On a recent trip to New York I discovered New York Vintage, deep in the heart of Chelsea and Manhattan’s garment district, steps away from the 26th St/6th Avenue fleamarket where I had been happily browsing for $5 vintage hats. This is a revelation in vintage fashion: an extensive collection of museum quality pieces, available for direct purchase (or in some cases rental), presented in a high-end but chic boutique environment. It is probably the best vintage fashion boutique I have encountered – scroll to the end to see my top 10.
When vintage clothing of this quality and preservation is available, why settle for a mass-manufactured high street buy of dubious quality and origins? Even better, what if that piece came with a story and a few mysteries of its own? High street stores have become adept at using celebrity branding to hype and sell limited edition products. Shoppers seem willing to overlook the discomfort of a long queue in the rain for a chance to surge through the shop doors in a crowd and take their chances in grabbing a piece of celebrity magic at a bargain price.
The vintage clothing market is a world away from this. Recently, when I admired a stunning leopard print coat on a very glamorous lady, she told me she had acquired it long ago from a vintage dealer she visited regularly and who briefed her on the age and background of the pieces she bought. She had no plans ever to relinquish her hold on this coat – it was a highly valued piece of her wardrobe, as much for its story and uniqueness as for its look.
So does provenance matter? A resounding “yes” according to no less authority than the Musee Galliera: “…Fashion is not just a matter of clothes as such: knowledge of their provenance or of when they were worn is often essential to true appreciation” they declare on their website. Provenance is also an essential element considered by auctioneers – Didier Ludot’s Couture auction with Sotheby’s in July included a number of items owned by luminaries like Lou Lou de la Falaise and Barbara Hutton. In London, Kerry Taylor’s specialist fashion and textile auctions regularly feature items with interesting provenance. At their October auction, a 1950s Christian Dior grey satin and tulle dress once worn by Scarlett Johansson sold for £7,500. Provenance need not always mean celebrity connections: at the same sale a 1940s Utility suit reached a world record price of £1700, bought by a museum, keen to acquire a pristine example, unworn and with the original shop tag.
If we all started buying vintage what is the role for costume museums? Already the most adventurous costume institutes and museums are changing the way they operate, prioritising their collections to seek specific items but also using their holdings to educate the public about the value of Haute Couture and artisan workmanship. The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Museum in New York even publishes a wish list of the things it hopes to acquire that includes 1930s couture as well as work by Azzedine Alaia; Alber Elbaz for Lanvin; Bouchra Jarrar; Nicholas Ghesquire for Balenciaga; Alexander McQueen; Givenchy; Haider Ackermann; Jun Takahashi for Undercover; Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons; and Proenza Schouler.
Now we hear that the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris will collaborate with H&M next year on clothing and accessories inspired by their archive. The collection will launch next spring as the museum opens a new exhibition: Fashion forward – Three centuries of fashion.
So does this bring us full circle? Vintage fashion moves higher up the value chain into curated collections with museum quality garments, museums move into the mass market attempting to attract young fashion enthusiasts through their doors. If it drives interest in the skills, artisanship and sheer hard work that has produced extraordinary examples of dress over the centuries then that has to be a good thing.
So which are the best vintage boutiques? Here’s my list but what do you think?
- New York Vintage, 117 W 25th St, New York – crème de la crème in my view, top quality and incredible stock. Paradise.
- The Gathering Goddess, by appointment in W London or online – a beautiful and varied collection including mid-twentieth century US designers less well-known in the UK alongside beautiful 70s pieces from YSL, Chloe, Lanvin and others.
- Pandora, Cheval Place, Knightsbridge, London – really a designer resale shop and great for clothes from the last few years, especially Chanel and Hermes.
- Les 3 Marches de Catherine B, 1 rue Guisarde, Paris – No true fan of Chanel and Hermes should miss this place, the ultimate place for bags and accessories.
- La Boutique, 1045 Madison Avenue, New York – great range of stock from recent resale to real vintage and a broad range of designers. I’ve found wonderful Rochas (Olivier Theyskens) pieces here as well as a good selection of costume jewellery
- A Second Chance, 1111 Lexington Avenue, New York – specialising in Chanel and Hermes, a great selection of high quality stock, including some beautiful camellia brooches last time I visited.
- Michael’s 1041 Madison Avenue, New York – stock includes some real treasures – landmark Mugler jackets from the 1980s, a good selection of Comme des Garcons and some stunning shoes.
- Fara, 6 Upper Tachbrook st, London – in fact a charity shop but with Chanel, Hermes, Dior and YSL originals nestling alongside the 70s psychedelia. Great for a curious rummage.
- Bang Bang, Goodge st and Drury lane, London – good for pieces from the last 2-3 decades including the more conceptual labels – Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons.
- La Double J, online – truly inspirational website showing vintage clothes styled with flair and imagination. Gorgeous and never fails to lift the spirits.
And the markets….
- 26th Street & 6th Avenue in New York – a double whammy here with an outdoor fleamarket at weekends opposite a covered market with dealers housed in their own space selling high end vintage. While there I spotted some amazing Chanel and Schiaparelli jewellery.
- Puces de Vanves and Puces de Clignancourt, Paris – Vanves better for a bargain but as ever, arrive early.
- Portobello road, London best on a Friday early as possible.
- Hammersmith Vintage Fair, first Sunday every month at Hammersmith Town Hall. Divine.
- Aix-en-Provence, go for antique clothing and textiles, crafts, antique watches. Best on a Thursday from early morning to dejeuner.