Susie Hoimes’ life reads like a novel. The owner of MDVII, a San Francisco shop which shuttered its physical space to go completely online, Susie has been a lifelong collector, aesthete, and celebrant of beautiful things. Her inventory, avidly collected from people and places around the world, ranges from couture vintage costume jewelry to Venetian glass to Carlo Scarpa 1940s to Spanish Colonial silver. Many local fashionistas and designers rely on her to procure just the right piece, though her customers hail from all over the world. When I think of her cache, the word wunderkammer comes to mind. Her trove, now visible on Instagram, certainly qualifies as a soul stirring, metaphorical chest of glorious curiosities.
Born in Kenya to British parents, she traveled extensively around the East African nation as a child. One of her earliest influences was her aya (nanny), Wanjero, who came from the Kikuyu tribe. She taught Susie how to make grass bracelets and exposed her to the stunning colors and textures of African fabrics. Holidays meant walks on the (then) deserted beaches of Mombasa, where Susie reveled in unearthing shells and other trinkets. She remembers the beautiful, burgundy trains used for travel—also mentioned by Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa—and elegant dinner parties held by her parents, her mother glamorously attired as the quintessential hostess.
She left Africa with her mother and siblings on a 3-week voyage to Southampton on the SS Kenya, a trip which cruised through the Suez Canal and passed by Arabia, Cadiz, and Barcelona. Upon arrival, the family took shelter in the peerless Old Piccadilly Hotel, which had a “grand restaurant, decorated with incredible hotel silver and white starched napkins,” recalls Susie, adding that it was a feast for her eyes. On the same trip, Susie visited her grandfather in Northern Ireland’s Kells, a town known for its textiles. Her grandfather, part of the family’s generation-old, wool tweed manufacturing business showed her how wool was dyed, spun into thread, and woven into fabric. “The smell of the dying room still haunts me,” she says, noting that with the onset of central heating, the need to have heavy wool fabric diminished, and the mill eventually closed.
Her obsession continued through spells at boarding school, travel around the world, and a stint in New York. Eventually, channeling her mother, who invoked movie star magnetism, and her father, a doctor who was a great aficionado of the arts, she moved to San Francisco in the late 1980s. She opened her shop, MDVII (Roman numerals for her address: 1507-1/2 Vallejo Street) in 2000.
“She has an amazing inventory, with encyclopedic knowledge of each piece,” says loyal customer Mary Beth Shimmon, who credited Susie for her own vintage costume jewelry in a recent fashion piece in Haute Living, San Francisco. “Susie also has great taste and sense of style. For an event, I send her a photo of what I’m planning to wear, and from her thousands of pieces, she pulls for me the perfect things.” Shimmon adds, “When I need a gift, I tell her the approximate amount I want to spend, and she finds fabulous options of jewelry and other objects such as a Venetian glass vase or unique silver place card holders.”
For her part, Susie doesn’t just love beautiful objects, she also adores her customers. “They have become my friends, and they are all over the world, including top cities in the United States—Wellington, Palm Beach, Fort Worth, New York.”
While it is sad for San Franciscans to lose MDVII as a physical shop, the boutique lives on. “I do private shows from Aspen to Florida, as well as sourcing for clients and offering one-of-a-kind pieces via social media.” Those who love beautiful things with a history will always find something at Hoimes’ MDVII.