By Kristen McNerney
It could take months or years for someone to fully realize what career path will bring their life the most fulfillment, and that sentiment applies to Cold Spring boutique owner Judiann Romanello.
Last year, Romanello opened DamnAged Vintage, a carefully curated vintage clothing shop, after nearly a decade working for high-profile fashion designers and trying to figure out her place in the world. But while fashion was simply an interest growing up, her path to becoming an educator opened the door to a world that would eventually become her passion.
While close to completing her dual master’s program in elementary and special education at Manhattanville College, Romanello instead took an editorial position at Glam Damnit, a style blog that provided a segue into the fashion industry.
“I was always interested in fashion and just old things,” Romanello said. “I didn’t go to fashion school, so I didn’t know what kind of jobs existed. I’m a firm believer in fake it ‘till you make it because nobody knows what they’re doing at first.”
Following her editorial role, Romanello went to work as a temp for South America at Ralph Lauren, a job that required eight interviews, she said. But when her tenure ended, she was advised by the corporation to work a retail position if she wanted to further her pursuits in the corporate fashion sector as a visual merchandiser.
Romanello reluctantly took a job at The Westchester managing a Club Monaco store before landing a position with Elie Tahari, an Israeli fashion designer, setting up showrooms. Two years later, Romanello secured a position with Cartier as a visual merchandiser.
“On my first day, I showed up to work with a roller suitcase and there was a credit card and plane ticket to Texas on my desk,” she said, explaining how Cartier would send her to as many as three cities a week setting up jewelry counters and accessory walls. “The level of detail was exquisite.”
However, she found the work to be creatively stifling, asserting that her hunger was in fashion. After a year at Cartier, she expressed interest in opening a vintage clothing store of her own and took a freelance position with the company while running a private business selling clothes out of her New York City apartment.
While Cartier would fly her to Texas, Romanello would shop at discount designer centers and pack as many outfits in a bag as possible before her flight home. Back in New York City, people would book appointments to browse the rack of clothes she had set up in her confined living space.
“I would give my customers macaroons and champagne and it would be a lot of fun,” Romanello said. “I think I had three different people trying on clothes in my apartment at one time.”
Struggling to make ends meet, Romanello took a side job as a bartender, but on her last day of training, she was fired. Struck with defeat, she opted to leave New York City to live with her mother in Garrison to save money and focus her energy on opening her own shop.
Eventually, Romanello set her eyes on Cold Spring.
“I knew of Cold Spring as a kid,” she said. “There were antiques, it was cute, it was quaint and it was in the middle of a mountain.”
Romanello opened DamnAged Vintage last June. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused distress for many merchants, the lockdown benefited her business.
“I wouldn’t have been able to take my time setting up had the opening not been delayed,” she said.
Much of her business is conducted online through the business website, which launched during the shutdown.
The boutique is open Thursday through Monday for in-person shopping and provides customers with a nostalgic experience. Romanello said every article of clothing in the store is hand-picked, with a collection of apparel designed to appeal to all body types.
As the business grows, she hopes to cater to men’s fashion.
Romanello added that each piece of clothing is given the proper restorative care, with a special cleansing ritual conducted for clothes that belonged to those who have passed on. She said the ceremony is meant to restore their positive energy and give everything in the store a light and airy feel.
Along with clothes, DamnAged Vintage also offers candles, incense kits and accessories.
“I’m a quirky person and we sell damn good vintage,” Romanello said. “To me, that’s thrilling.”
DamnAged Vintage is located at 109 Main St. in Cold Spring. It’s open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The boutique is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.