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Thursday, April 18, 2024

In the '80s, Nava Ottenberg opened a vintage clothing store in Gainesville called Persona.

In the last 20 years, Persona has evolved into a colorful, eclectic downtown boutique.

The store has costume rentals, collectibles and now her own collection, NavaO Sleepwalk, featuring one-of-a-kind vintage re-creations.

Ottenberg tells us how she hopes to preserve small businesses while making the world a little more beautiful and its people a little more stylish.

Tell me about the NavaO Sleepwalk collection.

The name came up because most of my pieces incorporate fabric from vintage nightwear. I love working with vintage nightgowns because they have a beautiful feel and movement to them.

Why do you use vintage fabric instead of new, store-bought fabrics?

It's very important to recycle, and vintage fabrics are better-made, too. I am someone who loves to mess with things. I just can't leave stuff alone. I see something and I say, "I'm not done with it yet."

What designer has been an important point of reference to you?

I am not really inspired by trends or what other people are doing, but there is one designer that is worth noting: Hussein Chalayan.

He is not very trendy or mainstream, but he is highly noted in fashion. He's worked with Chanel and other couturiers. His designs are very architectural, but also very wearable.

For example, there is this one dress of his that was turned into a coffee table.

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Why did you decide to open a vintage store?

In the '80s, vintage was really hot, and even stores like Macy's had racks of vintage jeans. Throughout the years, vintage has been very hot and cold, mainstream and underground.

How did Persona get started?

At first we started with very limited resources selling just vintage. Then the Hippodrome asked us to help them relocate and gave us a bunch of costumes in return.

I've always continued selling vintage and collectibles and we still rent costumes, but it's expanded into so much more.

What is the store's aesthetic?

It's a very eclectic environment. The more time you spend in here, the more you are traveling in time, and every time you come in here you'll find something new.

Where and how do you select pieces for the store?

I go to estate sales, thrift stores, vintage stores and people bring me stuff.

I look for pieces that are unique and usable with lots of personality. And I am always looking to carry local designers' stuff, too, whether it be clothing, furniture or jewelry.

What has been the most memorable piece that has come through Persona?

There was a 1940s Levi's denim jacket that I sold to a Japanese dealer for $5,000. That was a real special piece.

There are always treasures coming and going here, but I never regret selling a piece. I am so happy to give things a second life.

What vintage piece should every man and woman have in his or her closet?

Every woman should have a vintage clutch. Ones made from the '60s through the '80s were really cute. And every man should have a good replaceable belt buckle from the '70s.

What has made Persona successful for more than 20 years in Gainesville?

Persona is probably the oldest of the clothing shops now. People asked me how I survived, when I have seen about 50 vintage stores come and go in this town, and it's because I am stubborn.

If something doesn't work one way, I will try it another way until it works. I am always reinventing myself. It isn't easy, but it's crucial. Can you imagine a world without small businesses?

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