-Vintage Clothes can cost almost as much as new clothes (also ridiculously expensive) that look old- what’s the best investment?
Once upon a time, bright young things ran around town in ratty thirties velvet opera coats with Paris, rue St-Honoré labels, beaded cashmere twin sets from the Easenhower era, and campy sixties frocks found at the Salvation Army for $5. In those days, vintage aficionadas felt like they belonged to a secret society of scavengers who found fabulous bargains lurking on every flea-market table and rummage sale rack.
But that was then. Prices for even the most prosaic vintage garments have skyrocketed, leaving the chic shopper facing a genuine dilemma: With the best old clothes often costing more than new clothes, and new clothes (which are also ridiculously expensive)painstakingly designed in many cases to look exactly like old clothes, how do you decide which is the best investment? Should a vintage loving woman just throw in the Missoni towel and buy the new-old thing? Or should she stick to her retro guts and cost be damned?
As a longtime vintage lover (collecting since I am 8 years old) I am frankly flabbergasted by the price Puccis and Guccis are fetching these days. The biggest differences in the last few years is that there are just so many people looking for vintage resources now. I mean, there are even vintage sections in department stores!
I am not letting the burgeoning prices curtail my clothes collection or the one offered at ERA - it’s just that lately I have been setting my sights on what I can call ‘’covetable eighties designers’’ such as Alaia, Thierry Mugler, Norma Kamali, Krizia, etc….
Prices for hot-label items,be the old or new, may be completely hideous, but I think that you can still can’t go wrong with solid vintage investments: Judith Leber minaudière, just a few decades, old sixties mod dresses, and of course anything marked Hermès.
Actually, when it comes to Hermès, mad desire has been known to vanquish price resistance, whether the item is gently worn or factory fresh. I believe that buying a Birkin with your own money is the sign of a successful woman, old or new. I crave nicely trimmed roomy leather bags. And though I haven’t experience the old urban myth- the dusty Kelly nesting away in a salvation Army store….I have experienced it with a perfect deep navy blue lambskin quilted Chanel Bag and I have been carrying around a beloved black leather Hermès bag for the last 10 years.
As a lifelong vintage collector, I swear I haven’t spent thousands on my extensive wardrobe…………PAUSE here for a few minutes to ponder…………..that is really just my intentions that remain modest. I always go vintage hunting/evaluating with a budget. Let’s say it is $500 - and that feels like a lot and then I go ahead and spend $1000. I cannot help it I have to salvage, refurbish and upcycle all the beauties I come across in my life. Sometimes I break down and buy something so extravagant and think that vintage is still a better deal for my money. And yes I do pass this on to all the ERA Girls that come to the shop.
Still, vintage or not, in the end it’s never just about money. A few season back, an ERA Girl fell in love with a Dior skirt suit from the late fifties, when Monsieur Christian Dior was still in the atelier. It was $1000, she took a breath and bought it anyway. But what to go with it? A brand new tan color Goyard bag, and a pair of paisley gloves from Etro for $200. She swear it’s the only time she ever bought new gloves! She usually buys them from ERA too for a mere $40: a perfect example of a chic shopper: mixing the new and the old in an exercise of style. It’s crazy but vintage is still a much better value than new. She could have not buy Dior suit for that price and get as much satisfaction. And last but not least: you’re getting something one-of-a-kind.
Do escalating vintage prices ever tempt me to break down and buy new Gucci or Prada, a prospect that might be particularly seductive since those houses are actively pillaging their own archives and one of them even buys pieces from ERA? The old things are still cheaper and then there’s the original enamel buttons, the fabric, the beading. You can feel the hand, the inside boning, the embroidery. Now so many things are of one style. Back then they made just a few, or maybe only one. And never have to worry about someone else wearing what you have on.
I think labels are overemphasized. It’s more fun to find a piece by someone you don’t know but has a great fit – and if it doesn’t have that label, who cares?...but I guess sometimes, a provenance adds an extra layer of pleasure. I burst with enthusiasm about a really desirable vintage piece I bought last year – an Hermès caftan in the most delicious colors and a hoodie with delicate tassel. No one, except maybe for Yves st-Laurent, could make a caftan like this and transform this hippie thing into something like a painting. And again, the fit, the cut- perfect. And it’s sexy and that is hard to do with a caftan. Believe me- I have tried on gazillions of them.
Last but not least, but of upmost importance that what makes vintage items superior to a new one is construction. The material were finer and more thought went into the craftsmanship. Even when a house reissues design, it’s seldom quite right. The color is off or the silk is different. Certain fabric milling machines are not available anymore.
The shifting vicissitudes of a big label can be fascinating. For example, Lanvin, that house the epitome of chic in the fifties and descended to the ignominy of nylon in the sixties and seventies. It was wash-and-wear every grand-mother wore it. Now, of course, the Lanvin name again conjures spectacular style. I am also enamored with of those most elusive of vintage discoveries such as a 50 year old Balenciaga coat, a vision of almost geometric rigor that bears only the slightest resemblance to contemporary Balenciaga. Still, in the great chain of fashion, labels, originals and resurrected, keep taking on second and third lives. I do get Balenciaga pieces in the shop because girls wear it once, trash it and then sell it to me and I myself will store it and will wait until it has cross the 20 years bench mark for vintage consideration and then decide what to do with it. In fact I get surprised ever day, I am never jaded when it comes to the possibilities of style-…to be continued…
Few things trigger such vivid memories as a special item of clothing. Whether it’s the dress you wore when you first fell in love or a bag your mom gave you as special gift, your closet offers a colorful window into your past.
I was still very young, when I discovered that my mother was married in a ‘’tailleur’’-a chic blush pink color French Lace skirt suit that hung in the back of her closet. It seemed a mysterious and glamourous thing, and also a reminder of how little I knew about my mother’s past and how much I had to learn..
Why a ‘’ pink tailleur’’? I asked her. ‘’ Why not?’’ she replied.
When I was about 11 and started to wear the jacket from this suit myself, a narrow fit lace Jackie O. style jacket with silk satin lining, I realised how young my mother was on her wedding day: just 20, no more then a girl, even though she was meant to be all grown-up, with me, her first baby, soon to be on the way. This skirt suit is lost now-disappeared, like my mothers’ death- but it lives on in my memory, a pink wedding ‘’tailleur’’ the color of hope, foreshadowing an ill-fated battle with cancer, yet signifying my mother’s fight against convention ( a liberation of sorts)
My mother wedding ‘’tailleur’’ is what first taught me that clothes matter far more than we are sometimes given to understand, that they are not meaningless frivolities, for there are stories contained within a wardrobe and even if they seem fragmentary at times, they add up to a precious patchwork of life. I know I am not alone trying to make sense of the pass this way, because whenever I talk other women, the mere mention of my mother wedding attires, is enough for them to tell me the stories attach to their own most treasured clothes.
Take Sylvie, for example, who recently told me about her fragile, much loved vintage pieces that had belong to her great-aunt: ‘’ I have one of her Fortuny pleated dresses, trimmed with terra-cotta beads, and it’s the color of green-gold water. And the hem is ripped from her dancing shoes.’’ Sylvie never met her great-aunt- ‘’she died before she could ever met her –but Sylvie comes vividly alive for her in these clothes. ‘’They are totally inhabited for me by her,’’ said Sylvie, ‘’and all of the more extraordinary because they emerged almost intact after all these years.
There is similar reverence in the voice of Debra when she talks about her favorite bag. ‘’ It’s gold metallic mesh,’’ she says, ‘’and it was my mother’s, until she gave it to me a few years ago. She took it with her on her honeymoon to Hawaii in 1968, and I’ve got a picture of my mom and dad together there, with her holding the little bag. They look so young and hopeful, and she was pregnant with me at the time, and I am pregnant now.’’
It is stories like these that make me realize how a narrative can be fashioned by clothes, for what we wear touches us in more ways than one. A friend of mine, a fabulous beauty writer, evokes an era’s emotions when describing a dress that her mother once owned: ‘’ A pink and orange flowered babydoll dress made by Jean Muir in the 60’s. She gave it to me, and I wore it the whole time I lived in Sydney, when I was 22 and madly in love with French journalist. There is no way I could wear it now – it wouldn’t fit, it’s for a young girl- but I’d never get rid of it. It’s folded up at the top of my closet, and it reminds me of a time when I was happily in love. If I ever get a daughter, I’ll give it to her one day.’’
There is obviously a direct connection with family history in all these stories- material clues about who we are, where we come from, and what we might become. But even clothes from a less personal source can have powerful emotional resonance: for example, Nathalie, a fashion buyer, has kept a secondhand outfit she bought in a London Market when she was 20 ‘’Although this dress and jacket weren’t by Chanel, they looked as if they could have been, with narrow sleeves and trimmed with grosgrain ribbon. I felt entirely self-contained within the outfit: it was the perfect disguise and made me look very formal, even though I was completely wild at the time. I wouldn’t wear the outfit now, but I’ll always keep it- it’s part of how I discovered my identity.
It’s surprising, too, how apparently anonymous clothes can form a crucial part of our individual stories. I remain deeply attached to a simple black and silver knit LeChateau dress that belonged to my best friend mother, Louise. She overcame a difficult divorce and rise to be a formidable woman. I kept the dress, and wore it as a badge of honor and although I can no longer wear it because I have grown out of it, I found comfort in the knowledge that I have benefit from its emblematic power. I would be bereft to lose the dress, though it was doubtless one of thousands of identical pieces. It hangs alongside a black and cream coat, very Chanel-like, given to me by one of my favorite client, Anne, shortly after I open ERA second location. Last Fall I found myself wondering what to do with the coat-its lining was torn, its days were surely numbered- but in the end I felt too superstitious to give it away. It was as if by doing so I might be losing the thread of my evolution, as if the coat itself was emblematic of my journey with ERA.
So, the coat has stayed, having been cleaned and relined by the most amazing seamstress I have work with since 1994, hence adding another layer of attachment to my clothes. I will wear this coat again, for its practical as well as comforting and warm against the skin (unlike an enduring business). Of course, I can’t be as sentimental about everything in my closet- the house would be engulfed in a rising tide of clothes otherwise- and I do make periodic trips from my closet room to the shop (ERA). The trick, perhaps, is to keep only those few treasures that feel essential to one’s sense of well-being, which means chucking the old T-shirts that are remnants of an unhappy period or the uncomfortable shoes that never took you to the places you really wanted to go. And, if, by chance, some precious piece does disappear- through a wrinkle in time, like my mother’s ‘’tailleur’’- then try not to mourn it, for its story will remain, woven into the warp and weft of a life.
July, beginning of August is that mystifying time of the year, just like the end of January & beginning of February, when I am caught twirling amidst everything and nothingness....when it is quiet and I SHOULD enjoy it but I feel guilty if I do. Wondering if I will be forever alone making beautiful things for no one to wear? I get dramatic but then it becomes my thinking fuel It is in those moment that I can shovel clouds, which in my family, means daydreaming, creating and think schemes, ideas = Nothing truly tangible or fully conceived!...Cloud shoveling might not be productive in a physical sense but it is necessary for my process. It is all about my state of mind to enter a new season/collection.
It is also a moment where I can catch up on things I have been procrastinating while I also attempt to move forward with a new collection and anticipate: The combination of both temporarily turns me into a headless chicken: walking around doing bits and pieces but never fully satisfied with results because I will change my mind a ‘’few’’ times because I have time to spare (so I like to believe...) So I will have days when I rethink 6 dresses but finish none. Other days I walk in determine to finish them but then I have a few clients and that plan goes out the door or I hem only a sleeve or something so little it is like I have done nothing at all. Now with my new website obsession I added a new diversion to the equation.
I usually wake-up out of this transition period and realise the urgency of tying all the loose end I have started and become intensively productive that even the visit of all my clients will not stop me from working in studio area. This great turmoil of cloud shoveling usually by end of August and end of February with my own tornado season! LOL. It tends to coordinate with the return of all my girls asking for a gazillion things. All at once, I get out of the Cloud Shoveling to contemplate the spectacular pieces I have made and all my guilt washes off and the results is always pleasing, to me anyways. Another season/collection sees the light. The creative process follows it course steadily for a few months until next time. I am entering my 29 season/collection & I am still very much inspired, stimulated & curious.
First thing first: I am not a morning person!... so my best thinking, ideas, strategies, plans, always come at night & very rarely in the morning. No surprise for anyone that knows me a little. I can stay up for very long period of time while the Western Hemisphere as gone to bed and be perfectly contempt. It gives me time to explore, observe, digest and process and essentially stay ‘’current”. It keeps me alive, connected and spirited. I will not overly do it because I refuse to become obsess over trends. It isn’t about that! I am not a hipster, I am a Gen X kid.
Back onto the creative process! Today I was attempting to fix a last minute wedding outfit for a girl... I know it is early (1pm) I just could not!... I just finished prom season, Grand Prix fund raiser, etc.... and I have a mountain of summer pieces still unfinished and a brand new website with a new assistant, Alexandra ... just could not do this last minute wedding request! I am an artist : not a retailer : not a seamstress : not a robot and at times, a miracle worker... I can be very fairy like but you call me today and you are leaving at 4h and you want me to fix you a wedding party dress!!!!!
I AM A FAIRY but I cannot do that....it is too last minute, it gives me no time. I actually tried but as I was trying to fix it, I came to realise that what was ask of me was not possible and it was not for me to do... so I decide to write my daily note about it because my creative process for making each piece is EXACTLY like when I paint and you cannot produce a painting, even more so commissioned work under pressure within a few hours. I certainly cannot create a wedding dress in a demi couture technique within a few hours either... to be continued...