“Why are we paying so much for old clothes?” is the usual thought when it comes to vintage shopping. As puzzling as it may seem to some, you’re really paying for pieces that are one-of-a-kind, and the high quality of workmanship of days long gone.
Think about rediscovering iconic pieces like 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli dresses (she was known as Coco Chanel’s “rival” in fashion), or Christian Dior’s “Bar suit” from 1950s when the New Look was extremely popular post-war.
For those in love with retro, we met up with Angie Chen, curator for The Fifth Collection, to discuss about the “Dos and Don’ts” when it comes to shopping for vintage clothing.
Angie Chen (AC): You’re buying a product of really exquisite quality that was crafted from the past and is incomparable to what we have today. A lot of these artisanal skills have been lost overtime; especially for garment construction and jewellery hammering, partly due to the higher cost of production today as compared before.
LSA: With that said, what do buyers need to know prior to purchasing something pre-loved?
AC: It will be safer to go for the big brands like Chanel and Hermès, or those dated labels like Mugler, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Lacroix. Alteration is also key when it comes to vintage shopping, because not all amazing pieces you discover are going to fit you perfectly. For example, I love Edwardian lace, but that does not necessarily suit my style as it can look quite frumpy and outdated, therefore I recommend redesigning or altering the fabric into something that suits you better.
LSA: You’ll definitely need a little creativity for that when you’re redesigning pieces you’ve discovered.
AC: Definitely, being imaginative helps. But, I think that is the easiest part, because in Singapore, there aren’t many thrift stores as compared to London and New York. Hence the stumbling stone would be the search for thrift stores that actually have vintage clothing.
LSA: Where do you normally get your vintage pieces altered in Singapore?
AC: I always go to Clancy at Far East Plaza to get them altered. I once had a vintage Oscar de la Renta dress that could not fit me; the zip was just too difficult for me to pull up. The seamstress not only altered the dress for me, but also added a little modern interpretation to it. She cut open the dress and made it backless with a tie back so I don’t have to starve just to fit into the dress (chuckles). I feel that this is important as you want to look stylish and feel comfortable to a certain extent as well.
LSA: How do you know if what you bought is actually vintage?
AC: You can always check the label. There will always be recurring brands that pop up in a particular store and you can always compare the font, lettering, and branding of the label. As well as the way it is stitched onto the clothes, or even the seams.
LSA: What about the care label?
AC: Of course, I believe that the care label says a lot, it tells us what you’ll have to do to take care of the clothes. Normally, the fakes won’t really bother. The details put into the care label are also very important. So in all, check out 2 things when it comes to authenticating vintage pieces — the brand’s label and the care label.
LSA: What are the right vintage pieces to invest in?
AC: Chanel is always a good investment and a collector’s item. But I would always recommend not to forget about the smaller brands, especially the Japanese labels. Think Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Pieces from them do extremely well and have good resale value, especially signature pieces from the 90s designed by Rei Kawakubo (designer for Comme des Garçons). These are really great pieces as collectables and you can fetch high prices for them. I once had a top designed by Tao Kurihara, Kawakubo’s protégé. But as the label has ceased, it went for close to £10,000 at a recent auction. I originally bought it for and I got it at approximately £200 to £300.
AC: I myself was shocked too! Because of that, I believe that pieces from Japanese designers are a good investment as well. They’re quite seasonal and I’ve been collecting them for a long time. They’re something that I firmly believe retain their value because of the intelligence and craftsmanship behind every design.
LSA: What about shoes? They can be little bit tricky.
AC: Yeah, vintage shoes are tricky. Those who shop for vintage shoes are usually the ones who do not wear them because the styles have evolved compared to those now — unless you’re buying a pair of vintage Ferragamos. Personally, I wouldn’t wear them but I’ll frame it up. Since there’s age behind it, these shoes would normally be fragile and there is a possibility of breaking them if you decide to wear them. With the advent of dry-cleaning, clothes are easier to maintain as opposed to shoes; especially with Singapore’s humidity.
LSA: Are there any special pieces that you have got?
AC: Yes, I’ve got a classic Manolo Blahnik which is similar, but not identical, to those that Carrie Bradshaw lost at a baby shower when she was asked to remove them (Sex and the City; season 6 episode 9). A brand that I feel will have good resale value is Christian Louboutin as there’s always a market for them.
LSA: What about Alaïa?
AC: It would be for clothes though, not for accessories.
LSA: Do you have any interesting vintage pieces at the moment?
AC: At the moment, I have this vintage Yves Saint Laurent jacket. It has really good stitching, the label and best of all, it’s double seamed.
LSA: Should you be worried about minor details; like loose threads?
AC: Personally I don’t think that poses much of a problem because you won’t always get vintage pieces in pristine condition. There is a history behind these pieces; it should be the quality that you embrace, and not these minor details. For the price you pay, it should be equivalent to the garment’s condition.
LSA: The thing about fashion is about recycling trends…
AC: Of course, and for these vintage pieces, the great thing is that you’re buying the first/authentic piece that may already have been in the archives, and others could just be mimicking them right now. It’s the real deal.
LSA: Purses are a huge thing with your business right now as well?
AC: Bags are the only thing that people are more open to purchasing at the moment. Vintage Chanel bags are constructed with fine caviar leather that gives it its sturdiness and smooth texture.
LSA: Speaking of Chanel bags, do you believe that they are a good investment?
AC: With Chanel, it’s always the classics that they constantly update and reinterpret — for example, the addition of a little trim or unique stitching — so no matter which piece you purchase, they will always be a good investment because they are one of those rare bags that will never go out of style.
LSA: But in business terms, are there any items that you would envision to be “the next vintage”?
AC: We do come across certain pieces that we believe will make a comeback. A good example is Louis Vuitton’s “Richard Prince” bag that has caused an upheaval for the past 3 years. We once had a client who wanted to sell her Vuitton bag off, but we suggested for her to keep it, as we believed the bag will gain value over time. The kicker is that her purse is a “Richard Prince”. These interesting collaborations may not necessarily be of any value at this moment, but they will grow over time, especially for Louis Vuitton, a brand that’s currently modernising its image.
LSA: Are there any new brands you think will be the next Alaïa or Mugler?
AC: Designers today have to incorporate commercial perspective into their designs much more than those from before. As compared to the past when designers were left to reign freely, figures now come into play right from the moment you start out a label. You’ll be required to think about the funding since fashion now is more commercially driven.
LSA: So is it safe for us to assume that you disagree that labels today will turn into covetable vintage items?
AC: I personally feel that it won’t be as exciting and aspiring as it was in the past. When you meet every designer today (if you had the chance that is) and ask them who were their icons of inspiration, they would usually refer back to that “golden era” when Martin Margiela, the Antwerp Six, Helmut Lang et al. had reigned.
LSA: Do you believe that a designer’s death actually increases the value of the product?
AC: It definitely does create a spike in value of their products. People are willing to go all out just to purchase something just to collect. Especially when they understand and cherish the hard work designers have put into their collection.
The Fifth Collection, 59 Club Street, 3rd Floor, Singapore 069434, +65 6221 8526, www.thefifthcollection.com