Around this time last year, I wrote about how flea markets were the premier location of “Look at what I’ve found!” shopping moments. Lola’s Urban Vintage isn’t a flea market. But during its end-of-season sale on the Sunday after Black Friday, I was transported back to such wishful thinking, while digging through the basin marked “$10” outside of its studio. Bypassing the deep-violet denim vest with brocade on the chest pockets and a turquoise windbreaker, there it was, and exactly what I’d hoped I would find: a vintage gem in the form of a shoulder-padded Christian Dior blazer in the shade of Revlon’s iconic “Cherries in the Snow.”
Blazers are a sweet spot here. When I first visited the Lola’s Urban Vintage studio, two weeks prior to the sale, I took an immediate liking to an a.b.s. blazer from the ’80s that was floral and nipped at the waist. Before I promptly handed over $20 for it, I tried it on in front of the door-length mirror, and Nicoletta “Nicole” Lyons, Lola’s maestra, immediately got into stylist mode and gave the waist a tug and shift here and there and commented on how much she loved the old school fit.
Lyons’ space is something of a triple threat—studio, showroom and shop—and her artistic sanctuary. It is the culmination of her many years in fashion. She’s worked as a costume designer for theater companies; as a jewelry, handbag and accessories designer; as a freelance photo stylist, and is also a vintage connoisseur. Having obtained a patience and stamina for hunting, Lyons has nurtured partnerships with vintage and wholesale sellers, locally as well as globally. When I caressed a Thierry Mugler skirt suit from the ’90s amid my first visit, she disclosed that Florida is low-key vintage heaven.
Lola’s specially thrives in exhibiting and selling Lyons’ one-of-a-kind remixed and deconstructed/upcycled apparel. All of her items, whether curated, vintage, or created from scratch, can be tailored and customized on the spot in her studio, or via a message request. It is a service that Lyons offers and is forgotten in today’s fast-fashion and e-commerce landscape.
“I majored in theater arts at UMass Boston with a desire to act and design and was quickly noticed for my creative eye and design aesthetic,” Lyons, a personable and around-the-way girl, told the Dig. She continues:
“I costumed Macbeth as my first show and never turned back. I then took some metalsmith classes at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Since I was designing a lot of jewelry after that, I took my costume designing to New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology for styling. That led me to the fashion world where I was dressing at New York Fashion Week for brands such as Jeremy Scott, Alexandre Herchcovitch, and Abaete.”
Lyons gave being “a normal citizen” a chance by attending Northeastern and earning “half of” a master’s degree in education. In a short time, she realized that “it just wasn’t for me.”
In 2007, she opened a storefront on Allston’s Harvard Avenue. That brick and mortar was in effect until 2011 and then transitioned into Lola Mobile, an 18-foot hot pink truck, which lasted until 2015.
“I do have to give a major shout-out to New England Open Markets,” Lyons added. “They consistently provided me with a platform to sell and stay afloat for the past 15 years, no matter what the situation was. To this day, you can still catch me at their markets.”
My friend Chad Hart found Lyons’ business on Instagram. Via text and DMs, he gushed about how original her items were and was elated Lola’s was Boston-based. At the time of his discovery, he was salivating over an oversized button-up with an attached cape and grommets. When I checked out Lola’s on Instagram myself, I saw that Lyons’ offerings were fabulous, funky, unafraid of S&M accouterments, and often done with a toast to Victorian flair and ’90s grunge. Lyons describes her inspirations as “urban landscape, graffiti, classic vintage, and contemporary designs.”
“I’ve been inspired by every single one of those [movements and eras],” she said. “In the late ’90s and early 2000s, I was really immersed in the local graffiti scene due to several people in it that were close to me. Seeing that particular culture played a big role in how I approached my work. The very first items I released, aside from jewelry, were spray-painted vintage bags.”
In her studio, located inside a Norfolk Avenue building branded M A R K E T spelled out in white stencils, Lyons’ influences pop with touchstones of fashion history and multiculturalism from wall to wall.
“My mother, grandmother, and godfather were all into fashion, which allowed me to be exposed to it early on,” she says. “Culturally, my background is Middle Eastern, which naturally bleeds into everything I do. As far as other influences—Diana Vreeland, Patricia Field, Stevie Nicks, Grace Jones. The list could go on forever.”
Presently, Lyons’ biggest client is Erykah Badu. This is major for a her as a designer and stylist who works out of a modest Boston studio, issuing affordable retro glam and kink to locals and now, a neo-soul icon.
“[Badu’s] always been a huge influence on me, so the fact that we became personal on any level is a blessing. We first got connected through a collective of artists on Instagram, and I then began providing her with a few creations.” They’ve been connected and friendly since April 2017; on Lola’s Instagram, you’ll see that Badu has left hellos and emojis on posts.
The studio features fantastic earrings hung on boards, listed for $10 and $15. A row of used footwear are below the earrings, like Jeffrey Campbell see-through platform creepers. There’s flamboyant millinery on the shelves. Beaded, chained, and charm accessories; and two full racks that are an admixture of original and vintage, including drop-waist harem pants that are a Lola’s customer favorite.
Lola’s Urban Vintage has more exceptional items on Instagram, where Lyons advertises using still shots from photo shoots. On social media, the aesthetic she has championed since her days back at UMass amounts to a cornucopia of ingenuity—Leonardo da Vinci’s “St. John the Baptist” imposed on a sleeveless corset top (with matching pants, if you like); a beige “Lila” trench that would look traditional if not for the delightful polka-dotted puffed sleeves.
“I want Lola’s to be the place to go if you want something that makes you stand out from the crowd and feel fierce,” Lyons said. “It’s an experience store that gives you the feeling of something tangible.”
Lyons is hopeful that she’ll one day have a store again. She dreams of it daily. But the woman who started designing as a six-year-old girl making a perforated soda bottle cap ring into a headband for her Barbie doll, wants the timing to be just right and according to plan.
“I love my customers and giving them a glimpse into my reality,” Lyons said. “It provides a certain level of comfort and confidence to them, being able to say, ‘I got this from my homegirl!’ rather than, ‘I got this from a store.’”