Collecting designer fashion is a quiet market, but racks up thousands of pounds at auctions.
Investment in a designer or a certain fashion decade is like collecting art and goes hand in hand with the trend for vintage.
Aesthetics aside, there is big money to be made in collecting couture.
- What to collect?
- How much could you make
- Where to start collecting
- Accessories and leather goods
- Caring for Vintage
- How to sell your couture collection
The average couture collectors club today is mostly made up of socialites or fashion magazine editors. Luxury items are easily accessible to the affluent, and couture clients can get their manicured hands on pieces easily. But how can the Average Jo start collecting couture?
Most collectors start by collecting a favourite designer or to collect by decade. You have two main choices:
- You collect what is already vintage
- You try to get your hands on new pieces that will become vintage.
If you want to check that a designer name really is a designer name, you can look them up. Fashion houses must belong to the Chambre de Commerce et D’Industrie de Paris (French Federation of Fashion). The biggest names in the fashion world are listed here as members and are considered high end couturiers. You can check for a list of grand couturiers and it will give you an idea of names to look out for.
Extremely vintage couture is highly sought after because they are names that are no longer in production today, such as Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli, Mariano Fortune, Charles Worth, Norman Hartnell and even Biba. In their time these names were the crème de la crème of high fashion, and are still highly coveted today. Equally desirable are pieces from the original designers of houses that exist today, such as Coco Chanel, Cristobel Balenciaga and Christian Dior.
Items that are produced in limited quantities and are in good condition will hold or increase their value. Smaller sizes are more valuable than larger sizes, as museums (who buy from auction houses) prefer smaller sizes.
Of its time
Dig around fashion archives to understand what was sought after in a particular decade, or a trademark of a specific designer. High street trends are almost always copied straight off the catwalk. For example the Herve Leger bandage dress from his Autumn Winter 2008 collection sparked off a nationwide trend for body-con dresses. The high street picked up on the demand and body-con’s were the most popular trend in the last couple of years.
Fashion history is worth reading up on to see what trends were popular, and then researching which fashion house inspired it. Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Roland Mouret have lead the way with innovative pieces. Choose strategically and target pieces that made an impact at the time.
Historical context adds value to an item. The internet has great research advantages. Ask yourself if the item appeared on the front of a notable magazine or whether it was considered controversial or ground breaking for its period.
Avoid high street
Don’t waste time investing in collaborations with high street retailers. The most popular collaboration collections in the past few years have been Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, H! by Henry Holland for Debenhams and Zandra Rhodes for Marks and Spencer. High street designer collaborations have yet to become vintage or make an appearance at auction houses, and they are likely to only be worth no more than £100. Although the name will inspire, the quality is still high street.
Designer wardrobes are hot money. Unwanted couture pieces from the wardrobe of heiress and Alexander McQueen muse Daphne Guinness fetched at £60,000 at a charity auction in April 2008. In December 2009 Audrey Hepburn’s collection of Givenchy couture was auctioned at £270,000.
What makes these garments worth as much as a (small) car is the uniqueness. They were made in limited numbers and hand-crafted. The name attached to them doesn’t hurt either! The effort that goes into making couture is why it is valuable when it’s first released, and its price only increases as they become pieces of cultural history.
Auction houses in key market cities are a good source for buying couture. The big ones include Doyle in New York, Drouot in Paris, Leslie Hindman in Chicago, Julien’s in Los Angeles and Kerry Taylor in London.
Auction results provide a guide for valuing couture. A black Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) sold for a whopping £467,200 at Christie’s in London in December 2006. Cultural history bumped up the price – it was made specifically for Hepburn by Monsieur Givenchy. It sold slightly lower than its estimate price, but we don’t think it’s a bad day’s work.
Of course, you’re unlikely to get your hands on a dress worn by a famous film star, but there’s still good money to be made in collecting and dealing in designer fashion.
Sample sales are a brilliant way to pick up discounted stock. A sample sale is when a fashion house or designer has unwanted stock from a previous season that needs to be shifted. Sample sales have a reputation for being kept under wraps, but with their increasing popularity and dependability during the recession, sample sales are now easy to find online.
Time Out lists the latest sample sales, and a general Google search will return some positive finds.
Specifically, there is Designer Warehouse Sales (5-6 Islington Studios, Thane Works, Thane Villas N7 7NU) as one of the best venues to pick up a designer bargain, boasting discounts starting at 60% off, and with a stock list of labels to rival Selfridges.
Big name designer stores have sister shops for discounted out of season stock, such as Browns (Browns Labels For Less, 50 South Molton Street W1K 5QQ) and online retailer Net-A-Porter. If you like your Burberry, there’s an outlet in Hackney (29-31 Chatham Place E9 6LP).
The trend for vintage designer fashion shopping has become enormous in the last few years and it’s now more fashionable than ever to hark back to decades past. Anything pre-1920s is considered antique, and anything between the 1920s and 1980s qualifies as vintage.
Sometimes, vintage shops hold hidden treasure: couture! Retro Woman (20 Pembridge Road W11 3HL) in Notting Hill has eye boggling stock, from John Galliano shoes to Diane Von Furstenberg jackets.
What is astounding is that the designer clobber is in relatively mint condition, sometimes even unworn, and sells for under £200. These could go for a lot more on eBay, even thousands. Not a bad start to begin a couture collection!
London hosts major vintage fashion events, and there are frequently vintage fairs held around town. Attracting fashion insiders from all over the world is the London Vintage Fashion, Textiles and Accessories Fair in Hammersmith which is one of the biggest trade fairs.
It’s worth rummaging through vintage markets for designer gear, such as Portobello Market W11, Camden Market NW1, Bermondsey Market SE1 or Camden Passage in Islington N1. Brick Lane in London’s East End has vintage shops, and Beyond Retro (110-112 Cheshire Street E2 6EJ) is worth a look for designer finds.
Internet shopping is a great way to get your hands on collectable couture, especially from across the Atlantic. eBay is easily the preferable choice for most as it reaches the masses, but how do you know what’s real and what’s fake?
Fake designer goods are illegal and it is illegal to purchase them too. This is the problem with eBay – there can be plenty of counterfeit goods out there. Log on to MyPoupette which is a website devoted to the issue of fake goods, and can offer advice if you believe your item may be a fake.
Another area of couture that is increasing in value is accessories.
In May 2004, a Louis Vuitton trunk belonging to Katherine Hepburn sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $4,500. This is another example of cultural history and celebrity status influencing value.
Vintage handbags are expensive because of the leather used. Crocodile, ostrich, alligator and lizard. Names to look out for are Vuitton, Channel and Hermes. Be aware that it’s not just any bag from these designers.
Specific styles are collectibles: the Vuitton Speedy bag, the 2.55 Quilted Classic Channel bag which debuted in 1955 and for Hermes, the Birkin of 1984 and the Kelly are the most valuable. Portobello Road is a hot spot for vintage designer hand bags. It-bags are worth investing in as they usually have cultural significance, such as being designed specifically for someone (Mr Hermes designed the Birkin for actress Jane Birkin).
It’s not the label name that amounts to the price, it’s the Birkins hand-made qualities. It takes 48 hours to make a Birkin by hand and a price quote varies depending on size and skin.
Six out of the top ten most expensive fashion-related items sold on eBay in the last year were Hermes Birkin bags. However, you have to be very careful with eBay. There can be up to 300 Birkins being sold on eBay, from $3,000 to $125, 000, all claiming to be authentic.
There are a lot of knock-off designer hand bags out there. The Chloe Paddington bag was subjected to major plastic and faux leather versions sold on street markets. Quality will set a real Birkin apart from a counterfeit one. An authentic Birkin will have a matching code engraved to the key and lock, and the bag will come with an orange dust bag. There will also be a smaller dust bag for the padlock and key.
Designer silk scarves are big bucks too. They are harder to find and will generally mean that you will need to rummage through scarf boxes in vintage shops for a designer label. Hermes silk scarves are collectables but again, watch out for fakes.
You can even make money from couture and fashion memorabilia if it is classy enough. An old copy of Vogue magazine can sell for around £10 on eBay and in vintage shops. Save all your old copies before you send them to the recycling bin.
The price seems minimal compared to the couture prices that have already had your eyes watering, but if you’re a monthly reader of Vogue it’s worth starting a collection of copies. One year of magazines could be worth around £120. Vogue is one of the biggest-selling fashion magazines in the world and its influence in the fashion world in unshakable.
Another advantage of buying and selling magazines is that vintage copies of Vogue are something you can purchase from eBay without the worry of fakes. They can sell for as little as 99p or £10, depending on the age of the magazine. Magazine memorabilia can also be purchased from Vin Mag, whose vast stock also includes Vogue. The price of a copy of Vogue is determined by its age; a Vogue from the 1960’s sells for £40, from the 1950’s costs £50 and between the 1930’s and 1940’s a copy can go for as much as £200.
As a serious collector, you want to archive your collection. Don’t make any changes to garments, and hand washing items is highly recommended. For any seriously bedraggled repairs, contact textile conservationist Janie Lightfoot.
If your garment has stood the test of time, it will increase in value. You can wear it because it needs to prove it can resist the effects of wear and tear. Insurance is also something to consider.
So now that you’ve got your swag, what should you do with it?
Now may be the time to sell it or it may be best to wait as fashions change and your items become even more vintage. It’s a good idea to get your stuff valued if you want to sell it. Valuations are free with Kerry Taylor Auctions in London although they are by appointment only and you must take the garment along with you.
It’s tempting to try to sell something on eBay for a higher price than you paid as soon as you get it home. The Fashion-Era website gives tips on how to present vintage for sale online so that you can get the best price. Items become vintage after around twenty years, so it can take a while for value to increase!
Internet buyers are likely to be looking for a bargain to add to their collection too, so you wouldn’t get the best price for it there. You’re better off taking it to auction such as Kerry Taylor Auctions in London who provide to Sotheby’s. If it’s a really good item or collection, try Christie’s too.
Auction bidders will be serious collectors with big money to compete with each other. Museums like the Victoria and Albert and the Fashion and Textile Museum, also acquire their collections from donations or auction houses. Museums have larger budgets than serious collectors at auctions and will bid high if a piece is worth it, so you can hold out for a museum bid!
We’ve covered what couture is, what to collect, where to get it from and what to do with it. One important point to remember, though, is if you want to make money on these clothes you either need to wear them very carefully or not at all.
If you’re a shopaholic or someone who just can’t resist the lure of expensive clothes, you can turn it into an investment. It’s easy to get carried away, start buying anything you can get your hands on, and wearing it on a night out. Remember that you want to earn back from it, so set a budget, choose wisely, look after it, and your wardrobe will be paying you back.