Meet Hannah Richtman

Hannah Richtman is flipping vintage on its head with her Brooklyn-based lifestyle brand The Break. She’s curating designer-inspired, on-trend collections that bridge the runway and reality. Glamcult met Hannah for a glass of rosé as she launches the London pop-up, and finds this is the start of something big.

By Janice Stainton

Hannah Richtman has the kind of intense energy that’s contagious. She set out to create her dream shopping experience; one where the clothes are on-trend, the music is on point and she can get a little bit tipsy. Along the way she’s built a creative community of collaborators and loyal followers. In the twelve months since The Break turned from pop-up to Brooklyn institution, the store played host to an unofficial New York Fashion Week presentation, tattoo parlours, a dog adoption service and some crazy all-night parties.

Situated in the industrial zone of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, The Break is as much an event space, as it is a vintage store. Its minimalist slatted-timber and white walls, provide a contemporary backdrop to colour-blocked rails. Céline style relaxed suits, hang alongside 1980’s silk tops and wardrobe basics akin to that of Steven Alan. “We’re not selling vintage just because it’s vintage, we curate every single piece because we can see our customer wearing it right now,” says Richtman. These one-of-a-kind pieces are from another era, when clothes were manufactured in the U.S.A and made to last.

On any given day, you may find Hannah’s right-hand woman, Sarah Frey, selecting key vintage pieces and creating exquisite flower arrangements. Or dancer Parker Kit Hill trying out his latest moves, whilst shoppers sip rosé from plastic cups. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Fashion takes itself so seriously,” she exclaims.

As The Break team prepare to launch a pop-up in London’s Soho, we arrange to catch up at Nine Lives, a hidden basement bar in Bermondsey, South London. The tropical plants, dimly lit lamps and velvet upholstered wicker chairs, make it easy to forget it’s winter outside. The city is their third biggest customer base after New York and Los Angeles. Up till now, British fans must be quick to snag a piece seen on Instagram Stories, as most items are sold before they hit the online shop.

Originally from Wisconsin, Richtman, 27, has been thrifting her entire life. Uninspired by the high street department stores, and without the budget to dress high fashion. She started sourcing vintage pieces to recreate designer looks within her limited budget. Her hours spent searching and sifting have paid off. “I can’t afford a $3,000 Celine coat. But I can afford one for $84.95 that’s vintage and looks almost exactly the same,” she says. Plus, fashion’s ongoing homage to the seventies, eighties and nineties only goes to show that fashion is cyclical and what’s better than an original? Her personal style is in constant flux. Right now, she favours a strong shoulder, a blazer, high waisted trousers, and weird florals, paired with black stiletto boots. “I’m really into shoulder pads. I’m having an eighties moment that I never thought would happen” she says. The floral dress she’s wearing is reminiscent of Balenciaga’s AW17 runway, with purple flowers that pop off against the black fabric.

There are so many pieces that we can find that look like they just walked off the runway. Of course, there are new silhouettes and new ways of designing things but it’s all inspired,
— Hannah Richtman

To the uninitiated, the idea of vintage shopping can trigger memories of overflowing rails and hours spent under neon light. The Break show that it needn’t be overwhelming thanks to a strict editorial process that separates the contemporary from the cast-offs. Richtman and Frey take inspiration from designers and source pieces that make the look accessible to fans. “There are so many pieces that we can find that look like they just walked off the runway. Of course, there are new silhouettes and new ways of designing things but it’s all inspired,” she tells me. Each collection is then styled and photographed with the finesse of a fashion editorial with New York street scenes and beatnik spirit.

Opening a vintage store in Brooklyn was never the goal. Richtman had planned to pursue musical theatre, then just as she was about to start university she changed direction to focus on fashion. After working in many spheres of the fashion industry she decided to set out on her own. She started out holding trunk shows in her apartment for friends, where they’d blast Rhianna, drink wine and shop. When the invite extended to Instagram followers they moved to a small studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn with no heat and no air-con. As they grew, they continued to throw parties and amassed a cult following en route. “There was an event in the middle of summer where it got so hot that people were lining up down the hallway to get in, even though they were dripping with sweat” tells Richtman. That signalled it was time to open their own store going from a 300 square feet pop up, to a 1200 square feet permanent space.

Last September the team embarked on their biggest challenge to date; their own New York Fashion Week presentation. Twenty-eight models, styled in 800 vintage pieces walked the runway. They presented for Autumn instead of Spring, with items selected to be representative of their latest modern vintage collection. There was no front row and no hierarchy. Over a thousand-people turned up, creating an exhilarating atmosphere. “It ended up being so big that next year we’ll probably have to get bouncers” says Richtman.

The Break has an open-door policy when it comes to collaborations. “We end up working with a lot of people who come into the store, which is incredible” says Richtman. To date events have included fitness classes, launch parties, film screenings and tarot card readings. Along with regular exhibitions and live music nights, it’s a place where you can hang out for hours and not buy a thing.

Richtman and her team have brought the best of their winter wares to London for the weekend. “London is incredible for vintage but you can’t get that classic American style,” she says. Along with Americana fashion, the pop-up will have a guest tattooist and be serving plenty of rosé. This is the start of an international plan for The Break. With an upcoming partnership with a London hotel and a gallery in Amsterdam, they are set for global success. The Break, 82 Dobbin St, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY 11222, USA

Janice Stainton