Anyone can buy something off a retail rack, but for a stand-out street look, fashionistas turn to vintage fashion sales or auctions for one-of-a-kind pieces from designers such as Pucci, Celine and Hermès: either to wear on their own, or complete a contemporary outfit with flair. Auction house Stephen Welz & Co. in Johannesburg recently held a fashion sale and auction that offered a vast and outstanding selection of vintage designer clothing.
“The most interesting styles you see on fashion blogs these days incorporate a vintage piece with a contemporary blouse or trousers, for example; a way of dressing that really sets the wearer apart from the rest,” said Tanya Demby, Fashion and Design Consultant for Stephan Welz & Co. “Vintage fashion auctions are amazing places to source rare or unusual items – names like Fendi, Thierry Mugler, Chanel and Guy Laroche.”
Sale and auction highlights included an evening gown by Belville Sassoon, which was the most prolific of Princess Diana’s early designers. Belville Sassoon dresses are unusual to come across, and the designer counts numerous British socialites and the Royal Family amongst its clientele.
Also up for grabs was a Celine tweed suit valued at R4,000 – R6,000. Founded in 1945, Celine is a French luxury house known for its beautiful clean lines and styles, and has a history of classical designs that withstand time. If that’s not your bag, perhaps two psychedelic Pucci dresses from the 60’s might be? Valued at R5,000 – R7,000 each they come from a designer who Demby says, “Provided the antidote to 1940s monochromes and a preview of 1960s technicolour pop.” Yet in spite of this, you could easily see someone walking down the street today in a Pucci! Three Escada couture ball gowns each valued at R8,000 – R15,000 were also available at the sale, as well a number of Chanel and Hermès silk scarves, valued at between R2,000 – R6,000.
“Hermès scarves are highly covetable and rare to find,” says Demby. “Hermès issues two collections a year, with 12 new designs in each season: six new designs and six reissues in new colours. It’s said that since 1937, Hermès has produced more than 1,200 designs! Every carré has a name and design title; many are commemorative and have an overall theme including equestrian, military, nautical, fantasy, floral and mythology, to name a few. Hermès artists are often known for a particular style of design: American artist Kermit Oliver is famous for his dramatic Texas flora, fauna and Native American Indian designs, while Leigh Cooke has created exquisite floral pieces. “It’s no wonder they are so collectable,” said Demby.
More than a pretty dress: vintage as investment
Then, there’s also the investment side of vintage fashion: take, for example, the impressive sales of items at Christies’ auctions. In 2012, Christies sold an Alexander McQueen sculptural metallic mini dress for £79,250, and a Schiaparelli black velvet evening jacket from 1939 for £73,250. Earlier this year, a diamond encrusted Hermès Birkin bag sold for £144,019 at a Christies Hong Kong auction.
“Vintage collectors collect for various reasons,” says Demby. “Some see it as another form of shopping, to add panache and individuality to their wardrobe. Others buy vintage pieces they love to frame and display, which become talking points in their homes. Collecting vintage is on the rise internationally, with big auction houses entering the field, as well as online shopping sites like 1stdibs.com, where you can buy vintage pieces. Of course, there’s nothing better than seeing a piece in person, or better still, being able to see how it looks on yourself!”
Other sale highlights at the Stephan Welz & Co sale included a collection of evening gowns worn by a former Miss South Africa, vintage Dior, Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses and over 200 pieces of authentic vintage couture, including Chanel, Hermès, Gucci, Celine, Thierry Mugler, Escada, Guy Laroche, Pucci, Fendi, Max Mara and Aquascutum.
“Whether from the 60s or from more contemporary designers, vintage designs can be had for a fraction of the cost of retail,” said Demby “This is not ‘thrift-shop’ fashion we’re talking about, but curated vintage that, on the high-end, includes one-of-a-kind designer pieces. When you wear one of these pieces, you know for sure that no one else will be wearing the same dress.”