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Author One-on-One: Stephanie Lehman and Lauren Willig
Lauren Willig A native New Yorker, Lauren Willig thoroughly enjoyed getting to travel back in time to a different
point in the city's history with Stephanie Lehman's Astor Place Vintage (although she will confess to owning no vintage
clothing of her own, unless one counts the relics from college at the back of her closet). Lauren Willig is the author
of eleven novels, all of which go back and forth between past and present: the bestselling Pink Carnation series, set
between the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century and London in 2004, and her new stand-alone novel, the New
York Times bestseller The Ashford Affair, which zig-zags back and forth between Edwardian England, World War I London,
1920s Kenya, and 1999 New York.
Q. What inspired you to write Astor Place Vintage?
A. My biggest inspiration for Astor Place Vintage is the metropolis of Manhattan. Ever since moving here from San
Francisco, I’ve been fascinated, especially through the architecture, by how much the past still asserts itself into the
city’s present. It’s so easy to imagine people from a hundred years ago walking down the same streets and living in the
same buildings. This sense of shared space between two time periods really captured my imagination.
The first decade of the 20th century particularly attracted me because it was an amazing time of transition. Horses
clipped-clopped on the streets while subways ran underground. Vaudeville theaters showed moving pictures. Lots of
Victorian attitudes were still enforced, like restaurants that seated unescorted women in separate dining rooms and
hotels that refused to rent them rooms. Meanwhile, women were increasingly working outside the home and experiencing
unprecedented independence in a booming urban environment that encouraged everyone, male or female, to become avid
consumers -- especially in those big new department stores.
Q. I loved how you brought us into the life of Olive in early 20th century New York City. How did you discover so many
details about department stores at the time?
A. I spent a lot of time at the New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business branch on 34th Street.
Ironically, this is located in what used to be the B. Altman Department Store. They have a huge collection of trade
magazines from the era like Dry Goods Economist and Corset and Underwear Review, so I was going straight to the sources.
I even found some Siegel-Cooper employee newsletters from that period on microfilm. I also read every novel to be found
that had the setting of a department store.
Q. Amanda’s Astor Place Vintage felt like a real vintage store to me! Do you visit vintage clothing stores often? Do
you have a favorite?
A. I’ve been attracted to vintage for years, and it has not been good for my closet situation. When you’re constantly
fighting the urge to buy one of those portable clothing racks that people use for big parties, you know you’re in
trouble. Amanda’s store is modeled on some shops I like in the East Village. But I enjoy digging for buried treasure, so
I buy most of my vintage clothing at thrift stores and flea markets.
Q. Amanda works so diligently to restore some of the old garments she acquires. Do you sew also?
A.Though I’m not nearly as proficient as Amanda, I do love to sew, and this is actually a recent development that
occurred in the process of writing the novel. You could say I aspired to be more like the character I was creating. I
discovered that the break from words, sentences, and computer screens is like a mental vacation. Plus, as a novelist, it
can take years to complete your project, but you can sew a dress in a few days, wear it, and have that gratification.
Q. What’s your favorite item of vintage clothing in your wardrobe?
A.I see you’ve saved the hardest question for last. After much deliberation, I’m going to say that it’s a
Marimekko/Design Research sixties shift dress that I wheedled from my mother. I even have a home movie of her wearing it
when I was little. Too bad it won’t fit until I lose those five pounds I’ve been trying to get rid of for the past ten