Everything Old is New Again

Vintage jewelers take the retail road.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD A issue 04/19/2010

Two vintage jewelry firms are bringing their wares to retail this fall.

This story first appeared in the April 19, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For Christopher DeNave and Cocotay, a deep family interest in estate jewelry helped land these two lines on the map. At a young age, DeNave partnered with his aunt in buying and selling pieces throughout New York’s flea markets. But it wasn’t until he made a solo trip to the Brimfield Antiques Show in Brimfield, Mass., that he realized he could have a future in the vintage jewelry trade.

“My aunt had broken her leg and couldn’t make it that year, so I said I’d try it,” DeNave said. “I went up there with $2,000 in my pocket and came back with all this jewelry. I sold every last piece and doubled the money. And I said, ‘I like this business.’ The idea of buying something in the morning and turning around and selling it on the same day appealed to me.”

By 1995, DeNave had become a resource in estate jewelry, selling one-of-a-kind pieces by the old-school vintage guard, such as Eisenberg, Coppola e Toppo and David Mandel. He met with clients on an appointment basis throughout New York, Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla. But it was only after partnering with New York’s RJM showroom last year that he decided to open his business to hit the wholesale market.

Today, the Christopher DeNave collection can be found at retailers all over the world, from Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford to Kentshire in New York. Lately, his best-selling items are those with a high-fashion name attached. He can barely hold onto vintage pieces from Chanel, Givenchy and Dior, and Hollywood’s red carpet has become an increasingly important factor in his business.

“There used to be a formula to vintage jewelry, but it has gone from collectibility to wearability and fashion,” said DeNave. “People don’t want this jewelry to be stuffy or serious. Today, it’s what celebrities are wearing on the red carpet — Keira Knightly in a Lanvin pendant. It gets plastered on the Internet. It’s not about your grandmother’s jewelry. It needs to be updated, like something you bought in a store.”

Meanwhile, Cocotay’s twin founders, Coco and Taylor Blaisdell, also caught the jewelry fever at a young age. Growing up, the sisters would wear estate pieces given to them by their mother and aunt, and recalled feeling overwhelmed by the amount of compliments they’d receive. Soon after, they began buying their own vintage jewelry and by 2004, they formed a business reworking the pieces into modern, everyday items.

“We loved the idea of collecting vintage pieces and making them our own by putting them together in a different way,” said Coco, the firm’s creative director and designer. “A lot of things we look for when we go vintaging are eye-catching pieces and signature pieces that are absolutely wonderful on their own. But we found that we can make a bigger statement with them if we broke them apart and played around.”

Within a year, the Blaisdells found they couldn’t keep up with requests from customers shopping their capsule collections at Bergdorf Goodman and Linda Dresner. So they launched Cocotay Social, a collection of vintage-inspired jewelry geared to wholesale in a larger way. The line features rhinestone and brass designs inspired by the Sixties and Seventies, mixed with classic items such as hoops and stackable bangles, all retailing from $150 to $650. Bergdorf’s signed on to help launch the line, which hits the store in June.

“For us, wearing these pieces made us feel special and there’s something special about a vintage look,” said Coco. “It’s nice to know you’re not going to see everyone on the street with your bracelet on.”

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