designer and stylist. Covering two segments of the show required two different looks per model. Japanese street fashion and an urban wasteland theme had Nicole fashioning 18 looks for nine models she was working with.

As the fashion show began, hair was in place, outfits buttoned right and snapped, shoes down to match, check-check-check. Hot pink-lipped models saunter onto the stage wearing Japanese catwalk fashion. 

A mix of current and traditional trends accompanies yellow, green and pink buns of hair. Popping reds, umbrella pants, polka dots and washed denim showcase Japanese street fashion.

Prior to its appearance in the Level Up fashion show; Nicole did a photoshoot of the urban wasteland theme. The shoot gives a sneak peek preview to what is to be seen in Level Up’s spring issue. “We went to a compost yard, it was hot, and we were out in the heat,” said Nicole. The industrialized theme will appear on the spring cover of Level Up along with a feature spread of Nicole’s line.

Trendsetting can start at a young age. During Nicole’s freshman year at IADT, students in the fashion industry encouraged her to start a business. “‘Oh, I got to get that,’ they would say, and when they showed appreciation for my work I was sure other people would too,” she recalls. Soon Nicole was busy setting-up her Tumblr page, The Crack House, to showcase her portfolio of over 500 pieces.

Nicole was initially introduced to vintage fashion and rehabbing in 2008 by her boyfriend, Gabriel Robinson. A year into the vintage style, Robinson had his own thing going. In an O.G. snapback, Adidas windbreaker and Nike Air Maestro’s, Robinson, who lives in Nicole’s hometown, took Nicole out to experience shopping through thrift. “I took her to the Ohio Thrift Store. She didn’t find anything to her liking,” recalls Robinson.  

It wasn’t until he visited her in Chicago, the following year, that Nicole caught the bug for thrifting. “Nicole came across a ¾ length white and blue polka dot dress, which she ended up hemming to her mid-thigh,” he said.

That winter, an exchange of business cards with collaborators at Indie Media led to the first photoshoot and YouTube debut of Rehab’d Vintage designs. “It was my step into broadening my horizon,” Nicole said as she reminisced.

In the December 2013 YouTube photoshoot, Katy Perry’s song, “Part of Me,” rocked in the background as Indie models, videographers and photographers entered a large white room fashioned by exposed gray brick. Magazine and newspaper pages were plastered to two adjacent walls while a 70’s lime green chair and grand piano accented the two others. “I remember them being blown away,” said Nicole, after explaining how much work she put into the location’s appeal.

It’s important for Nicole to bring a friend when shopping for vintage clothing. Barbara Atyeman is Nicole’s best friend and right hand. “She is a great support for me,” said Nicole. “Our shopping is pretty fun-filled,” Atyeman added.

Audiences of college students and families attend Rehab’d Vintage shows. “She mixes and matches patterns together, and it all works out,” said Robinson. “You’ll be like ‘Wow,’” said Atyeman. “Every show has a different theme. Her latest show had a circus theme.”

This June Rehab’d Vintage Boutique is hitting the Chicago roads in a step-van. Nicole takes to the busy Wicker Park and Roscoe Village streets in search of new additions to her current collection of over 1,000 pieces. The Salvation Army and Village Discount Outlet better watch out; Nicole is on a move.