An Interview with Natasha Harden of Halmoni Vintage
There’s a tiny treasure trove in Oakland, only a block away from Lake Merritt: a place of rad tattoo parlors, pleasant bars with sunny patios, and a certain vintage shop of infinite charm. X marks the spot at 2nd and E. 16th Street, and the first place this treasure seeker recommends visiting is Halmoni Vintage. It’s a little jewel box of a shop, filled with just the right amount of clothes, trinkets, and accessories to entice, but not too many to overwhelm.
Meet the radiant Natasha Harden, owner and mastermind of Halmoni (rhymes with “harmony”):
Halmoni means “grandmother” in Korean, so it’s a nice nod to both Natasha’s heritage (she’s half-Korean) and her own grandmother, who played an important role in raising her. My mind immediately conjured up visions of a chic, silver-haired style icon, sassy but elegant, instilling in a young granddaughter a love of classic fashion- but Natasha nipped that one in the bud. “I don’t actually remember her as being that fashionable!” she answered, laughing. “My memories of her are about comfort, about her making my favorite things to eat, not about style.”
Which, when you think about it, makes sense, since Halmoni combines comfort and fashion. The clothes are bold and a little bit cheeky, but the vibe is friendly and welcoming, mostly thanks to Natasha’s warm presence and the homey feel of the petite space.
Natasha’s journey that led her to Halmoni (which has been an almost-instant success) started in New York City, where she grew up. It took a winding detour when she ended up in Portland for a few years, but that was less of a success, at least for her psyche. She couldn’t handle the gloomy weather and lack of diversity there (sorry, P-town. You’re cool in some ways, but it’s a fact that you are over 76% white.)
“New York is the melting pot. It’s so diverse! I think that’s what drew me to Oakland,” Natasha said. “It seemed like a really dope place to be. There’s lots of people of color and people my age, so it just make sense for me to be here. Plus, when I was living in Portland, which isn’t really fashion-forward, I felt like I was always kind of gloomy and covered-up. So coming here, I took the chance to be fierce again!”
I asked Natasha about what she loves about fashion- a vague question, I know, but I’ve found that such a simple question has brought out a plethora of thoughts, feelings, and philosophical statements every time I ask it of someone. Sure enough:
“What I love the most about doing this is that I can break all the rules,” she said enthusiastically. “People say, ‘Chubby girls can’t wear this! If you have curves here, you shouldn’t do that! And no double-patterns!’ But if I see a trend, I want to go against it. It’s like how musicians are classically trained, and you have to learn things a certain way- then compare that to jazz. Once you know the rules, you can break them and play things the way YOU want to play them.”
That’s quickly apparent looking around the cozy shop, which is stuffed with color and every style, from overalls to jumpsuits to mini-dresses to oversized silk shirts. A majestic and slightly judgemental fish oversees all business from his permanent position above the improvised dressing room, and the mannequins change outfits every few days.
Another way she’s changing the rules, or at least ignoring them: with her popular Instagram and Twitter hashtag, #bigbellyfashion. Women are bombarded with evil, invisible messaging every day telling them to be ashamed of their bodies. With this hashtag, Natasha is declaring her love for the belly, that oft-maligned “problem area” (a phrase I hate.) Check out her daily #bigbellyfashion fashion looks, or show off your own fabulousness with your own pics.
I switched into rapid-fire interview mode, so let’s give it over to Natasha for a couple of questions:
On Oakland street fashion:
“It’s unique in that it’s statement-making, but at the same time, very casual. People are definitely making their own trends and standing out. It definitely pulls from San Francisco styles, but it’s a little more raw, more colorful. I think it’s a big-city thing to not wear a lot of color, to stick to always-chic black, but I love that people aren’t afraid to be bright in Oakland.”
On her own fashion journey:
“I went through a punk phase, a hippie phase, a grunge phase, and, of course, a hip-hop phase, since I grew up in the Bronx. Never in my life would I have thought that my style would end up being what it is now- I’m kind of a girly-girl! I like wearing skirts and dresses every day. I wear pants maybe 4 times a year.”
Reflecting on the shop’s history, at the 3-year mark:
Let’s take a break and take a peek at the clothes: after all, they really are the main attraction (although Natasha shares the spotlight effortlessly.) I love this cool, breezy, mod-inspired mini with the sweetest mock-turtleneck. It’s perfect for a patio brunch, strolling around Lake Merritt, or lounging on your bed watching Mad Men on Netflix.
I asked Natasha if she has any favorite eras or styles of vintage. “I honestly love every kind of vintage,” she told me, “but I do enjoy the ’50s a lot. I feel like those dresses make you feel like a woman: they’re so feminine and formfitting. But I also really love the ’60s and ’80s for those crazy patterns.”
For an example of a glorious late ’60s pattern, look no further than this homemade cotton shift dress:
Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you: that IS a skort. Eat your heart out, early 90s!
(Speaking of the early 90s, quick anecdote from Natasha: a few weeks back she sold a vintage Edward Scissorhands T-shirt to an excited kid in his teens. Turns out he thought it was Wolverine. Really makes you feel old, doesn’t it?)
Any teachers or returning students out there? I personally have at least 4 friends currently studying for the GRE (They’re so selfish! It’s starting to impact my social life.) If you’re academically minded, you might want to buy these adorable school bus earrings in anticipation.
Plenty of costume jewelry for you aficionados of chunky necklaces and Lucite earrings! (This should really be ALL of you. If you don’t love costume jewelry, we can still be friends, but I’ll silently judge you ’til the day one of us dies. After that, you’re off the hook, I guess.)
Full disclosure: Natasha kindly offered me a pair of earrings I had admired, and although I tried to demur, I couldn’t resist. All I can say to defend myself is, 1) I adore vintage earrings, and 2) Trust me, kids, you don’t dabble in part-time freelance journalism for the kickbacks. I do this for the LOVE OF IT, by gosh, not for ’80s-chic jewelry, however delightful.
So you big women, small women, people of any gender who enjoy silky dresses, admirers of funky earrings, lovers of that wonderful smell of old clothes : if you’re ready to do a little hunting, set sail for Halmoni. Treasure awaits.