Photos by The Nat Lens
Luxury fashion expert and former Ralph Lauren merchandiser Judiann Romanello runs this upscale used clothing shop in the Hudson Valley.
Cold Spring is a little slice of nostalgia in the Hudson Valley.
Lively antique stores, historic buildings, and top-tier fashion define this Putnam County community where “old school cool” meets modern perspectives. A stroll past the village’s charming streets evokes the sensation of a bygone era full of classy homes, flowing gowns, and soothing jazz records.
DamnAged Vintage, a fresh addition to Main Street, curates an entire collection of classic pieces reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour. Covering styles from Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn to Wynona Ryder and “Phoebe Buffay,” DamnAged joins the village’s coalition of treasure troves with a fresh eye for fashion.
That eye belongs to Judiann Romanello, the shop’s owner and founder.
“Vintage clothing tells a story. You’re holding a piece of history in your hands. I have pieces from the early 1900s,” Romanello says. “I always like to think about who might have owned this particular piece, who wore them last, and I name them based on who I think would wear them.”
Matching aesthetics to cultural icons is more than intuition for Romanello; it’s mastery. A 10-year career in Manhattan— which is in the running behind Paris or Milan for fashion capital of the world—imbued her with an eye for staging and a hand for storytelling.
Right out of college, she recognized a possible door into the fashion world through editorial. Inspired by the teen-drama and urban-elite zeitgeist Gossip Girl, Romanello joined the ranks of an online blog and wrote a style column. Her days spent wordsmithing paid off in spades, as she soon landed a gig at Ralph Lauren. She worked as the assistant merchandiser for South America and soon discovered a natural talent.
“I was filling for someone on maternity leave, and I had to photograph product in the showroom. It was there that I got my first taste of visual merchandising, and it was so cool,” Romanello recalls. “It was like a movie set, they were listening to Radiohead while spackling and painting, and this looked more like my vibe over working in a corporate office.”
After moving from role to role within the company, all the while gaining retail experience and accomplishing such feats as opening up a Fifth Avenue location for high-end Canadian brand Club Monaco, Romanello started working side-by-side with Israeli designer Elie Tahari. There she was an architect for showrooms, staging unique pieces for wholesale buyers including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, and Saks.
With each new experience, she gained new insights into developing her ultimate dream: a clothing store of her own. After Romanello pivoted to a job at Cartier, she understood that nothing would bring her the same fulfillment as weaving stories through woven pieces. She started buying used garments and selling them on Instagram, slowly fostering a small following.
“When people started to purchase [clothing], it was a crazy feeling. I was selling out of my 300 sq ft apartment in the city. It was when I had three customers in at once, one trying on clothes in the bedroom, another in the shower room, and the third changing in my bathroom, that I realized I was growing too much to stay there. It was time to move back up north,” Romanello remembers.
She shortly after announced on social platforms that she was opening a store—before she had a space. A leap of faith was the only way forward.
Romanello grew up in Putnam Valley, spending quiet Sundays rummaging through antiques and enjoying scenic sunsets over the water in Cold Spring. A small-town feel with big-city access presented the perfect setting for her vision, and that’s where she founded DamnAged Vintage. In March 2020, she got the keys to her storefront, just in time for the pandemic to close doors nationwide.
Romanello’s experience photographing pieces for big-time designers was instrumental in launching a website, where she could run a virtual showroom until it was safe to welcome customers in person. This period also set a precedent for listing the most special pieces online. By the time her first patrons had entered the store, Romanello had curated a picture-perfect environment for shopping; a glance across the boutique’s displays reveals smooth and meticulous transitions between color and pattern.
“Every single piece in here is different, so I decided to do my store in little vignettes of color. You walk into a neutral beige story, a neutral palate is calming in what could be an otherwise chaotic environment,” Romanello explains. Each sub-collection of dresses, skirts, sweaters, and more is arranged by color, rather than size, to keep shopping easy on the eyes.
Further dedication to customer comfort includes a sage purification of the clothes as a way to honor the people who once wore them.
“I like to say that we have a little bit of a witchy vibe here as well,” Romanello says. Clean air, pleasant-smelling used clothing, and tags on every item promising they were “sealed with sage and cleansed of energies and impurities” put the senses at ease.
Now part of the vibrant community of Main St business owners in the Hudson Valley, Romanello enjoys the charming scenery and companionship that Cold Spring offers. Her neighbors check in on her, and fellow shopkeepers wish each other well once the sun descends over the village. Her clientele is made up of mostly Manhattanites, and she’s proud to grant them a peek at one of the Hudson Valley’s gems, side-by-side with legacy business owners.
“Some of my neighbors have been here for over 35 years. Having kind people next to you and across the street, it is such a beautiful community….and they do become like family members to you,” Romanello says.
109 Main St, Cold Spring