Agnes Stencel, or Vintage Agnes as she is more widely known, is a self-professed diva. Her personality is big. She’s sassy, assertive, effusive and all kinds of glamorous. You see her coming from a mile down the street. Her outfits are a feast for the senses – she is rarely seen without her signature sequins. But behind the diva is a much softer person; someone who has worked hard all her life to achieve her goals, someone who champions other women and celebrates individuality, a woman who knows her worth. Her energy is electric. In fact, she jests (half in earnest) that she should be a motivational speaker. Spend an hour with this woman and get in formation because you will be ready TO SLAY!
But Vintage Agnes was not always such a large personality; in fact, she came from quite humble beginnings. Growing up, her father struggled to support her and her siblings. The recession of the 80s had hit Europe and it was extremely tough to support a family on one income. It was this lack of pocket money that became Vintage Agnes’ driving force. She had to do a lot with a little.
“My father worked very hard. I knew that I couldn’t ask him for anything. He was the only one working. It was tough but that taught me to really dig – to be resourceful – see what you can get for as little as you have. I remember going to second hand shops where you buy by weight – you know, the kilo sales. I always went when the prices were the lowest. I was in heaven. I could get a cashmere jumper for 50cents.”
Was it this ethos that inclined her towards wearing pre-loved clothes, I wonder?
Absolutely, she says. “You have to dress yourself for as little as possible but still look good.” Being obsessed with clothes from an early age, any time that Agnes was gifted money, she went straight to the shops and bought either clothes or Elle magazine.
I was so obsessed but I really had to think smart. You do your best with what you have. I found the style that suited me, it represented Vintage Agnes.
And Agnes does look good, in fact she is rarely seen without a head-to-toe showstopping ensemble. So, who was her muse? Her Granny, she tells me, without a further thought.
My Gran was very glamorous. I still have her dresses. I didn’t want to look like the rest of the girls. Back in the day when all the girls were wearing leggings and Mickey Mouse jumpers, I was there in Doc Martins and creased trousers. We didn’t have uniforms – you could wear what you want.
It’s not easy to stand out, I offer, when you’re a teenager. But I get the feeling that Agnes doesn’t care what other people think of her. I’m most definitely right. “I was the biggest show of the school,” she tells me “but I felt so good. The teachers looked at me like I was a complete freak. All the girls at school wore frilly denim skirts – you know the Kylie Minogue style – but I was there in my father’s wedding suit and my Granny’s dresses.”
I’m particularly intrigued by the thought of a feisty blonde teenager rocking up to secondary school wearing her father’s wedding suit. It was her favourite outfit, she tells me, but unfortunately, there is no evidence of it.
There are no photographs of me wearing it and it got lost. It was a beautiful black pressed wool suit with a single button and straight leg. I turned up the leg and wore a white shirt and black round toe – you know the ones with the chunky heel – black patent. Whenever my mother tried to dress me, there was holy war.”
I can only imagine. Agnes is strong willed and has such a sense of her own style. I can’t picture falling slave to trends and looking like “everyone else.”
She tried to make me look like everybody else – like her friend’s daughters. I was never was one of the girls with the denim skirts. I just felt it wasn’t me. Not that there was anything wrong with it but it just wasn’t me.
Was it tough not fitting with her peers, I ask, having felt similarly in my own youth? Her answer is nothing short of pure magic.
I’d rather apologise. I’d rather beg for forgiveness than ask for approval.
Agnes repeats the second part for posterity. It feels so apt – it’s grand and dramatic but tinged with kindness and self-love. Spend time with her and you begin to feel your own worth being lifted – such is her energy and positivity. She likens her attitude to one of her heroine’s (and mine) the nonagenarian style icon and designer, Iris Apfel.
There’s a quote that I love from Iris. If you don’t dress like everybody else you don‘t have to think like everybody else.
I can’t find the quote online but it certainly seems like something Apfel would say.
Does her dramatic style ever attract negativity, I wonder? Of course, she tells me, but the positive more than outweighs the negative. In fact, she mentions a story about a woman who was very ill that contacted her to say her blog made her smile and re-think her own attitude to style. And style is obviously something that makes Agnes very, very happy.
I think great personal style is about how the clothes make you feel. If I’m not wearing the clothes I’m supposed to wear today, I wouldn’t be feeling great. Don’t mind what you look like. If you feel great, that is who are you today.
I ask if she has ever done any acting as it strikes me that Vintage Agnes is a character she has concocted – she can be whoever she wants to be – without fear of being judged.
I want to show people that it’s OK to do what you like. Once you are true to yourself you cannot fail. That’s why I love vintage because I could be a 50s housewife today in a vintage dress and petticoat, the next day I’m an 80s diva in my sequins and my big shoulders and then I’m in 40s style with my lipsticks and my hair rolls going for cocktails. It’s always something different.
So, what are her goals? Well, she’s already achieved her lifelong dream; to open a vintage store – Agnes previously ran Vintage Trig in Waterford but now, there’s a new chapter. What’s next?
I want to continue doing something in vintage but not necessarily selling. I have a few ideas, they won’t happen overnight. I want to continue the legacy of Vintage Agnes. I don’t know, maybe legacy is too strong a word.
Not at all, I say: In fact, it’s the perfect word to sum up all that Agnes has done. She’s certainly brightened up the Deise! For more, check our her blog on VintageAgnes.com.