'Don't let me buy any orange things, OK? No more kitsch orange pieces," says Barbara Hulanicki, as we head off on our vintage shopping expedition. Miami's South Beach is well known for sun, sea, sand and partying. Less well-known is its appeal for vintage fans – flea markets, fascinating shops and huge trucks full of designer dresses from house clearances. Keen to uncover this side of Miami, I'd put in a call to Hulanicki, fashion designer, founder of iconic clothes store Biba and long-time Miami resident.
My grandmother was a Biba shop girl, so tales of tight Hulanicki miniskirts, stylish 1960s plastic Biba raincoats for under £20 and celebrities flocking to the Kensington High Street shop filled my childhood. I grew up in awe of this shop, sad that I missed the era it defined and annoyed that my grandmother has no items left – she didn't keep one thing. The last time I interviewed Barbara she offered to take me shopping in Miami. So, here I am eating breakfast with her at the Front Porch Cafe on Ocean Drive (frontporchoceandrive.com), fuelling up in preparation. The plan is to do vintage shops on Saturday and the vintage/antique market on Sunday.
Barbara moved to Miami in the early 1990s to help Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood decorate his club, Woody's on the Beach, and she's made the city her base ever since. She travels around the world designing hotel interiors and clothing for labels from Topshop to Coccinelle. Orange, I'm discovering, is her achilles heel. Her office is littered with orange glass ornaments, ashtrays and lights. Even now, as she is telling me that she really must not buy any more orange, her eye is wandering through the window of a secondhand shop, where she can spy some tangerine bric-a-brac.Barbara Hulanicki with a vintage find
But orange aside, when it comes to shopping, Barbara is an expert. "I am just a big hunter. I think they call them hoarders now. I'll show you some pictures of what our place in London used to look like. Remember Steptoe and Son? It was like that. I used to collect antique lights. I'd have loads of them, art deco-style. Before going to bed my [late] husband Fitz would turn them all off, and as he got into bed he would realise he had forgotten one.
"After each big shopping trip I get that feeling again, the thrill of it, and I have to try to curb my hunting. This weekend will start my shopping habit again – I just know it."
Our first stop is Las Tias (2834 N Miami Avenue, lastias.com), an upscale secondhand shop with a fur-covered chaise longue and a 1980s cocktail dress in the window. We jump out of Barbara's Mini Cooper and get started. I run straight to the clothes and purses, and leave her eyeing up the furniture – yellow pieces from a living room set.
"This person was very matchy, matchy," she says, stroking the pieces and imagining their former owner.
Then it's on to the women's clothes: old party dresses, 1960s print shifts (my favourite) and vintage shoes.
Having whetted our appetites we drive to C Madeleine's (13702 Biscayne Boulevard, cmadeleines.com), which is famous with editors, stylists and serious fashion fanatics.
"OK, hold your breath," says Barbara, as she swings open the door. She sees my eyes light up and says, "I knew you were going to love this store. You are going to have such fun. I might have to say goodbye to you, see you in two hours' time."
I start in couture, then move on to the 1970s section (think vintage Bill Blass dresses for around $300), by way of hat boxes and leather jackets (around $600), and finish up wondering if I can charge a vintage Pucci dress to my credit card. Sadly the prices are out of my reach, but Barbara still practically has to drag me out of the shop.
On the way back we make a quick stop at Divine Trash (7244 Biscayne Boulevard, getdivineonline.com). The owner, Donna, is fabulous. As we walk in, she is sorting through a collection of designer clothes that a celebrity has donated because she "can't wear anything twice". Barbara and Donna, both stalwarts of the vintage scene, swap stories of how much stuff they've bought since they last saw each other.
I head straight to the celebrity pile, and start digging. But then my eyes are drawn to the vintage dresses.
"I see you have a thing for antique white lace dresses … very interesting and summery, but what would you wear underneath it?" ponders Barbara as I'm trying on another lace top in the changing room. It could be worn as a dress, and is a bargain at $40.
Sadly, nothing fits, so we drive to a stylish new eatery called Gigi (3470 N Miami Avenue, giginow.com). It's in the design district, open till 5am at weekends and serves Asian fusion food and great desserts. The Design district has been transformed in the past few years. It's now a hub for a young cool crowd, with art galleries on every block and new places to eat.
Next day, I'm up early to find Barbara in my hotel lobby raring to go. The Sunday Lincoln Road Antique & Collectible Market (lincolnroadmiamibeach.info) is a short walk from the hotel but first we head to the nearby cafe at Books & Books for breakfast (927 Lincoln Road, booksandbooks.com) to feast on eggs Benedict, coffee and fruit. Under the hot sun, we start on the stalls.
"I love wondering what I might find, don't you? Nowadays I don't have any space left to store things but if it's haunting me, I have to go back and see if it's still there," Barbara tells me. Tanned muscular men and bikini-clad ladies on Rollerblades pass us, heading for the beach. But that's the last thing on our minds.
We find vintage Missoni and Chanel clothes, plastic furniture and an antique globe. Three hours later, we still haven't bought anything, but we've had a blast. We talk all things Biba ("I still get people coming up to me and describing exact Biba items – it's very sweet and I remember designing all of them," says Barbara), why vintage clothes are awesome ("that quality, it lasts for ages") and try to imagine the previous owners of some of this stuff, especially the nodding doll, and the lime green dress with one shoulder pad.
The lack of purchases hasn't dampened our spirits. In fact, we've set a date for early next year to do it all again and I've started the research. Top of my list is Fly Boutique (650 Lincoln Road, flyboutiquevintage.com), an Aladdin's cave of vintage wares from battered Levi's to Chanel pieces and vintage Versace waistcoats. I can't wait.