Status symbol handbags vs. individuality
While some celebrities have caught on to the vintage bag market and have even donned vintage pieces on the red carpet, rest assured that a vintage handbag is usually as unique as its carrier.
"The appeal of vintage is likely to do with people's search for unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, since luxury has now become more mass," says Phair. "Having a vintage bag gives one an edge since it is individual and may have an interesting story attached to it."
Pictured above: Vintage gator handbag, picture courtesy of "High Fashion Handbags: Classic Vintage Designs" written by Adrienne Astrologo.
Practical tips for buying vintage
With all the counterfeit bags out there, what should you look for when buying vintage?
David James Ginople at Store B in the Wicker Park & Bucktown area says it's important to go to a credible seller when purchasing vintage handbags, especially when buying bags that are frequently knocked-off.
"Purchasing from someone you are comfortable with and who is a reputable dealer comes first and foremost," says David Ginople.
Here are some tips from Store B's Ginople:
- Be wary of synthetic linings. More than likely, a real vintage handbag will have a leather lining. Additionally, the lining should be stitched in as opposed to a loose lining.
- Just because a bag has a serial number, does not mean that the bag is authentic. Have the bag checked by a credible vintage dealer; or, better yet, purchase it from a credible vintage seller.
- Be cautious when purchasing vintage handbags that are largely knocked-off, such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton, unless you are buying from a credible seller.
- The quality on a real vintage handbag cannot be matched. Pay attention to details, such as the quality of the leather, the stitching and hardware. The stitching on a Chanel handbag in particular can be a telltale sign of whether the handbag is real or not. For Louis Vuitton, almost every piece of hardware should be marked with the LV symbol. Most hardware is solid brass, as opposed to inexpensive plated metal.
David Ginople himself is a former buyer for Bergdorf-Goodman and Marshall Field's, where he specialized in women's accessories. Store B features "quality wearable vintage clothing." Along with vintage Gucci and other well-known brands, Store B carries other vintage labels such as Lucille of Paris and Meyers. Store B also carries Morris Moskowitz, known for its woven bags that were produced in the same factories as Bottega Veneta.
Pictured above: Vintage black handbag, picture courtesy of "High Fashion Handbags: Classic Vintage Designs" written by Adrienne Astrologo.
David Ornstein of the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show, one of the top couture vintage shows in the country, had a similar take on determining authenticity.
"Condition and quality are two things that even a novice can tune into... Condition and quality go hand in hand with authenticity," says Ornstein.
Ornstein says to pay particular attention to the areas where a bag takes the most abuse, such as corners and handles.
- Make sure the wear at the corners has not been disguised by shoe polish.
- For handles, look at the rivets to determine if there is any unraveling or tearing.
Buy vintage from trusted sources
Portero.com bears witness to Phair's philosophy on handbags. The website carries vintage Hermes, Chanel and Judith Leiber, to name a few; it also carries high quality non-branded frame bags and clutches in exotic leather such as ostrich, lizard and snakeskin.
Pictured above: Chanel Classic Black Quilted Lambskin Leather Handbag, image courtesy of Portero.com.
So what makes this auction better than eBay? Unlike auction sites like eBay, which rely on seller ratings, Portero.com auctions has a formal process for authenticating handbags.
"We authenticate all items that are sent to us to sell on the site," says Phair, adding that a Portero accessory specialist will look at each handbag before it is placed on the website to determine its authenticity. Key authentication factors include craftsmanship, quality of the leather or canvas, seal or serial number, stitching and whether the model was ever produced.
Another website that authenticates luxury handbags is www.ladybaginternational.com. The website is owned and operated by Adrienne Astrologo, author of "High Fashion Handbags: Classic Vintage Designs."
Astrologo says her love for vintage lies in the individuality, structure and design that is sometimes lacking in modern craftsmanship.
Pictured above: "High Fashion Handbags: Classic Vintage Designs" written by Adrienne Astrologo (published by Schiffer Publishing).
"You certainly won't find bags like these in department stores," says Astrologo.
The process in which Astrologo attains her bags is glamorous in its own right. The majority of Astrologo's handbags arrive from movie studios in Paris; Astrologo handpicks the handbags herself during frequent visits to the enchanting city.
Despite the attention her coffee table has received, Astrologo makes certain that the website retains the "family" feel that it was founded on— starting from the bags that are handpicked by Astrologo, right to the end process where the bags are authenticated by the aficionado herself. A once-over by Astrologo's experienced eye is typically what determines authenticity of her handbags.
Bringing vintage to Chicago
Not keen on purchasing from a website? Chicago has hosted its share of vintage events where you can do some hands-on vintage shopping.
In mid-December 2007, the production company behind the Chicago Antique Market (renamed the 5th Annual Randolph Street Market Festival this year) produced the Modern Vintage Holiday Market in Lincoln Park, a 2-day buying event where various vendors, including Astrologo, featured booths filled with luxury goods. Astrologo also had a book-signing at the event.
Sally Schwartz, producer of the Randolph Street Festival Marketplace and the Modern Vintage Holiday Market, says she is eager to repeat the vintage event in Chicago.
Astrologo will be showcasing her collection this Memorial Day weekend at the 5th Annual Randolph Street Market Festival.
◊ March 2008
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