Cassandra’s closet started with a Regency wardrobe designed for the cast of Sense and Sensibility by Jon Jory produced by Bridgeport International Academy. The school couldn’t afford to pay Lena Yasutake as a costume designer and dramaturge so they compensated her by bartering the very costumes she designed. It was the beginning of the Costume Shop; a tradition at the school of keeping and caring for costumes rather than letting them go at the end of each production. Lena Yasutake rented out the costumes for Regency weekends at The Governor’s House in Vermont to benefit the school. Not only did customers not mind that an empire waist gown used to be a cotton curtain, they loved the narrative. Good for the planet and fun for the client.
Together with Joan van Geldern, Lena was invited to rescue a collection of vintage costumes from a condemned barn in Pennsylvania. These beautiful costumes had once been a part of a international performance arts troupe in the 1970’s. Lena found one of their albums and was thrilled to recognize a dress she had restored on the cover! Washing and carefully restoring the vintage costumes gave them a second life and fueled Lena’s passion for upcycled fashion.
In the summer of 2017 at the Jane Austen Summer Program in North Carolina, Lena had the good fortune to meet two of her Regency style icons, Ruth Verbunt and Hope Greenberg. Hope introduced Lena to her sister Faith Monzeglio on a fabric shopping expedition. While enjoying a soul food dinner with Faith, Lena shared her dream of opening her her own costume shop. “I want people to know” she said “that the clothes were made from upcycled materials and have graced the stage”. Faith suggested that most Regency clothes were remade, second hand and shared. “You could call it Cassandra’s Closet”, Monzeglio suggested “because that’s where Jane Austen often got her clothes; in her sister Cassandra’s closet.” It was love at first listen!
Christoph Yasutake, Lena’s husband of 17 years, is her biggest supporter. He kept encouraging Lena to stride past her fear and pursue her dream. One date night he said “I have a surprise for you. I bought the domain name cassandras-closet.com. I want you to know I believe in you and support you”. When she confided in close family and friends that she was opening her own shop everyone said “Finally!”