Photographer Olivia Joan Galli shares her grandmother’s vintage collection on TikTok

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It’s easy to understand the appeal of vintage. Each piece is unique and the chances of unknowingly getting into a game of “Who Wore It Best” are slim to none. To top it off, each piece has its own story, having lived many lifetimes before setting foot in your closet.

Those in luck are well aware of the overwhelming, stomach-butterfly-like feeling of joy that accompanies a great vintage find. For New York photographer Olivia Joan Galli, that feeling is amplified: not only is her closet full of vintage gems one can only dream of, but the stories they tell belong to her own grandmother.

Flashback to early spring when Galli went viral on TikTok for her unboxing videos showcasing her late grandmother’s wardrobe. Looking at them, I found myself regularly picking my jaw up off the ground, only to drop it instantly on the next look. Chanel silk dresses with matching blazers to full Galliano outfits (and a pair of satin Louboutins that Galli wants to wear on her wedding day, which makes us want to find the man of her dreams more than she does), calling it the closet of his dreams is an understatement.

“I love them [shoes] so many. I want to wear them on my wedding day. I’m not even in a relationship, but, you know, a girl can dream.

Photo: Jack Castro

Reflecting on the timeline of Galli’s grandmother’s passing in 2019 and her newfound stardom on TikTok, many have asked why so many years passed before she started sharing her beloved couture heirlooms. with the general public. “When my grandmother passed away, my mother wouldn’t let me go into her cupboards, or even take a look,” she explains. “There were a few years where I let everything go out of respect for my mum and her treatment. Everything still smelled like her. Over the years, she finally accepted me coming in to try things.

Today, Galli has made several pilgrimages to her grandmother’s closet to assimilate pieces in the closet of her own apartment in Brooklyn, where she resides as a photographer (she trained at the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago , which gave her more than enough time to covet all five closets in her grandmother’s house, where she lived while in school). Her grandfather also sent her boxes with pieces he personally wanted her to have, like an intricately embroidered black leather trench coat that put Acne Studios to shame.


“My grandfather pulled this out and told me he wished I had it, and my grandmother would have wanted this. He made sure I was the new owner.”

Photo: Jack Castro


“It was one of my grandmother’s first purchases when [she and my grandfather] started their business. She loved the sleek leather look. It’s made by Claude Montana.

Photo: Jack Castro

Since posting her first video, Galli has amassed over 80,000 TikTok subscribers, largely thanks to the boxes her grandfather keeps sending her with more of her grandmother’s stuff. I knew I had to make a call with her to find out not only who her incredibly glamorous grandmother was, but also what her plans were for her new treasures. As Chicago natives, Galli’s grandparents, Joan and George Johnson, found success by founding the cosmetics company Johnson Products Company. Two decades after its founding in 1954, it became the first black-owned company listed on the US Stock Exchange.

Joan and George Jonson’s accomplishments didn’t stop there. They dedicated time and resources to causes close to their hearts. Always a style icon, Joan organized and sponsored the Congressional Black Caucus fashion show, and her company provided modeling opportunities for young black models who otherwise faced minimal opportunities during the period.


Joan Johnson leaving her family’s boat, the African Queen.

Photo: Courtesy of Olivia Joan Galli


Joan Johnson and her husband, George Johnson.

Photo: Courtesy of Olivia Joan Galli


Joan Johnson on vacation.

Photo: Courtesy of Olivia Joan Galli

I asked Galli how her grandmother, a prominent businesswoman, came to amass such an impressive couture collection, to which she told me her grandparents largely funded the TV program . Train of souls. Her grandmother even made periodic appearances on the show. She constantly received invitations to events and shows and therefore always needed something fabulous to wear. “She made a few designer friends, and at some point Givenchy started designing for her. She was an upper-class black woman, and she was beautiful of course. normal at the time,” said Galli. “A lot of designers would take her to their shows just to get some diversity.”


“This jacket is Bob Mackie – he designed the Marilyn Monroe dress that Kim Kardashian wore to the Met Gala. My grandmother wore it on ‘Soul Train’.”

Photo: Jack Castro


Photo: Jack Castro


“Someone on Twitter linked the price of his pieces, and I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ “I have to be a little more careful. But I feel like it’s disrespectful to the creator if I never let the pieces show. They are made to be worn.”

Photo: Jack Castro

The world was not lost on the impact of the Johnsons, and it was their legacy that gave way to Galli’s newfound stardom surrounding her grandmother’s wardrobe. “I first went to Chicago to photograph my grandfather for a play in the New York Times focused on my family, but nothing to do with my grandmother’s clothes,” she says. “He mentioned that he was considering donating my grandmother’s clothes to The Real Real, and that I would have to bring empty suitcases the next time I came if I wanted none of that. I want it, she did it. On her next visit, Galli arrived armed with five large suitcases and sent five more boxes home to save them from their impending second-hand e-commerce doom.


“I wore this to Primo’s. There was a girl there who actually wore the cardigan version from that night, so we matched. It was really cool to see how we styled them differently.

Photo: Jack Castro


Photo: Jack Castro

I suddenly realize that Galli has a mother and a sister who are, from what I can tell, equally invested in fashion and style – did she need to distribute the wealth when it comes to her grand- mother ? “What interests my sister the most is jewelry. She has a Cartier love bracelet from my grandmother, and my grandmother was the only one who had the padlock on it. She doesn’t even know where it is now. Her mother is more of an accessory girl herself. Before he died, his grandmother passed on some of his most precious stones. “Before my grandmother got really sick, she gave my mother a jewelry bag full of beautiful pieces. She said she wanted to make sure my mom got them,” Galli recalled. “And that’s when my mom knew her time was coming to an end.

While the majority of Galli’s grandmother’s accessories have gone to the other stylish women in the Johnson family, Galli stood out with a few statement pieces that know how to make a statement. see. My favorite is a handmade turquoise necklace (see below) her grandmother picked up on a trip to Arizona.


Photo: Jack Castro


“My grandmother would always go to Native American flea markets and try to support [them] as much as possible. I believe it was one of the pieces she collected. We are part Native American and she wanted to give back in any way she could.

Photo: Jack Castro


Photo: Jack Castro

Accessories aside, for Galli to fit seamlessly into these couture pieces would require some sort of miracle. Did she need to change anything? “I had some Dolce & Gabbana pants cut once, and the seamstress completely missed it. I was really hesitant to get anything else custom made. These jeans are supposed to be high waisted, but I just had to wear them size bass. It works.” Not only does Galli make each of these pieces work for her own body and sense of style, but she breathes new life and stories into them in the process. She wears a scorching vintage YSL mini so well that it’s hard to believe she’s not currently waiting on the rack for buyers as we speak.


Galli with one of the boxes she unpacked full of her grandmother’s sewing.

Photo: Jack Castro


“We have a house in Montego Bay, and my grandmother had this necklace there. The dress is YSL, and I danced salsa with it in Colombia.”

Photo: Jack Castro

While some might argue that Galli found viral success living in someone else’s wardrobe, there’s no denying that she found a way to make each of these looks distinctly her own. . Her grandmother’s legacy is present in every piece, but it’s Galli who brings them to life, honoring her grandmother in an incredibly meaningful and beautiful way.

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