February 4, 2024Alexis Novak has quickly become a name to know in the world of covetable vintage fashion. Her Los Angeles–based business, Tab Vintage, is a go-to for top stylists who understand the immense power of certain designers’ archival collections. Wearing such sought-after items gives celebrities instant allure and suggests a personal style that’s not only achingly glamorous but intellectually informed and influenced by a love of craftsmanship.
It’s no wonder, then, that Hailey Bieber garnered more than 1.3 million likes on Instagram when she posted photos of herself in the dress she wore for her 27th birthday last November. The figure-sculpting red-velvet strapless gown, from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1998 Lingerie Revisited collection, was sourced by Novak from a collector in France. Its most eye-catching feature is its bustier, whose neckline curves up to form devil’s horns.
“It was an amazing find. Hailey’s stylist was looking for outfits to match the colorways of her new [Rhode Beauty] lip glosses, and this was the perfect ruby red!” says Novak, speaking over the phone from her home in Los Angeles, which she shares with her husband, Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine. The pair, who married in 2023, met seven years ago when Novak was working as a yoga instructor. “He’s been through this whole journey with me, from wellness teacher to fashion matchmaker,” she says.
Valentine is soon to head out on tour with the band, first to South Africa and then, in May, to Las Vegas for the group’s second residency at the Park MGM hotel. Of the two, however, it is Novak who scored the first smash hit of 2024, with another headline-grabbing Thierry Mugler creation, worn by Laverne Cox at this year’s Emmy Awards. Part of the designer’s Spring/Summer 1989 Les Atlantes collection, the plunging-neckline ensemble is crafted from wet-look lamé and has fin-like features and crest appliqués that look like gills. The result is a shimmering mermaid-meets-fembot look, inspired by Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
“It’s the most important piece I’ve ever bought,” Novak says of the futuristic showstopper, which is similar to one featured in the traveling exhibition “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” (most recently on view at the Brooklyn Museum last spring). “I got it at an auction house in Paris. There was a bidding war between me and an important collector who desperately wanted it. I pushed a little further than planned. When they tapped out, I just couldn’t believe it. I’m so happy it’s gone to someone who is a big, big Mugler fan.”
Novak, a natural beauty with long, tumbling fair hair, was herself spotlighted by British Vogue in a story about the archival looks she chose for her wedding. For the ceremony, she wore a 1920s cream chiffon gown. For the party the following week — which took place on Valentine’s Day, in a romantic nod to her husband’s surname — she sported a white Céline sequined dress from Phoebe Philo’s coveted Spring/Summer 2018 collection. Her final look, for the dance floor, was a gossamer one-shouldered red gown paired with a pink veil made from a 1990s Dries van Noten cape. Suitably, the scarlet number was designed by fashion’s disco king, Halston, in the 1970s.
Planning her nuptials prompted Novak to create a special bridal edit for Tab Vintage. “I realized that there’s a dearth of vintage-couture specialists who offer a curated range of wedding dresses,” she explains. “I wanted to make that choice just as magical for a bride-to-be as stepping into a modern luxury bridal boutique.”
Among Tab Vintage’s bridal finds is a 1958 strapless cream gown by Marc Bohan for Christian Dior with a boned corset and voluminous skirt linked by a statement sash. More unconventional is a Grecian-style off-white ruffle dress with gold chain-link straps from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s 1990s diffusion line Soleil, which is known for semi-sheer designs that scream rock-star style. Every piece evinces a little bit of Novak’s style, which is always elegant but never predictable. Sometimes, this is conveyed in a dynamic cut or an edgy pattern; other times, it is subtly expressed in the poetry of the past, since her choices have everything to do with how fabric and form connect to a unique narrative or a moment in history.
Indeed, big-event gowns — be they bridal or statement pieces — are the cornerstone of Tab Vintage, which she founded in 2019. Through the pandemic, she grew the business via Instagram stories, selling handpicked treasures to those in the know. The enterprise developed organically: Each sale allowed her to invest in a new vintage item. She zeroed in on the super-rare, focusing on garments that showcased supreme craftsmanship and historical merit.
This thoughtful approach has resulted in a remarkable museum-caliber inventory, ranging from classically feminine silhouettes like Gianni Versace‘s sky-blue semi-transparent bustier gown, famously worn by Claudia Schiffer on the designer’s Spring/Summer 1995 catwalk, to audacious one-of-a-kind triumphs of engineering, like Paco Rabanne’s shimmering corset and skirt from his Spring/Summer 1988 haute couture collection, entirely embroidered with thousands of iridescent black beads for a tiered, fringed effect. Novak pairs the ensemble with a pair of giant earrings that skim the shoulder line, completing a look that glamorously encapsulates the wild extravagances of the era.
Still a dedicated yogi, Novak has trained herself to see like an artist. She credits her late father for steering her in the right direction. “We were very close. He was an entrepreneur who started his own business at forty. He told me that he could have set up on his own much earlier, had he been brave enough. He was adamant that I shouldn’t waste any time and that I should follow my passion.”
Photo by Travis Schneider
She has heeded that advice, often going to great lengths to secure her couture treasures. “I once flew to New York on a red-eye, picked up an Alexander McQueen [dress], which had been taxied to the airport, and flew home to give it to a stylist in time for a shoot in L.A.,” she recalls. This kind of footwork has placed her ahead of the curve. In 2019, she sourced a 1995 Jean-Paul Gaultier cyberdot-print dress for a client, three years before Kim Kardashian and Cardi B famously wore versions of the graphic mesh design. “I scoured social media. I went in deep, looking through hashtags. It took days and days, just sitting there, scrolling. Eventually, I found a girl in France who had it. She didn’t want to sell it at first, but luckily, she changed her mind three months later,” Novak relates, adding, “I guess I’m a bit of a Nancy Drew!”
Of course, the risk one runs in finding and acquiring such rare items is that it can be hard to let them go. Among Novak’s personal, never-to-be-sold treasures is a Christian Dior cameo choker showcased in John Galliano’s Fall/Winter 1998 runway show and a collection of 1970s Patricia von Musulin Lucite jewels that look as if they were carved from ice. “I found my first [von Musulin] bangles at a Palm Beach flea market. My collection just grew from there, and now, I have about fifteen originals,” she says. Occasionally, she allows celebrity stylists to borrow the pieces for editorial shoots. “Not long ago, Kim Kardashian wore my von Musulin cuffs in a SKIMS campaign.”
Like all fashion collectors, Novak has a wish list of hard-to-find couture collectibles. “There’s an original Yves Saint Laurent white silk dress that Saint Laurent himself styled with a feather boa. That would be a dream purchase. The lady who has it currently is one of the most important collectors in the world, so I’ll just have to keep manifesting that,” she says, laughing.
Asked whether her husband ever seeks her fashion advice, given the constant scrutiny that comes with fame, Novak says, “He definitely knows who he is stylistically. I love his style, and he’s great at editing.” She adds, “Often, it’ll be me asking, ‘Is this too much?’ When we’re getting ready to go out, we’ll both be trying on a bunch of different looks, asking each other what we think. Ultimately, we both love fashion, and fashion is just really, really fun.”