C. Madeleine's is like the pyramids or the Taj Mahal for fashion editors and stylists. The 10,000-square-foot showroom in North Miami Beach has outfitted celebrities in vintage couture for red-carpet affairs and inspired Michael Kors and countless other designers. It has even been a backdrop for a Kate Moss photo shoot for W magazine. Clothing from the past 100 years lines the walls. There are Victorian frocks and mod dresses, cat-eye glasses and power suits — and a parade of vintage designer wear from Alberta Ferretti to Zac Posen.
Overseeing this massive fashion wonderland is Madeleine Kirsh, a fiery Palm Beach native who had just finished an in-store yoga session when we caught up with her. Madeleine (she prefers to go by first name only) enunciates her words with the type of sophisticated vocal variance that makes her sound like she's directing a runway even though she's relaying the most banal of business details to her assistant and employees.
"The pieces coming into the store are all overseen by [me]," she explains. "Because of the enormous amount of merchandise we are presented, we must be very particular. One of our [suppliers] once told us it is sometimes easier to get into a 'hot' South Beach club than get [me] to accept your pieces."
Madeleine attributes her picky good taste to her mother, a successful interior decorator who taught her to look for quality in everything from furnishings to fabric. She followed in her mother's footsteps for several years before deciding to open the world's largest vintage showroom nearly ten years ago.
Back then, success was anything but certain in a city seemingly attuned to megamalls. "Going to one is so difficult for me," she says. "I see the masses getting dressed like Seventh Avenue envisions them to look, and not a style in line with their personality."
Madeleine's ascendancy might be a harbinger that Miami is ripe for a new fashion landscape. "Business-wise, it is happening quickly," she asserts. "The populous is still very logo conscious, [but] it will take several years to think independently like they do in New York and London."
While that's happening, Madeleine will be there, perched in her kingdom of couture gowns and high-waisted skirts, coaching everyone from the mildly adventuresome to the wildly mismatched. She'll help them create the types of outfits that have made her the center of attention almost everywhere she goes. Take, for instance, a recent wedding she attended. "I wore this amazing vintage Thierry Mugler black taffeta wrap gown with rhinestones and a long train," she says. "The bride looked fabulous, but I must tell you, I think I got more comments than she did."