Victoria Cates, the 36-year-old owner of vintage-inspired clothing brand Potion23, shows me around her South Grand studio, a second-floor walk-up across from Hot Rooster Brunch. The space, decorated with French provincial furniture clad in velvet, gilded display cases, and hanging racks draped in vividly printed clothing, is where Cates creates her feminine and easy-to-wear separate pieces. âI’m drawn to the light, flowing fabrics that evoke eras bygone,â she says. The Rapture blouse, with voluminous 40s-style sleeves and bows on the bust, is presented in a cotton print that Cates describes as âthe 60s makes the 20sâ: that is, the vintage of the 60s, adorned with images of the 1920s, in this case valves in fanfare hats. The fabric was a gift from a friend, says Cates, who saw it at a real estate sale. Cates had enough fabric to create a single blouse with it, beautifully displaying the modern and vintage aesthetic of Potion23. (It’s now also available in other fabrics.)
Victoria Cates is Potion 23. With her turquoise hair, bright blue eyes and clothes straight out of her latest collection, she is the essence of her brand’s whimsical vibe. Born in New York City, Cates moved to California to study fashion at the Beverly Hills Design Institute. After graduation, she returned to New York to work for an accessories company. Then a friend from St. Louis persuaded Cates to move with her to her hometown. Cates says she was looking for a fresh start and was motivated by the idea of ââliving in a smaller town with fewer barriers to entry. Six years later, the decision seems to have paid off. In the fall of 2018, Cates launched its first collection. Today, the items in the collection can be purchased online. Cates, who works in a studio, designs clothes – long gingham dresses ($ 360), puff-sleeve blouses ($ 160), box-pleated skorts ($ 100) – that sell out in a minute. At New York.
What inspired the name Potion23? “Potion” refers to the magical, witchy aesthetic that comes from when I lived in Salem, Massachusetts. Twenty-three is my lucky number. My mom had a nickname for meâtwo three– which means “two three” in French. I have a lot of history with the number.
Did you grow up sewing? I inherited a 1930s Singer sewing machine from my great-grandmother who was a versatile artist and designer. I took sewing lessons, but mostly used my skills to do alterations. In high school I made my own clothes but not too much. I wish I had done more.
Your training is in hand embroidery. Why did you switch to making clothes? Hand embroidery is very niche. It’s beautiful but incredibly time consuming. I used to hand embroider very detailed images – like leopards, rabbits, faces – and place them on clothes I had also made, like collars or hats. Each item can take weeks to complete. It has become very expensive and not a viable way to earn a living. I think hand embroidery is almost better as an art, framed and displayed on a shelf, rather than sewn onto a piece of clothing. Some of my original hand embroidered pieces are now framed in my workshop.
What motivated you to launch Potion23? I worked for Parsimonia, the vintage clothing store in South Grand. I was the âclothes doctorâ there: I spent most of my time repairing and adjusting vintage clothes. The items were beautifully crafted, heavily adorned with vibrant prints and colors. Some still looked perfect even after 85 years. Being among all these clothes inspired me to create my own line.
How do you describe the look of Potion23? Vintage meets modern with a whimsical and colorful touch. I make wearable silhouettes. The styles are not fussy but are still reminiscent of that time when people dressed and took pride in wearing well-made clothes.
Where do you find inspiration for your clothes? I loved working among old clothes in vintage stores. As the articles arrived, I realized I had favorite times. I fell in love with clothes from the 30s and 40s. I take inspiration from the Art Deco magic of these historic styles and try to rejuvenate them with modern and playful prints. I also like to find a trend and go crazy and make it my own. I recently made some beach hats that were inspired by the bucket hat trend. But unlike a bob, mine is pointy with an edge. I watch what people buy and think, How can I do it myself?
Describe your design process. I buy small series of vintage fabrics that I use to create unique pieces. I started out by buying new fabric yardages but I’m moving away from that because I want to be more durable. So now I go to estate sales or shop for individual pieces of vintage fabric. And it’s amazing: when people know what you’re doing, the word spreads and they randomly drop a bag of cloth they found in their mother’s attic. I always try new things. I prefer to give to my clients [consistent] new things to keep them engaged instead of creating a few big seasonal drops.
How can people buy your clothes? My website has the most updated styles. They are either ready to ship or made to order and available in two weeks. Some of my pieces are at May’s Place, at The Grove, and I’m active on social media, that’s where I share information about the markets and pop-ups that I will be attending.
Any advice for future fashion designers? Realize that it takes a lot of hands to run a clothing business. You can’t do it alone, and you need to recognize your strengths and delegate when necessary. I had two seamstresses who helped me make my clothes to make sure the orders went out on time. But I had to cut back when the pandemic hit and sales declined. I also work with a local model maker. She takes my ideas and modifies them into a pattern and a series of sizes. There are some things you need to outsource. If you are not ready to do it, you are going to be frustrated.
Finally, what are your goals? I would like to expand the reach of my brand to the point where I can employ local seamstresses. I would like to be able to teach people the craft of sewing.