Pandemic gives a modern twist to French vintage fashion sales

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In the Artcurial auction house overlooking the shuttered boutiques of Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, vintage fashion specialist Clara Vivien oversees the sale of hundreds of Chanel jackets, shoes and jewelry accessories – all online.

Paris may be the fashion capital of the world, but a third COVID-19 lockdown once again sends luxury lovers with time to spare and money to spend on their screens in search of the next vintage dress Chanel or the Hermès handbag.

A vintage Louis Vuitton trunk is pictured at the Gros & Delettrez auction house. (Photo: Reuters)

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Vintage was already experiencing a revival, said Vivien, driven by growing unease with “fast fashion” among consumers and a growing awareness of the environment. But the pandemic has moved her more online.

“Vintage is exploding in the second-hand market,” said Vivien. “People cannot go into stores and therefore shop at online auctions.

“Handbags sell particularly well. “People who bought a Chanelor and Hermès bag today are delighted to know that their investment keeps growing and the pandemic is increasing with no end in sight.

Vintage luxury fashion expert Clara Vivien poses for a photo at the Artcurial auction house in Paris. (Photo: Reuters)

“Online sales of fashion and vintage clothing more than quadrupled at an online auction in France in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic levels of 6.2 million euros, according to the aggregator of Interencheres online auction houses.

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Antoine Saulnier, auctioneer at Gros & Delettrez, said vintage fashion sales, which before the pandemic could have attracted 100 online shoppers, are now drawing five or ten times that number.

Vintage Louis Vuitton luggage, which traveled to Africa on the Citroën Black Cruise (Citroën Center Afrique expedition) in 1924-1925, is pictured at the Gros & Delettrez auction house in Paris, France. (Photo: Reuters)

“The prices of some items increase accordingly,” Saulnier said as he prepared for the sale of nearly 600 Vuitton items this week. A collector to know is Olivier Chatenet, a flamboyant 60-year-old stylist who spent his young adult life browsing the flea markets and auction houses of the French capital of the Drouot district with his father.

Her private collection is a treasure trove of Ungaro dresses, Chloé blouses and Sonia Rykiel overcoats. Several years ago he sold his entire Yves Saint Laurent collection – all 4,000 items.

Vintage outfits, part of the collection of thousands of ready-to-wear belonging to the collector and stylist Olivier Chatenet. (Photo: Reuters)

“I try to be careful and buy at the right price,” said Chatenet. But he admits he doesn’t always succeed.

“At that point the auction begins, when you have the item in front of you and you are overwhelmed by a frantic desire to own it, you end up buying for more than you wanted.”

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