Let’s hear it for nostalgia.
Why else would someone pay 35,000 euros for a Martin Margiela duvet coat — and one that’s not even new — or plunk down $7,658 for a vintage wool Chanel blazer of unspecified origins. In some cases, the decades-old original articles sell for far more than current looks by the same design house.
“A lot of vintage prices are quite a lot more than new prices,” said Candice Fragis, buying and merchandising director at Farfetch. “That’s because something was a one-off, or an exclusive color done 10 or 20 years ago, or the item references the original trend. People are asking for more vintage, from 15 years ago and earlier. We are beating [plan] this year.
“Obviously, the prices are higher for fashion,” Marie Blanchet, head of vintage at Vestiaire Collective, said, noting that’s indicative of vintage being validated for a broader fashion-minded audience beyond collectors. “There are prices you’d never imagine. If the Nineties mean a lot to you, you’ll pay the 35,000 euros for the Margiela coat.”
Emotions play a part in driving up prices, as well. According to vintage fashion experts, certain decades resonate with consumers who came of age during that period, and perhaps discovered fashion for the first time through a particular designer. Looks from that era create a subtle sense of longing that is assuaged with the purchase of a garment, handbag or shoe. Consumers too young to remember the trends and designers, react to the lore — for example, Halston’s clingy dresses, popular during disco’s heyday in the Seventies — and want to experience it themselves.
That may be partly fueling a revival of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties, three in-demand decades, according to luxury resale e-commerce sites, vintage shops and fashion experts. “There’s a drive for the Seventies that may come from the younger generation that missed it,” Blanchet said. “The fascination with the Seventies includes the freedom, the rock ‘n’ roll, and the Birkin handbag. All the guys want to look like the Rolling Stones with Saint Laurent doing the Seventies rock ‘n’ roll culture. Even [Gucci creative director] Alessandro Michele today is doing Seventies jet set.”
“A customer’s coming of age decade has real prevalence,” Fragis said. “One of our core demographics is mid- to late-30s, so their decade is the Nineties. My coming of age decade is the Eighties, but my big fashion reference is my mother, whose is the Seventies. We’ve got a lot of amazing Helmut Lang, [who designed from the Nineties through the early Aughts,] which we’ve seen selling well. We definitely saw a sales uptick of Alaïa, following his death.”
“The Seventies are at the top of the list,” Blanchet said, while the Nineties are popular for iconic Dior pieces such as the saddle bag. “There’s a big trend for Helmut Lang. Obviously, the brand has its own archive. I met with a big collector of Lang. It’s very difficult. My job is to treasure hunt. For us, Helmut Lang is a very key name.”
Blanchet observed that vintage fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum, oblivious to what’s happening in the world. “There’s something happening in the present that makes the brand shine again,” she said.
Following a stretch of minimalism, there seems to a “more is more” ethos developing. “Minimalism is always there, because simplicity is always needed, but generally, yes,” William Banks-Blaney, founder of William Vintage in London, and considered one of the foremost experts in the field, said, referring to consumers’ interest shift toward maximalism. “Christian Lacroix has always been a favorite of ours. He’s had a huge resurgence along with a bolder, more charismatic sense of color and fabric.”
Several experts said Michele’s work at Gucci has made logos chic again after years of backlash. “Alessandro has harnessed that sense of joy again and shown everyone that romance and eclecticism and fun can be a part of luxury,” Banks-Blaney said.
“The late Nineties into the early Aughts is sort of the sweet spot right now,” said Gill Linton, chief executive officer and editor in chief of Byronesque. “Particularly Nicolas Ghesquière and Balenciaga’s 2002 collection, which is impossible to find. It’s just a function of time. I don’t think it has anything to do with the new Balenciaga and how relevant it is now. Nobody’s doing anything like it today. People who were there at the time, remember what Nicolas had done. The same with Martin Margiela. Everybody thinks those collections were incredibly successful at the time, but they weren’t mass produced.”
That’s one reason Margiela’s cargo dress elicited such a big response when it was offered by Byronesque. Linton said consumers remembered “the figure of Kate Moss wearing the dress, the only one ever made. It sold for more than $5,000. The buyer was a real collector, who knew there was never going to be another one. It’s a mix of craftsmanship and signifying a little moment in culture. There’s real inspiration from that era, and Margiela continues to be incredibly in-demand.”
Fragis said authenticity is paramount to Farfetch buyers. As for pricing, “It’s so subjective as to whom is selling it and how professional that source is. As a marketplace, we don’t set the pricing. We represent some of the best vintage sellers in the world, who have a very informed view of desirability and price accordingly. It’s definitely about a moment.”
Farfetch has been creating moments such as last season when it unveiled, “the largest archive of Gianni Versace,” Fragis said, adding that the sale was conveniently timed for just before the Versace show in Milan. “Some of the styles that were one-offs, which, at the time of the 20th anniversary of his death, became much more desirable. Some of the prices were very, very high, but there were also a lot of very well-priced pieces. The runway originals were some of the highest-priced items. They’re very iconic and collectible.”
Farfetch in May took a deeper dive into one designer’s history, partnering with Comme des Garçons archive boutique Dot Comme in Melbourne, to offer vintage and recent Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons designs for men and women. The event coinicided with the opening of “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, of which Farfetch was a sponsor.
Rati Sahi Levesque, chief merchant of The Real Real, believes vintage is propelled by what’s on-trend now. “Nineties Dior slipdresses are flying out,” she said. “Manolo Blahnik mules are gone. It feels like it’s a little more about the iconic pieces from a designer. It’s Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga or Tom Ford’s Gucci era. Those are the pieces that command a high resale value and do really well for us.”
Also, lace-up shirts from the Sixties and Yves Saint Laurent’s safari collection “are doing really well. They’re driven by the trends now. “
The Real Real is also experiencing an uptick in decade-specific items. “A lot of square-toed shoes are coming back, even Stuart Weitzman’s from the Sixties,” Sahi Levesque said. “There’s a little bit of collecting happening. Tom Ford’s drape-y, asymmetrical look is being done again, and people are looking at that again.”
Ironically, there’s a novelty associated with vintage, said Sahi Levesque. “You can’t just go to the store and buy it,” she said. “With social media, designer collections get old really fast and you get bored of things very quickly. Vintage is about mixing old with new. Now, styling is back, and so is putting things together. Because of social media, people are interested in mixing now. They’ll buy a top from the primary market and mix it with something vintage. When it’s an item of which only one or just a few were produced, it feels fresh again, like a badge of honor.”
But Sahi Levesque warned that outfits “can’t be too matchy-matchy. You have to think about it. It’s not just about one Céline dress. As a matter of fact, Céline layered two coats over each other recently.”
Lamenting the move away from minimalism, Sahi Levesque said, “For a while we went through minimalism and it was no logos. It was great. People are now into logos again. And all the plaid, I’ve seen more plaid pieces from Burberry to Supreme. Bold shoulders are also getting some attention. We have Calvin Klein collection coats from the Eighties flying off the shelf.”
Tracy DiNunzio, ceo of Tradesy, said, “The big trend is the early Aughts-style of ‘Sex and the City’ and Paris Hilton. There’s a ton of Dior saddlebags, Louis Vuitton x Takashi Murakami and Louis Vuitton x Stephen Sprouse handbags. There’s that Kardashian moment when they were bringing back that style.
“For a couple of years, we saw customers moving away from logo bags to more anonymous-looking bags,” DiNunzio said. “These things are logo-heavy and super-exuberant.”
More evidence of the maximal trend, is a heightened interest in Seventies and Eighties eveningwear. “One designer popular with influencers is Bob Mackie and his dresses from the Eighties, which appeal to fashion-forward customers and influencers,” DiNunzio said. “Two things that are very popular and over-indexing from Chanel, are belt bags and fanny packs from the Aughts. They were really unpopular for a while. There’s also the ongoing Eighties revival of belt bags.”
Tradesy, with six million members, has a core customer in her late 20s to early 30s and lives on one of the coasts. “It’s a Millennial customer, really, and in some ways an aspirational customer who may not feel she can walk into a luxury store,” DiNunzio said. “We have a lot of sellers in their 40s and 50s, who’ve been collecting fashion over the years and want to move toward a lighter-weight lifestyle.”
“Our customers are also influenced by Instagram,” DiNunzio added. “Pierre Arobio, has been pretty influential, as had Olivia Culpo. We’re definitely seeing that when micro-trends take off with influencers, we get a corresponding bump in search volume and sales. There was an overalls trend. We were able to watch the trend take off and then decline in a way that I would hope brick-and-mortar retailers didn’t buy into it because they wouldn’t even get to stock it.”
1st Dibs, which was founded around the mid-century modern period, is finding those dates are creeping into the Seventies, said Anthony Freund, editor in chief of Introspective, the e-commerce site’s weekly magazine. “I lived through them and I’m nostalgic, for the Seventies, and the Eighties,” he said.
The iconic pieces that continue to have staying power? “Platform shoes are selling really well,” Freund said. “That reflects a swell of nostalgia for the disco era of the Seventies. We offer a wide variety of platform shoes, from Chanel to ones with a Swarovski heel. Maxi dresses from that period are also popular. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current David Hockney exhibition there’s a portrait of Ossie Clark, who designed during the Sixties and Seventies, and his wife Celia Birtwell. It captures a couple at the center of London’s mod fashion movement. Clark’s maxi dresses have been selling well on the site, even though he’s slightly less known than other designers of that time.”
Roundabout, in Greenwich, Conn., typically sells fashion that’s under five years old, but a vintage sale featuring statement pieces such as a Saint Laurent black satin cape with red trim, brought customers “out of the woodwork,” manager Alex Corsello said. “We had a Chanel aviator style jacket from the Nineties, and some very unique pieces such as a Philippe Venet hot pink boucle coat, which had a ticket to the Paris opera from 1981 in one of the pockets. Also, a great Galanos jacket with embellished buttons from the early Eighties, and a really unique Geoffrey Beene blazer.
“We’ve been having a lot of luck with the vintage,” Corsello said. “Usually people come in looking for current things for less. I think people are looking for something different and unique, especially with the trend toward maximalism. The Eighties is, more is more, and that’s what people are looking for. I’m personally a big vintage fan. I’d love a permanent vintage rack in the store to include a few special pieces.”
Blanchet revealed that Vestiaire Collective is redesigning its web site to offer filter categories for vintage as well as options for editorial picks and Looks we love. “It’s a work in progress,” she said. “When it’s open, you’ll be able to browse by decades and exceptional items.”
Vestiaire Collective’s move is evidence that vintage is gaining stature in the fashion world.
Consumers appear to be attracted to both the familiarity and associations to past decades that vintage items arouse, and the novelty of owning something previously minted and potentially rare. Asked why the styles of some designers from the past still look current, Banks-Blaney said, “Designers have always been inspired by the past or the idea of the future. Dior looked to 18th-century France, Schiaparelli, the work of the Dadaists, and Paco Rabanne, the futurism of the 21st century. Homage and osmosis are always present in fashion.”