Chicago Man Takes Face Masks Into Luxury
During COVID-19 David Altman is encouraging people to wear their heart on their face with masks that his brand Vintage Luxe Up is currently making out of vintage luxury designer silk scarves.
Altman grew up on Long Island, New York, and is from a retail family. His father owned a chain of stores that sold women's sportswear in New York and Florida. His mother worked with his father, then went to work on the wholesale side of things. While fashion was always part of his DNA, Altman, did not always know what he was going to do after college. He graduated from Emory University with B.A. in international studies and art history.
From there, he went into Bloomingdale's executive training program in New York City. His next move was working as a direct mail merchant, which Altman explained, meant catalogs.
Altman joined Neiman Marcus Direct when it was a catalogue company. He described during his time there, it went through an evolution and he was an e-commerce entrepreneur, launching websites for Neiman Marcus, Chef's Catalog, Victoria Secret and Bath and Body Works.
"For me it was always about the discovery, the hunt," said Altman. "Seeing something that I never saw before was always very interesting to me and I consider myself a lifelong student. I ask a lot of questions because I want to learn, but I also ask questions because I find that if I ask questions about other people, it causes them to rethink their beliefs and, fundamentally, what I think about the biggest successes I've had in my career have all come from asking three questions: 'what if…?' 'Have you thought about…?' 'Have you tried…?' Those have really propelled a pretty interesting career…"
Altman then worked at L Brands ( formerly Limited Brands ) for four and a half years where he built Victoria Secret Direct Beauty, Victoria Secret Direct Accessories and Bath and Body Works Direct. His job, he described, was to work with partners to develop a direct relationship with their consumers, calling it "human to human."
"My mandate was to break down the silos between the two businesses," said Altman.
Altman, who has been a Chicago resident for about three years, formed MarketShare Advisors International LLC in 2010 and is its current Chief Executive Officer ( CEO ).
Feeling fortunate to have been able to touch and influence a large number of brands over the years, Altman said he started to think of what he was doing when he was most successful and fulfilled.
"That was selling a vision, selling a dream, picking a path, but also executing a strategy, shaking things up and changing the conversation, building high-performance teams and winning cultures and then delivering superior financial performance rooted in sustainability," he explained. "When I think about building teams— interview on skill, hire on cultural fit, promote on performance, fire on character. Character is very important to me, so it matters how you play the game."
In February of 2020, a friend had given Altman two Hermes scarves. Not knowing what to do with them, he scrolled through Instagram for inspiration. He somebody else cut and repurposed an Hermes scarf into a mask. So, he did just that. He made 20 masks out of the two gifted scarves he had, sold them on eBay and donated the profits to local Chicago charities. The first style, he recalled, sold out.
"I've always been a tactile person," said Altman, Vintage Luxe Up's CEO. "Some people see with their eyes and some people see with their hands and when I look at something I want to touch it. For me, it was always about the touch, the feel of beautiful product and textiles and just texture was always very important to me."
When eBay could not differentiate between the upcycled products he was selling and counterfeit products, Altman built Vintage Luxe Up. The brand launched in June 2020.
"It was important to be purpose-led," said Altman of his venture. "We're here to conserve Earth's scarce natural resources by using vintage textiles, so we're not using electricity, we're not using water, we're not using petroleum to transport textiles. We're using textiles that are already in existence."
Altman added other purposes Vintage Luxe Up carries are providing much needed work to local tailors and seamstresses and donating 15% of sales to COVID-19 relief funds.
"The conversations I'm having with customers has been such fun for me," Altman said. "Talking to people, how it's brightened their day, the fact that we can take something that can be the most mundane thing in the world, one of those blue paper masks, and turn them into works of art that lift your spirit—it's fashion and function and soul. All these goods have a story."
Altman said while Hermes is a customer favorite, there are also masks made from Versace, Gucci, Missoni, Fortuny, and other luxury designer brand vintage silk scarves. Each scarf makes about 10-12 unique masks ( because of how the pattern goes ) that are hand numbered. The brand's goal is to launch a new style every week and email subscribers get an exclusive first look.
From sourcing, to scouring, web development, working with local tailors, and packing and mailing ( sometimes hand-delivering ) the order, Altman puts effort into every step at Vintage Luxe Up.
"This really encompasses everything for me that I love—luxury product, digital commerce, story-telling and sustainability," he said.
Altman's career has been largely linked with style. When he talks about his personal style he said his clothes are "fun Ralph [Lauren]—" an eclectic mix of patterns and patches. His home, which he shares with his 4-year old chocolate lab Annabelle, he described, is boho, eclectic. He emphasizes with pride that every piece has character and a story.
"I think it's important, which is why the work that I'm doing at AIDS Foundation of Chicago is important to me," said Altman in regard to having more business leaders that are openly out to serve as role models. "I've been out and openly gay since I was 30, at work and at home with my family, so I'm certainly proud of who I am and happy to mentor anybody, because it does get better. That's a bit of a cliche or a statement, but it does get better."
"I talk a lot about storytelling because I believe as humans we're less motivated by facts and figures than we are about real people, about real stories in real time," he said. "So I kind of look at my career as a story."