Play it again, Sam! Vintage Helsinki

Allow yourself to just walk around Helsinki centre without any plan, to get lost in the city and you will discover a whole lot of new places and meet interesting people.

So I did a couple of weeks ago exploring the area of Kruununhaka, the district next to the harbour close to Kauppatori. I was walking along a street when an unusual window-shop caught my attention. My first thought was: is it a clothes museum? If it is it has a very unusual name for a museum – Play it again, Sam.

Photo by Joe Gratz

As I stepped in all thoughts disappeared except one: What a place! All around me carefully arranged were beautiful garments from early 20th century till late 70s, jewellery, feather and veil hats, elegant gloves, lingerie, glasses, head bands, lace, and what not! Play it again, Sam turned out to be one of the most charming vintage shops I have ever been to.

I felt that there was a story to this place. And there was indeed.

The place is run by an elegant and friendly lady, Arja Könönen. If you ever met anyone passionate and excited about what they do, you can imagine what she is like. The story of the shop is very much the story of its owner.

Arja’s mother was a seamstress and the girl grew up surrounded with clothes patterns, fabrics and fashion magazines. As long as she could remember herself clothes and making clothes was the only thing she was interested in. Already as a child she knew what she would like to work with fabrics, clothes and patterns.

The idea of what she would like to focus on precisely came to her during her stay as an au pair in Los Angeles, USA. Arja saw first vintage fashion boutiques and fell in love with the idea. At the time, in the late 70s, the vintage movement was only at the start and for Finland it was a completely a new thing. Running her own vintage fashion shop became a dream of hers.

The old and beautiful Kruununhaka was the place Arja always wanted to live in and just the perfect location for a vintage boutique. In the late 80s Arja had just the right amount of savings to buy a small apartment there. At least that was the plan. As it happened, a second-hand clothes shop was on sale at the same time in Rauhankatu. On the spur of the moment, that changed her life, instead of sensibly buying a flat, Arja bought the shop.

“Taking this much of a risk by investing life savings into moth-eaten clothes is crazy!” Despite this kind of reaction from family and friends, Arja persevered and ended up where she is now – owner of one of the best-known vintage boutiques in Finland.

The whole thing took off when women magazine editors started to come in and borrow vintage garments for fashion shootings. Quite fast she got a reputation of an ingenious expert, for if she didn’t have a required item in the shop, she would find it or create it. And when in the beginning of 2000s vintage became a mainstream fashion trend, Play it again, Sam became really well-known.

Basically, Arja succeeded in what a small business is all about: find your niche, build up a reputation and a community around your business (all without Internet and social media back then:).

Apart from running this charming shop, she also works as a costume consultant for movies and teaches history of clothes design to professional college students.

Most of the garments that come to the shop have a story behind them. When I asked Arja to show me one and tell about it, she got this gorgeous ball dress out of the wardrobe at the back of the shop. The dress comes with a magazine article and pictures from Independence Day ball during the presidency of Urho Kekkonen, featuring the president himself and one of the guests wearing that very same ball dress.

The name of the shop – Play it again, Sam– is a tribute to the 40s and 50s movies and a reference to Humphrey Bogart quote from Casablanca. I really like it how Play it again is also a great metaphor for reusing old and vintage clothes.

If you are looking for something unique, beautiful and vintage, stop by Play it again, Sam! in Rauhankatu 2. Even if you just have questions about vintage clothes, don’t hesitate and ask Arja and her assistants.

Stay curious and  rediscover your Helsinki!

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