Tights that don’t ladder just before a meeting with your boss, an hour in Topshop utterly alone, a website filled with discounted designer stuff you’ve eyeballed on the likes of Rihanna and Elena Perminova… The first two fashion fantasies are never going to happen, but the third’s already out there.
Parisian-based Vestiaire Collective is the fashion industry's biggest secret and the website you're going to get obsessed with this year – a store that auctions off pre-worn labels sourced from French’s fashion elite at literally half the price. It all started in 2008 when the six Vestiaire founders (of fashion and tech backgrounds) looked at their overflowing wardrobe and decided they needed a reputable outlet through which to sell their unwanted designer goods. Six years and 110 employees later, the site now lists over 2,000 new designer pieces each day carefully sourced from a collection of the world’s most fashionable women.
The Vestiaire folk are notoriously secretive about who their stock of Chanel and co comes from but they’ve always been a discerning bunch (we'd tell you, but then we'd have to kill you). In 2009, when one of the founders (and now head of the UK branch) Fanny Moizant accidentally burnt a top they were selling, she rang up the seller to apologise and discovered she was a notable journalist, who was just dying to write about Vestiaire...
That caliber of sellers continues today, with fashion editors and other leading industry experts selling the clothes that they never wear. VIPs have been known to clear out their entire houses to sell on Vestiaire – one English socialite handed over 50 pairs of unworn Louboutins. Another enlisted the site to help her clear out her late mother’s vintage Céline collection. The biggest thrill about clicking to buy that second-hand Sandro jacket? There's a good chance that some super stylish Gallic woman owned it before you and by osmosis, you might get some of her effortless Parisian cool (we can hope.)
The sellers like the fact that, unlike eBay, Vestiaire handles transactions with meticulous detailing (for which they take 25% commission). They’ll collect any garment from a seller via DHL, for example, and then handle all of the annoyance of uploading it to the site and sending it on to the buyer. For users of the site the perks are obvious: great stock that’s quality controlled. Vestiaire are fiercely anti-fakes. Not only have they signed an anti-counterfeit e-commerce charter, but the staff have been trained by major fashion houses, such as Céline and Vuitton, to spot counterfeit items, so every item is checked meticulously before it’s uploaded to the site.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that Vestiaire has 1.5 million subscribers worldwide, with an average age of 26. British sign-ups have quadrupled in the last year, though it means now is the time to get on board. ‘We are based on the ethos that French women buy less and they buy well,’ says Vestiaire’s head of marketing, Anna Hart. ‘The UK’s post-recession attitude is quintessentially French.' Basically, we’re learning that it’s better to buy one expensive but quality item than shedloads of £12 tops that are going to disintegrate after one wash.
It’s a mantra that’s hard not to buy into when you get see Vestiaire’s HQ in Paris. Think 80 Parisian staff members dressed in Marant chunky jumpers, skinny dark jeans and ankle boots, busily combing through loot which is nothing short of incroyable.
Burberry trenches and Alexander McQueen scarves are Vestiaire’s top sellers, with the classic brands – Chanel, Hermès, Vuitton and Céline – always doing well. Let loose, on the one morning I’m there I fondle my way through a Céline trapeze bag, a Saint Laurent tuxedo, Chanel embossed ballet pumps, a MaxMara teddy bear coat (barely a season old), a Cartier cocktail ring shaped like a tiger which, OK, had just sold for £10,000 – but also a Zara poloneck for £20 and a Kenzo tee for £40. The highlight of my visit was gleefully face-planting myself (how they humoured me) onto a bright red sofa laden with fifteen pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton monogrammed luggage that all came from one collector. They were all are about to be put up online with prices starting at £300 a piece.
Sold on the idea? OK, so it’s time for the tips I picked up:
Monday lunchtime is the best time to log on, as people tend to upload their items over the weekend.
Clothes are marked ‘fair’, ‘good’ and ‘very good’ so you have a sense of their quality. But don’t dismiss buying something labelled ‘fair’ as that could just mean a make-up stain you’ll probably be able to live with given the deal you’re getting. For example, a Kenzo T-shirt worth upwards of £100 can sell for just £40 with a stain.
Vestaire Collective is awesome for jeans. You can pick up designer denim worth £200 from brands such as Paige, J Brand and Seven, for just £50.
Probably because most people have a slight hang-up about second-hand footwear there’s loads of shoes on the site – at unbelievable prices. Think Céline heels for £70. We say – forget about the fact someone’s feet have already been in there and think of them as already broken-in.
Make it your daily destination. The turnover on the site is seriously quick: 25% of Vestiaire’s stock sells out within 24 hours, so make sure you check in regularly. Persuasive, much?
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.