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|New Craze for Vintage Fashion
by Brook S. Mason
|Vintage clothing, specifically cast-off designer togs from the 20th century, is the ultimate fashion statement for an entire new group of collectors, say dealers and auction house specialists.
Twenty years ago, Hawaiian shirts and dreary thrift-shop suits from the 1940s were replayed by the younger set, while a small band of real collectors concentrated on 18th- and 19th-century frocks. But within the past four years, the market for high-end second-hand fashion has grown exponentially, with prices tripling in specialized shops like Manhattan's Resurrection and the salesrooms of Doyle's auction house.
Vintage fashion dealer Katy Rodriquez, 30, owner of two Resurrection boutiques, says it best. "With the soaring interest in vintage, my client base is now global," she proclaims. In addition to flocks of Americans, Rodriquez sells regularly to Japanese and European private buyers as well as institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. Clearly, Rodriquez has a cult following. Even actress Julia Roberts and designer John Galliano shop at her Mott Street location.
Plus, Rodriquez is opening her third outpost on trendy Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles next week. There, like in her "Nolita" (north of Little Italy) shop, Rodriquez will ply top line vintage clothing specifically from the '60, '70s and '80s. A hefty 40 percent of her wares will be top tier -- the runway duds of Gucci and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, punk rock concert gear and Bob Mackie sequin gowns with prices going up to $7,000.
This new breed of collectors snaps up such wares, buying upwards of 12 or more ensembles annually, says Rodriquez. "Just as eBay has broadened the appreciation of collectibles in general, I'm seeing a younger set with a different mentality," says Rodriquez. They like the fact that vintage fashion has value in the marketplace and four-figure price tags do not make them blanch. Many of these clients are the very generation that is now buying Eames and George Nelson furniture.
What are the "must haves"? At the Mott Street Resurrection, Courreges from the '60s and '70s is in profusion with prices that quite frankly shout how far this specialty has come. A belted wool coat in Courreges' signature Day-glo orange is $1,200, while a demure navy dress emblazoned with his logo in vinyl blue is $950. Part of the allure of Courreges is that Jackie Onassis wore his creations. So, just as French furniture examples like the very ones used by Louis Quinze are coveted, association matters too in vintage fashion.
One index to how steeply prices can climb is an Emilio Pucci slip, in polyester, of course, from the days when he had a licensing agreement with Formfit Rogers. The price? A surprising $200 for an undergarment that originally retailed for less than $20, proving that mass market sells in this area.
Another Soho store, What Comes Around Goes Around, carries a bevy of such slips as well as Pucci jersey silk ensembles from the '50s up to the '70s. A Pucci jumpsuit in white and pale blues costs $1,300. "Students, corporate types and housewives snap them up," says Coco Yamanaka, store manager.
Just as these new collectors are buying in greater numbers, so too are museums. A case in point is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute gift and acquisition list from 1999. The museum added some 232 fashion items from the '50s through the '90s, including pieces by Giorgio di Sant'Angelo to Rei Kawakubo.
"For too long, fashion has been the stepchild in salesrooms and museums, but fashion will achieve a higher place in the decorative arts than furniture," says Valerie Steele, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum chief curator. She sees the introduction of new areas of collecting (like punk rock) as further validation.
At the same time, the number of people forming serious collections is also growing in size. Rodriquez has clients who specialize in only one designer.
One factor fueling the market is the current uniformity of department store offerings along with the blandness of Banana Republic and Gap. "With vintage fashion, buyers can find a really wide range of choices -- much more than slip dresses and khakis," explains Doyle's couture specialist Linda Donahue, who holds the largest such sales on the East Coast.
Clients at the couture and textiles sale at Doyle New York on May 2 (total presale estimate: $300,000-$400,000) are certain to be bidding up Halston's animal stripe sequined sheaths (est. $500-$700). Donahue expects them to reach $1,500 each. "The zebra-striped dresses are a perfect example of buying the real thing rather than the contemporary knockoffs," points out Donahue.
Of course, pocketbooks are in demand, especially the Hermes Kelly bag now selling at their 57th Street premises for $5,000 and more. Clutches of regular clients are picking them up in the sales rooms. "It's not only that the Kelly is less expensive here, clients like the proportions of the bags from a decade or two ago," says Donahue. While the Kelly bag is a classic design, Hermes makes minor adjustments to the scale each year. These days, the bags are larger.
Hermes bags frequently score lofty prices. At Doyle's, a Hermes bag brought just over $12,000 several years ago. Price-wise, Hermes totes are the tea caddy of the vintage fashion set. Over at Resurrection, such bags are sold almost as soon as they are put on display.
Interestingly, provenance counts in this area. Because a Charles James 1953 gown with a boned hip line skirt in marigold silk faille with a canary yellow bow knot (est. $10,000-$15,000) is from the collection of the late Washington, D.C., hostess Gwen Cafritz, its value is enhanced, says Donahue. The gown -- which has a look that can be described as Pincipessa Barberini meets Minnie Mouse -- is likely to command a lofty price. At a Doyle's sale on Apr. 24, 1996, a James frock (est. $6,000-$9,000) hit $49,450, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for vintage fashion.
As in other art forms, the quixotic commands rapt attention. "With a wider, hipper crowd, more clients are seeking the truly unusual," says Donahue. Certain to find favor is a drop-dead pair of Schiaparelli sleeve gloves and hat in emerald green velvet that gives new meaning to the term voluminous. The hat is a variation on the snood but ends with a bow. Although estimated at $1,500-$2,000, Donahue believes this accessory will go higher.
"This ensemble reflects the designer's interest in Surrealism, so it's certain to be talked," points out Donahue.
Resurrection, 217 Mott Street, New York, N.Y. 10012 (212) 625-1374.
Resurrection, 8006 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, Ca. 90046 (323) 651-5516 (opens Monday, May 8).
What Comes Around Goes Around, 351 West Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10013 (212) 343-9303.
Doyle's New York, "Couture and Textile Sale," May 2, 2000, at 175 East 87th Street, New York, N.Y. 10128 (212) 427-2730.
BROOK S. MASON writes on art and antiques.