John Heller, Post-Gazette photos
A display of the season's hot items at Eons vintage boutique on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside.
By LaMont Jones
The softly lit space, intimate and inviting, makes you feel as if you've stepped inside a giant closet that houses a treasure trove of fabulous fashions from the 1880s to the 1980s.
Gloves, hats, shoes, neckties and all kinds of fascinating jewelry are creatively displayed.Back in 1985, Eons owner Richard Parsakian began buying and selling vintage clothing from his Shadyside apartment on weekends.
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Antique mannequins draw your gaze up, limbs and torsos positioned dramatically to show off outfits and accessories from yesteryear.
Stacked hat boxes reach toward the high ceiling while giant posters and funky ensembles turn ordinary wall space into museum exhibits.
This is what makes Eons the most talked-about vintage clothing store in the region. Numerous vintage shops dot southwestern Pennsylvania, but this boutique at 5850 Ellsworth Ave., near College Avenue in Shadyside, is the grande dame.
Vintage clothing has always enjoyed a modest following, but its popularity has spiked in recent years as U.S. designers draw inspiration for new collections from styles of the '30s, '40s, '70s and '80s.
Richard Parsakian, the owner of Eons, is an antique apparel and accessories aficionado who has married vintage fashion and charitable endeavors for the arts and social causes like no other.
Mr. Parsakian, 58, uses items from the store and his extensive private collection in producing charity fashion shows and wardrobing artistic productions for organizations such as Quantum and Dance Alloy theaters, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and the Mario Lemieux Cancer Foundation. He serves on several boards and has been honored this year for volunteerism by Attack Theatre and the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force.
He came of age during Woodstock, "flower power" and early conservation movements. Those events shaped him, inspiring him to come to Pittsburgh in 1971 as a Vista volunteer after earning degrees in architecture and building science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Pittsburgh has become my adopted city," said the Latham, N.Y., native. "I feel strongly about that. That's why I use my store to give back to the community in a lot of different ways."
The move from architecture to fashion came in the mid-'80s after Mr. Parsakian designed and managed a friend's vintage clothing store -- The Vamp -- in Shadyside in 1978, and then a men's store spin-off in the early 1980s.
In 1985, Mr. Parsakian first began buying and selling vintage clothing from his Shadyside apartment on weekends. A year later, he opened Eons on Ellsworth in the space now occupied by Lilas. Two years later, the store moved to its current location.
Like many retail stores -- and vintage, in particular -- there are days without customers and browsers. Other times, the phone rings and a visitor from out of town wants directions.
"I get lots of calls from the airport, from hotels, people asking, 'Where are you?' " said Mr. Parsakian.
Among celebrities who have shopped the boutique are Helen Mirren, Debra Messing, Jodie Foster, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jamie Lee Curtis, he said.
In fact, many of his customers are from outside the city, people who have discovered that they can find many of the same things as in New York but at a fraction of the cost.
Prices range from an average of $15 for a man's shirt to around $200 for dresses by big-name designers from the '80s. The average price for an item in the store is around $55 for a man's suit.
Mr. Parsakian said the hottest items now are pearls, cuff links, clutch purses and cocktail dresses. Cowboy Western, styles from the '70s, hats and neckties are also in big demand, he said.
His creative partner, Joy Sato of Highland Park, still has the brown herringbone coat she bought from him in 1985 when she was living in California and came to visit a daughter who adored the store.
"Eons fits me to a 'T' because I can go in there and there's all these different things," she said. "You can go in there and purchase the tiniest cotton dress or some other designer dress that has come out of some famous estate. I just don't think you can walk out of there without something that's uniquely yours."
Procuring vintage items isn't as easy as it used to be because of the Internet, especially eBay, Mr. Parsakian said. People who once would have taken items to a vintage store are selling them online, and sources such as estate sales have become more competitive.
"Everything is by luck at this point, because so many people are looking for it," he said as he presented a silk chocolate floor-length day dress from the 1880s that he recently scored at an estate sale.
Mr. Parsakian has been urged to open a second location, and he said he received a generous offer to do so at SouthSide Works. Although he plans to launch a Web site within a year, another store is not going to happen, he said.
"It's really a hands-on kind of business," he said. "It's different from, like, a GAP-kind-of store. I like to see who my customers are, more of a personal kind of thing. And the cost of running a second store is really, really high."A 1920s pink silk flapper dress at Eons.
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Post-Gazette fashion editor LaMont Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1469.