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Over a Pint Interview Series: Fashion Designer Molly Hoeltke

Molly Hoeltke (center) is making an impact on local fashion.

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

Molly Hoeltke has some serious stones.  If you went to Mass Appeal in November, Hoeltke was the designer who sent a string of models down the runway decked out in a series of edgy vintage and native-inspired designs—including, memorably, a model sporting a five-point rack of antlers.  Even at a fashion event like Mass Appeal, where the bizarre is not exactly a big deal, Hoeltke managed to stand out from an already eclectic crowd.

Antlers model

And that’s no surprise.  Hoeltke—a freelance stylist and the woman behind the local label Once Vintage—is a relative latecomer to fashion, entering the industry after a post-collegiate stint in New York City as part of the agency crowd.  When she came to the realization that the corporate ladder wasn’t going to be a very interesting climb, she didn’t mess around—she moved back to her home town of Clarence (she split her formative years shuttling between the Buffalo suburb and Atlanta, Ga.), marketed herself as a commercial stylist to help pay the bills and set about designing her first Once Vintage collection.

Once Vintage designs are created with fabric harvested from secondhand clothes that Hoeltke finds at thrift shops, antique stores, estate sales and other nests throughout Western New York.  Hoeltke uses this authentically old-school material to create new and unique clothing—pieces that often call to mind the most glamorous aspects of mid- to late-20th century fashion while maintaining an organic, living sense of style that manages to work in Buffalo, 2011.

Is Once Vintage going to take off?  Possibly.  And maybe it’s fair to think that Hoeltke is a little crazy for trying to build a coutere indie brand from the foot lockers and storage bins of a city that was never known for high fashion.

“Yeah, I guess,” Hoeltke said.  “But I don’t care too much what people think.  You have to trust your own instincts, because this is your life.”

I had been having these dreams about clothes, but I didn’t know how to sew and I didn’t really know anything specifically about fashion—other than I was having these dreams, and I was really inspired by the people I was seeing every day.  I started to hang out at night at a vintage clothing store (Malin Landaeus Vintage Fashion) in Brooklyn, and I took to (Landaeus) a lot.  I learned a lot from her.  She taught me about the history of fashion, dressed me up, gave me vegan goodies and was kind of my New York mom.  And that, progressively, led me to where I am today.


I feel like I’m importing information from everywhere I possibly can.  I’m always trying to stay alert and I think that’s a big part of being in tune with fashion, music, art, everything—and just being in tune with what’s around you in the culture.  Sometimes ideas will come to me and I’ll just become obsessed and read everything I can—lately it has been Native Americans and animals and the idea of shape-shifting. 

What’s really important to me is not only that these pieces are one-of-a-kind but also that they’re eco-friendly—that’s really important.  I try hard to find things locally that are made in the United States, to take things that would otherwise go to waste, and make it into something beautiful.  The treasure-hunting part of it is also amazing, because the stuff that people get rid of is unbelievable—it’s like, why would you get rid of stuff like that?  I go everywhere—thrift stores, auction houses, antique stores—and it’s just incredible.  I am always looking for lace—I am a romantic person, and lace is beautiful.  And if I can find good cotton and rayon, that’s good, too.  Chiffon, silk…really lavish fabrics.  I try to stay away from polyester. 

I don’t want someone wearing my clothes to feel they’ve walked straight out of the 1970s.  I do want them to feel like they’re wearing something modern and current that is being reinterpreted in a way that they can relate to…I think for me, more than anything, it’s about really wanting people to feel, wanting to evoke emotion into something and not just for the piece, but for what it embodies in their spirit.


I think there’s a very clear difference from the time that I left for New York to the time that I came back.  Like, the week that I moved back from New York (in 2009) was the Mass Appeal show, and I was like, wow—what is this?  There are a number of local advocates for the fashion industry, whether its designers or photographers or bloggers or whoever.  There are a lot of women and men who are really passionate about fashion and they have created a kind of resurgence in Buffalo fashion that is really refreshing to see, especially because things were looking kind of bleak for a while.  And I think you’re starting to see it in the fashion you see on the streets.

I’m a firm believer that there is enough room for everyone.  I think, as a woman, that it’s really important to be uplifting to one another, and to support one another in business.  Fortunately there is a really strong sense of this in Buffalo, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt any negative energy from any woman in the fashion industry.  Or maybe I just haven’t experienced it, which makes me lucky.  But really, it’s a very supportive community—everyone is trying to do different stuff, and the more that everyone creates and designs and tries new things and collaborates with each other, the more opportunity that creates for other people. 

Check out Molly Hoeltke’s designs at Once Vintage or the Once Vintage Facebook page.  You can purchase items from her clothing line locally at Splash Panic! (818 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo) and Lotions and Potions (798 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo).

(Cover photo via Facebook / Mfotography)



TAGGED: designers, fashion, mass appeal, molly hoeltke, once vintage, over a pint interview series, style, vintage

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