“What I really love about them… is the fact that they contain someone’s personal history…I find myself wondering about their lives. I can never look at a garment… without thinking about the woman who owned it. How old was she? Did she work? Was she married? Was she happy?… I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them or kissing someone…I look at a little hat like this, I lift up the veil, and I try to imagine the face beneath it… When you buy a piece of vintage clothing you’re not just buying the fabric and thread – you’re buying a piece of someone’s past.”
-Isabel Wolff, A Vintage Affair (novel, 2011)
Get lost in the narrow streets and passages of Paris to discover emblematic pieces of vintage luxury fashion… And the reasons are many…. it can be the desire to enrich your wardrobe with items that hold the ‘stamp of impeccable taste’, to avoid fashion ‘faux-pas’, or just a way to transform from ‘anonymity to celebrity’.
It is said that vintage is about looking in the future through the frames of the past, and the Parisian luxury vintage story is no different, but still exquisite. In many ways, vintage stores in Paris hold secrets that are desirable for the people who choose to consume and wear vintage garments and accessories. It is a world on its own, a world between the lines of art, fashion and history.
Vintage luxury proposes a new aesthetic form that helps buyers to assert individuality and carve out meaning from desirable objects full of stories from the owners before them. It is the consumers, but also the sellers who foster the rebirth of a luxurious vintage item.
In order to discover the world of vintage luxury I visited two well-known shops for the ‘vrai connoisseurs’ of this cultural phenomenon in Paris.
The first one is Les 3 Marches De Catherine B, perfectly fitted into a narrow street in Saint Germain des Prés. Even from the outside this small, but cosy place gives the impression of a tiny ‘universe’ of good taste. The atmosphere is luxurious from the first moment you enter the shop. A bit of memorable feeling takes all over you when you face the old luxury items, all whispering their own story… Like a modern Alice in Vintage Fashion Wonderland, you are immediately transferred into the luxury world of Chanel and Hermès. One of a kind Kelly or Birkin bag, gloves, signature scarves, accessories, hats, clothes, shoes…just imagine the collection of around 1500 pieces! “I have opened the shop 20 years ago,” says Catherine B, the owner of the shop. “At the beginning, it was a passion, but then, by collecting more and more objects, it became a job for me. I was buying a lot of Chanel and Hermès items, so at one point I owned a lot, and that is how I built the idea of selling them”.
I left Les 3 Marches De Catherine B with a feeling that I had discovered a hidden luxury treasure in the urban jungle. But the vintage adventure continued. A few steps away I entered into the world of Au Pré du Vent. Here, one can find more affordable approach toward the vintage luxury shopping experience, and can wonder between the shelves and rags full of clothes and accessories from Moschino, Chanel, Kenzo, YSL, Hermès and many other luxury fashion brands. The owner, Dossanyos Tina, says that she has been in this business for more than 25 years now. As well as Catherine, Tina has started this career with an immense passion for fashion, clothes and accessories. She says “it is the objects that are important, not the brands themselves. What is interesting in the whole story is the nostalgic value of these beautiful things…” And exactly that is the notion you will have when you start discovering the items in this shop.
Two different authentic stories, two different concepts of what luxury vintage fashion is and how it has been transmitted and represented into the shops. But there is a niche – the ‘jouissance’ of working with luxury fashion items and garments.
At the end, what are the luxurious vintage objects if not a symbol of the past that lives in the present and will be re-invented in the future? These pieces are inscribed with stories from people that have owned them, they witness fashion evolution and history, and in fact they offer a transformation from anonymity to celebrity.