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Street Smart: Legendary Beast on U Street

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Anne Fox's vintage jewelry shop, Legendary Beast, has made just about every possible area "Best of" list over the years.

That won't be a surprise to the loyal customers who love exploring the shop's extensive collections.

The storefront (1520 U St. NW) carries unusual, character-driven items, including hangers of dangling rope necklaces, earring trees crammed with oversize, statement earrings, and ornate, turquoise-and-silver bracelets and rings.

What curious customers who chat with Fox may also discover is that the story of how she became a jewelry guru is as unique as one of her conversation-sparking pieces. It goes something like this: ballroom dancing, polyester and Lyme disease.

Before Fox was a retailer, she was a ballroom-dance instructor at Arthur Murray and Dance World in Bethesda and Dance Factory in Arlington - and the head of the Hustle Club. That was until a heel and ankle were smashed in a car accident.

"I tried teaching after that, but it was just too painful," she says. "I did it for a few more years ... but my heart wasn't in it."

A friend suggested she start selling her dance costumes. Fox had begun wearing vintage clothing in the 1970s because she hated the polyester fabric that was popular at the time. "Then I ended up selling '70s clothes for, like, decades," she says.

Ultimately, she tired of it all and stopped for five years. She and her husband moved to a wooded, 35-acre property outside Charlottesville.

"It was beautiful," she says.

Beautiful, yes, but she contracted Lyme disease.

She and her husband eventually moved to Charlottesville so that she could heal. She then returned to the vintage business with a sole focus on jewelry. She opened Legendary Beast in the District in 2006.

Things were slow at first, but customers encouraged her to keep at it, Fox says.

Most of her wares are vertically displayed because "that's how you wear it unless you're laid in a coffin."

Her items are divided into groups that include the popular "oldie" items; mid- to late-century pieces; Asian, African and South American jewelry; and "bling."

"I think the mass production of things is what fuels people's interest in the antiques because who wants to look like everybody else?" says Fox. "You get the big statement necklace, but then 10 people are wearing the same necklace, so what's the statement? 'I'm just like everybody else'?"

The right designer piece can also be an investment. The value of a pair of vintage Chanel earrings, for example, only increases with time.

Fox finds most of her merchandise at "cutthroat" estate sales. She's also built up an "army of little, old ladies," a group of older women with "exquisite taste" who help keep her store stocked.

Her "army" - and the customers - can find the sometimes-pricey vintage world a bit addictive.

"At first, I thought they were all trying to downsize, but then, they kept calling me," she says of her troops whose finds
are sold on consignment.

"I have a little saying: 'We're all enablers here,' '' she jokes.

Investing
Several pairs of 1993 wooden heart earrings by Chanel were being sold on eBay for more than $2,000 each.

What's vintage?
Many retailers and shoppers say items must be at least 20 years old to be considered vintage, meaning pieces from the early
'90s are just old enough to qualify.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

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