Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Art Of Collecting Vintage Clothes

As the new crop of fall fashion magazines illustrates, nothing looks more in vogue than what was most recently considered passé. Designers have always turned to the past for inspiration, but as fashion cycles seem to get shorter (can the '80s really be back already?), truly dedicated followers of fashion are abandoning trends entirely and going to the source for vintage couture.

In the process, they're turning vintage rags into a very hot commodity. "The prices have escalated so much," says Tiffany Dubin, who started the fashion department at Sotheby's in 1997 and co-authored the book Vintage Style: Buying and Wearing Classic Vintage Clothes. "But with vintage fashion, you can still get a level of quality at a price point that would normally be impossible."

In the past few years, vintage fashion has gone from the province of artists and alternative musicians to the preferred mode of society ladies and young professionals. "Julia Roberts wore a vintage Valentino dress to the Oscars," notes Vanessa von Bismarck, whose Manhattan PR agency represents a number of fashion designers. "And Barney's has a vintage section now too."

As more retail stores add vintage clothes to their inventory, it's no longer necessary to rifle through the racks of the local thrift store to find that one-of-a-kind item. Yet vintage fashion has retained a flavor of the bohemian. "Upper East Siders are proud of buying vintage these days," says Dubin. "It's cooler to wear something that's not recognizable as Prada."

Nevertheless, names do matter when it comes to vintage clothes as collectibles. Decades after they were made, labels such as Chanel, Pucci, Courrèges and Hermes will still be worth more than items from JC Penney. Those with a detailed knowledge of fashion history look for items made in the years when a noted designer was working in a certain couture house--as when Yves St. Laurent designed for a few seasons at Christian Dior in the late 1950s.

For those willing to look beyond names, vintage clothing from high-end department stores can offer even better value for money. "In the 1930s and 1940s, the department stores used the same fabric and designs that were fashionable in Paris," says Dubin. Finding items by store designers who became famous later, such as Sophie Gimbel, who designed for Saks Fifth Avenue, adds yet another element of challenge to the search for valuable vintage.

Aside from labels, other factors that determine the value of vintage clothes include condition, quality of material and provenance--i.e., if a well-known person owned a particular item or was photographed in something like it. Scarcity plays a role, too. As with other collectibles, rare vintage couture commands a higher price than items that turn up everywhere.

The real value of vintage clothes may lie beyond the satisfaction of assembling a pedigreed wardrobe, however. "It's not about vintage, but developing your eye for quality," says Dubin. "You don't need a designer to tell you it's okay."

sources from
photo by: velove design & couture

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