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Hollywood needs met in Kansas City

Fresh stock and customer service are why many studio costume designers travel to Re-Runs.

October 14, 2005|Robert K. Elder | Chicago Tribune

When Hollywood costume supervisor Robin Roberts talks about Re-Runs, a vintage clothing warehouse in Kansas City, Mo., it's as if she's describing a magical emporium designed specifically for wardrobe mavens.

"It was almost like walking into a department store that had been left alone for decades," says Roberts, whose credits include HBO's "Carnivale" and the upcoming series "Big Love." For the last 20 years, Ken Coit's Re-Runs has dressed local hipsters and Hollywood productions alike, including period dramas ("Forrest Gump," "Road to Perdition"), sports bios ("Ali"), sci-fi adventures ("Minority Report") and westerns ("Ride With the Devil").

"I like being able to preserve what these clothes represented in the 20th century," says Coit, 55. "Working with movies is one of the perks of doing this business."

It's not such an odd fit, since Coit himself used to work in film production, making training videos for medical schools and the police department. In 1985, however, Coit started running a flea market business with a business acquaintance.

"Actually, it was kind of a fluke," he says of his start in the vintage clothing business. "I've always been a junker, a collector. Kansas City is the world capital of garage sales."

He continues: "It's like being an archeologist. I go into attics and basements to refresh my stock."

The following year, his partner dropped out and the flea market became his primary concern.

Some might even say obsession.

"I had amassed a major collection, but it was driving me out of my house," he says. He opened up a storefront in Kansas City's trendy Westport neighborhood in March 1995 and bought a warehouse a few years later.

"I thought the bubble would burst and I'd move on to something else," he says.

It didn't -- and his client list continues to grow, slowly, by word of mouth.

But if Hollywood is the wardrobe capital of the world, why do studios go to Kansas City to outfit their stars?

Customer service, location and fresh stock, says Daniel Lawson, currently assistant costume designer on Julie Taymor's Beatle-themed musical "Across the Universe."

Lawson discovered Re-Runs while working on an independent movie, "Lenexa, One Mile," starring William Baldwin and set in the 1980s.

"He had great period shoes and those big shoulder-padded blouses. It was just like stepping back into the '80s," he says. "His customer service really helps him stand out. In L.A., a lot of those stores are 'take it or leave it.' With Ken, he'll look for you, set things aside for you. He doesn't have the attitude that a lot of stores have."

Plus, he has space. In addition to the Westport store, Coit has 5,000 square feet of clothes in a warehouse located just west of downtown Kansas City.

"He has a fabulous warehouse. For a lot of people, especially in New York, space is a premium, so you don't get the range of materials," says Roberts, who found Re-Runs on a 7,500-mile cross-country trip to find clothes for the second season of the Depression-era supernatural drama "Carnivale."

"In order to obtain original period clothing, you need to go everywhere," Roberts says. But, she adds, the Midwest is a gold mine for costume designers because of the seasons. Vintage hats, coats and suits from the Midwest were kept in excellent condition, in large numbers, whereas clothes wore in the Southwest during the Depression "got used until [they were] rags."

"He is so active about always acquiring new stock. There's always something new there," Lawson says. "He'll admit that he has a bit of a buying problem. I think his big thing is: It's not tired stock. It's fresh, in good condition and clean. He takes care of it."

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