Falling under the spell of a beautiful dress, a gorgeous pair of shoes or a well-crafted handbag is no strange feeling for followers of fashion. Falling in love with a piece that was first worn 30 years ago and has been waiting, it seems, just for you to discover it, is all the more rare. This is the magic of vintage fashion. It’s what makes pre-owned Hermès bags go for double their estimated value at auction and specialist vintage stores like Decades in Los Angeles, Rellik in London, and Didier Ludot in Paris such noteworthy destinations.
Here is an exert from a great article about vintage, from the The Business of Fashion by Rebecca Tay .
WHAT IS VINTAGE ANYWAY?: Over the last decade, the term ‘vintage’ has come to describe anything at least 10 years old. But given the tumultuous fashion landscape of recent seasons, with the loss of great talents like Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen and the musical chairs of designers moving from house to house, some believe that age is no longer the only criteria for what defines vintage fashion. “Vintage implies that it has archival value,” said Cameron Silver, owner of Decades, the landmark Los Angeles vintage store, which has become an institution of sorts. “When we first opened in 1997, everything had to be at least 30 years old,” he continued. “But now, with such a seismic shift in fashion, especially in the last three or four years, and with things happening so fast, some of those pieces that still seem current are certainly collectible.” For Silver, this includes pieces by Tom Ford from the Gucci years, Christophe Decarnin at Balmain, Prada from the mid- to late 2000s and Phoebe Philo for Céline.
Gucci by Tom Ford in the window of Decades
According to Pat Frost, director of fashion at Christie’s, “Vintage is anything up to the ‘90s — but it means different things to different people.”
“To some people, the wear on the piece is important; it has to show an interesting, unique patina that shows it has been well-travelled, but also well cared for,” added Matt Rubinger, director of luxury accessories at Heritage Auctions. “To others, it has far more to do with the look of the piece,” he continued. “Still others believe that vintage is about ‘uniqueness’ and seek pieces that have long since been discontinued so that they might be the only person to own the piece.”
THE GROWING DEMAND FOR VINTAGE: What everyone seems to agree upon, however, is that vintage fashion has never been as sought after as it is today. Many enjoy the special feeling of discovery that goes hand-in-hand with buying vintage. Others see vintage as an opportunity to make a statement against the artificiality of modern consumerism. They crave the authenticity that comes with owning an item from the past. Still others relish the attention to detail and high-quality craftsmanship of vintage fashion and accessories. Of course, there’s also a certain feeling of exclusivity that comes from wearing a one-of-a-kind, rare piece. And not surprisingly, most industry experts trace the rise in popularity of vintage fashion to the presence of vintage gowns on the red carpet, where exclusivity and glamour are king. “Images of stars in vintage clothing made it socially acceptable to wear vintage,” agreed Silver, recalling Julia Roberts in black-and-white vintage Valentino at the 2001 Academy Awards, Renée Zellweger that same year in a 1959 strapless yellow chiffon gown by Jean Dessès, and Reese Witherspoon in a 1955 champagne-coloured Dior gown, accepting her Oscar in 2006.
Julia Roberts in vintage Valentino 2001
Christies’ Frost agrees. “Ten years ago, people weren’t wearing vintage Chanel to an Oscar presentation unless they had a pre-existing relationship with the house,” she recalled. And after the celebrity endorsements began flowing in, “suddenly, editorials included vintage clothing and it just became part of the fashion vocabulary,” said Silver. So much so, in fact, that luxury vintage dresses and purses can now even be found at upscale department stores such as Liberty and Bergdorf Goodman, where dedicated shop-in-shops such as The Dress Box Vintage and Coquette Atelier, respectively, offer customers a well-curated collection of vintage fashion.
Designers are also amongst the many consumers of vintage fashion, often finding inspiration in the archives. Case in point: Yves Saint Laurent’s unmistakable presence in the Spring-Summer 2011 collections of Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Jason Wu, and Alber Elbaz’s tribute to the same designer a decade ago, during his first season at Lanvin. “In the ‘90s, 60 percent of our revenue was from designers,” noted Mr Silver. And even if design houses have cut back on extravagant research budgets, teams of Burberry employees are still known to scour certain military resale stores for old trench coats. Even Kate Moss was inspired by vintage, fashioning several of the pieces in her now-defunct range for Topshop after dresses her mother wore in the ‘70s.
Kate Moss for Topshop 2010
SELLING VINTAGE: Given the amount of research that must go into each piece before it even hits the shop floor, selling vintage requires a significantly larger investment of resources than selling current season items. Sure, there are a handful of designers that are guaranteed sellers (Chanel, Hermès, Azzedine Alaïa, and Yves Saint Laurent do well across the board; Gucci, Lanvin and Pucci are also popular at Atelier-Mayer, while Vivienne Westwood Gold Label sells quickly at Rellik), but the truth is there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to valuing vintage fashion. ‘The older the better’ does not necessarily apply; it depends entirely on the designer. For example, “the Russian collection by Yves Saint Laurent is like the holy grail,” said Frost, “even though that was from the late ‘70s, not early on.”
Not surprisingly, personal taste is extremely important in vintage fashion, too. Carmen Haid, founder of Atelier-Mayer covets an original YSL Mondrian dress, as well as a pair of oversized Courrèges sunglasses that, second-hand, still retail for nearly £1000.
Mondrian dress by YSL
Whether it’s a piece of the Russian collection or a pair of discontinued eyewear, to each of these women, it’s knowing the history of a piece, its lineage, perhaps, the fact that it may very well be the last of its kind on earth, and an appreciation for the sweat and tears that went into its design that makes vintage so valuable.
The Russian Collection in Vogue Italia
For collectors, it’s not just the fact that it’s a beautiful dress, a gorgeous pair of shoes or a well-crafted handbag. It’s the combination of history, rarity, design and a true love of fashion that are the magic of vintage. For the full article go to: The Business of Fashion. Rebecca Tay is a Canadian fashion writer and editor based in London.