By Erin Galt, Buffalo Exchange Sherman Oaks
I have been a buyer for Buffalo Exchange for five years now, and can say I often remember the customers and their stories as much as the amazing merchandise. May Li and Wayne Okazaki came into the Sherman Oaks location shortly after Wayne’s mother, Helen, passed away at the age of 95. Having never been, they came to Buffalo Exchange, because they could not bear the thought of this fierce and fashionable woman’s wardrobe being destined for the dumpster.
There were so many treasures that I brought on Rachel, another buyer and vintage specialist, to help process and price these pieces dating back to the late 40s. As Wayne brought in stack after stack of vintage dresses, we exchanged stories with May Li. The couple did not know a lot about the historical implications and genuine rarity of the pieces they had and appreciated all the information we could share. May Li and Wayne returned the favor by sharing wild and hilarious stories about Helen.
Helen Okazaki was born on December 11, 1919 in Selma, California. By the time she graduated from Selma High School on June 10, 1938 she had already sparked an interest in becoming a beautician and what became a long-term love affair with fashion.
When the war broke out, Helen and her family had to relocate to Jerome Internment Camp in Arkansas. What is often forgotten is that many endured the war longer than the dates documented in our history books. Helen relocated to New York, the fashion capitol of the U.S., but in order to be employed she had to lie about her Japanese ancestry and say she was Chinese. Nothing held this empowered woman back.
She would laugh as she told stories of her famous customers like Jack Dempsey’s wife and Leopold Stokowsky. Helen later relocated to California where she opened her own beauty salon, married her husband Jim Okazaki, and gave birth to two sons, Wayne and Stanley. Helen maintained her career into her eighties by converting a room at home into her salon, and as you can see from the photos, she never strayed from her life-long passion of dressing fabulously!
It is days like these that make me proud to be a buyer for Buffalo Exchange. I look forward to the next bundle of clothing and stories.