From Phoebe Philo–Era Celine to Mugler Masterpieces, Alexis Novak of Tab Vintage Offers Fashion’s Most Sought-After Looks

Alexis 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.  

Hailey Bieber in a vintage red Thierry Mugler dress from Tab Vintage
Hailey Bieber celebrated her birthday last November in a red-velvet strapless gown from Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1998 Lingerie Revisited collection, which Novak sourced from a collector in France (photo via Hailey Bieber/Instagram). Top: Alexis Novak, pictured here in her studio wearing her favorite Fall 2018 Céline by Phoebe Philo suit, founded Tab Vintage in 2019. During the pandemic, she grew her business by posting pieces on Instagram Stories (portrait by Travis Schneider).

“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.  

Dresses in Alexis Novak's studio
“Most of these beautiful gowns are off living life with their new owners, but happy this beautiful colorway of them all together was captured while it lasted,” Novak says of this vibrant array of gowns in her studio. Photo by Travis Schneider

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

Laverne Cox at the 2024 Emmys in a Thierry Mugler ensemble
Laverne Cox attended the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards wearing a Thierry Mugler ensemble from the designer’s Spring/Summer 1989 Les Atlantes collection, which she purchased from Tab Vintage. Novak had acquired the piece at an auction house in Paris after winning a bidding war with a prominent collector. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

“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. 

bridal gown edit from Tab Vintage
Finding dresses for her own wedding inspired Novak to create a bridal edit for Tab Vintage, which she has found a rewarding experience. “Getting to see a piece go from sitting in the back of a closet or a thrift store somewhere in France to being cleaned, restored and eventually worn down the aisle on the most important day of a client’s — and most likely now-friend’s — life has given me such a sense of joy and purpose,” she says. Photo by Travis Schneider

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.” 

Vivienne Westwood clothing from Tab Vintage
Novak’s Vivienne Westwood offerings include a 1992 Marlene Dietrich–print corset and trouser set and salon-print denim pants.
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.”

Alexis Novak's vintage jewelry case
“I felt so lucky to find this nineteen-seventies jewelry case,” Novak says. “As much as possible, I try to find vintage furniture to live alongside the vintage clothing.” Photo by Travis Schneider

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.”

Alexis Novak’s Talking Points

Paco Rabanne Haute Couture Gold Chain-Mail Bustier Gown, Fall/Winter 1988
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Paco Rabanne Haute Couture Gold Chain-Mail Bustier Gown, Fall/Winter 1988

“Besides being one of a kind and the​ runway sample, the construction and materials used are so luxurious and strong. It has the incredible Paco Rabanne metalwork along the bodice laid atop a soft velvet draping with a gold-fleck-painted leaf pattern. I love this dress because it offers a big moment without being too flashy. It’s timeless and rare and just breathtaking!”

Céline by Phoebe Philo Cream Jacquard Pantsuit Set, Resort 2013
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Céline by Phoebe Philo Cream Jacquard Pantsuit Set, Resort 2013

“Along with the wardrobe staple of a little black dress, I believe everyone should have a chic white suit. Phoebe Philo–era ‘old Céline’ is already proven to be collectible and coveted, and I believe it will just continue to rise in value over time. The tailoring is impeccable, and the brocade cream, ivory and white pattern gives it interest and makes it unique without being too flashy. Like everything Phoebe Philo does, it’s elevated, elegant and extremely smart.”

Givenchy by John Galliano Haute Couture Embroidered Rose-Print Coat, Autumn/Winter 1996
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Givenchy by John Galliano Haute Couture Embroidered Rose-Print Coat, Autumn/Winter 1996

“This coat is one of the most beautiful pieces of wearable art I’ve ever seen. Aside from its being extremely rare, from John Galliano’s one-year term served for Givenchy haute couture, it has an impeccable couched hand-embroidered pattern, inspired by Victorian gros point technique. It has an elegant but playful rose pattern throughout the black coat, making the piece extremely wearable as well as collectible.”

Vivienne Westwood Red Label Hot-Pink Silk Gown with Front Ties, Spring/Summer 1999
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Vivienne Westwood Red Label Hot-Pink Silk Gown with Front Ties, Spring/Summer 1999

“Dame Vivienne Westwood’s genius can’t be overstated. She was able to blend eras and techniques in designs that evoke the past and future while making political statements through her clothing. Through her pieces, she is subversive. References to art, politics and the feminine experience are all woven through with devilishly good tailoring and luxurious fabrics. Her clothing empowers women to wear what they want to wear and recognize that style is a state of mind. This dress embodies that attitude. The poppy-pink color against the silk-satin fabric gives it an elegant and girly quality, while the column style and the unique ties up the front and triple spaghetti strap give it a cool and mischievous edge.”

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