North London's Cultural Guide

Sarah Park meets…Sarah Khan, vintage store owner

'A lot of people can be quite conservative or stuck in rut and want to change their style'

'They tell me if they're having problems with their boyfriends or if they've split up with their husbands.' Photo: Sarah Park
‘They tell me if they’re having problems with their boyfriends or if they’ve split up with their husbands.’ Photo: Sarah Park
Sarah Park
Sarah Park

Sarah Khan has a face that makes people she doesn’t know tell her their secrets. She also has a shop full of clothes – and a bottle of white wine open for my arrival. In case you’re interested, I conducted this interview in a pair of 1970s sparkly trousers.

Why vintage?
I grew up in Pimlico and my mum used to take me to all the junk shops around Chelsea so I started buying second-hand from an early age. Then I studied textile design, so I feel as though I have always worn vintage.

And why a clothes shop?
The vintage didn’t fit quite as well as it did when I had my son so I started holding vintage clothes parties and selling them off to friends. My mates would come round with their mates and we’d sit in my living room eating nibbles and they’d try on clothes. The parties became really popular so I started to buy clothes but to sell rather than wear and took a patch on Camden Passage. That was eleven years ago.

What influenced you?
Give me a car boot sale and I’m a whirling dervish, I can’t get round fast enough. I don’t give my partner time to park and my kids take the piss out of me because I’m straight out and having a rummage. I’ve always liked clothes that are a bit different: it’s not a specific era and I can’t explain what I mean by “different”, but the textile design course was an influence.


I’ve also always been very into music and that has had an influence: from age 13-15 I was obsessed with The Smiths, then I got into rave music, then there was the Britpop era; fashion and music have always been closely linked.

Does Fortess Road need a vintage shop?
I live near here and had seen them come and go so I knew that people would be interested in another one. When I opened SK Vintage last year the road was starting to get a little chichi and I felt it was the right time to do something different. Fortess Road has been gentrified to an extent and I think this is a good thing, but it has a certain charm which we shouldn’t seek to change too much. I hope my shop is adding to the area.

What is the one piece you wish you hadn’t sold?
I had a beautiful 1940s riding jacket – I wouldn’t be able to fit into it now but it was beautifully cut with a stunning and immaculate printed lining like a Liberty print. I wish I had kept that for my daughter. Actually, there was also a Chloe black and white double breasted coat. It was gorgeous and I only wore it once before selling it.

Are you a hippy?
My favourite eras are probably the 1930s and the 1970s but I would say I am probably a secret rock chic; I loved all those women like Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg. They were quite floaty but had that rock chic attitude. Stevie Nicks is my heroine; she is another icon who has that great kind of look.

'My favourite eras are probably the 1930s and 1970s.' Photo: Sarah Park
‘My favourite eras are probably the 1930s and 1970s.’ Photo: Sarah Park

Who shops at SK Vintage?
Anyone from young 18-year-old girls wanting to spend £20 on a top to women my age and women in their 60s and 70. People who need something a bit unique. I make sure that everything is of a good quality. You might be looking for something for a special occasion or want to perk up their wardrobe. Kentish Town has always been a bohemian, literary area and so the shop attracts interesting people.

Do they open up to you about what they want to buy?
They talk about everything. I sometimes feel like I’m a therapist. They tell me if they’re having problems with their boyfriends or if they’ve split up with their husbands. I think I have got one of those faces that make people want to open up and tell me things. I advise people on what to buy and show them things that they might not have picked themselves and often they are surprised at the things that look good on them. A lot of people can be quite conservative or stuck in rut and want to change their style. That’s the great thing about vintage, you can try on clothes from various eras and find out what suits you.

Where do you buy the clothes?
I have a supplier I have gone to for years and they will get in touch with me if they have certain pieces. I also go over to France and pick things out that are of interest. When I’m shopping for the clothes I imagine the type of people that would wear them and where they would wear them, like a festival or a party.

Finally, how can you stop me dressing like a Tory wife? (Incidentally I’m not, potentially irate readers, but within seconds she hands me a pair of sparkly trousers and matches it with a with a grey workwear jacket). You want to have an edge to what you wear so I recommend workwear, which is quite masculine and which would suit you. You don’t look like a Tory wife but the shop is here for you to come and play dressing up. Just remember to bring some wine.

Find SK Vintage at 51 Fortess Road NW5, open daily 1030am-630pm.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.