“How do you afford all these designer labels?” is a question that frequently pops up and is one that I answer over and over again in numerous ways when I re-iterate like a boring broken record that I rarely ever pay full retail price for designer labels. Back in the day, the reason used to be single-fold – the good-old fashioned seasonal sales and markdowns. Then eBay came along and changed the game. Then I started seeking out designer consignment stores like Bang Bang in London or INA in New York. Then charity shops got savvier about taking in designer stuff. Then I’d snoop out sample sales in London. Then the sales came earlier and earlier and discounting, heavier and heavier. Then sites like The Outnet popped up. Then I’d luckily began to pay wholesale prices on personal orders (applicable to young designers in London). Then I was fortunate enough to receive discount cards. Then I developed an addiction to Yoox. Then I started to go out to Tokyo twice a year to scope out the sprawling network of designer resale shops, where I could really go buckwild and indulge in my love of Japanese designers. Soon, the reasons became multifold. In fact, it’s probably never been easier to go and get yourself some designer bargains than it is now and so in my head the sort of equations that pop into my head are… three full-priced Topshop tops at £30 each = one discounted Prada top at any one of the sources above. Or to bring the recent heartbreaking BBC2 This World documentary about the Rana Plaza factory disaster into the conversation… five Primark vests at £6 each = one heavily discounted Marni vest (Made in Italy – not 100% assured of course but still better quality wise).
Before you throw around accusations of “snobby” thinking, I’m merely stating the above as my own shopping preferences and habits, not to impose on other people or to pass judgement on what your shopping choices are. Everybody’s circumstances are of course different. All I’m saying is that today it’s really not as simple to associate designer clothing with being wildly expensive and vice versa, that the high street is categorically always cheap as chips, especially when you factor in cost per wear of these clothes. At the end of Paris couture fashion week at the beginning of July, I, along with Vogue.co.uk, went to visit the new headquarters of Vestiaire Collective, a social site dedicated to luxury resale founded in 2009 in France. It’s something of a hybrid of a traditional consignment store and a third party selling conduit like eBay with the added in-house expertise of an authentication and quality control team that deal specifically with designer and premium fashion. With over 2.4 million members, across 40 countries, Vestiaire Collective has grown to become a trusted environment for both sellers and buyers to safely trade designer goods. The social aspect is especially important as individual sellers have rated profiles for all to see and buyers can ask sellers questions directly so that it becomes entirely transparent. Sellers become “Influencers” if their wares are presented in an attractive manner and if you’re followed by other members.
Vestiare Collective’s USP, which separates it from say an eBay, is its focus and in-depth knowledge of designer fashion. A seller uploads their item online, including descriptions and photos and that is then vetted and checked by the curation team. 70% of items submitted are accepted depending on whether from first glance they can ascertain authenticity (a conversation might ensue between seller and curating team about receipts, invoices etc) and also whether it’s aesthetically fitting for the site. Prices are first suggested by the seller and then finally confirmed by VC’s curation team.
Then when the item is sold on the site, the seller sends the item into the Paris head office to be physically checked by the team, who are all trained in spotting the real from the fakes. VC are actively Saying No to Fakes and in February 2012 signed the ‘Fight Against Online Counterfeiting Charter’, initiated by the French government which aims to protect consumers against the sale of online counterfeits. Even though in actual fact, VC only get less than 1% of counterfeit goods coming through their offices, they take the matter incredibly seriously when authenticating products, especially bags, which of course is big business in the designer resale sector. One of the experts Saloua El Yazid showed us some tell-tale signs with the ever-popular 2.55 Chanel bag. We all know we need to look out for serial numbers and the holographic sticker but a bag made before 1984 wouldn’t have one. Similarly, a bag that has come from a sample sale (yes those fabled Chanel sample sales…) don’t have them either. It all comes down to knowledge of the leather, the hardware and the stitching, something that the authenticating experts like Saloua know like the back of their hand. And when they don’t know, they can always contact someone from a house to verify whether something is real or fake.
The most expensive item ever sold on VC was an Hermès croc Birkin at EUR35,000. Hermès bag don’t really depreciate in value and whilst that price may sound extortionate, it’s actually cheaper to buy it through VC than at auction. In addition to authenticity, quality control is also extremely important to VC as they have to tally up whether the defects on any item match defects described the seller on the site.
This amazing giant Chanel semi-circular tote needed some extra TLC because of some damage to the handle. After those famed SS14 backpacks, it’s quite possibly the most practical of Chanel bags I’ve ever seen… laptop, DSLR AND mags can all go in here.
Jewellery also has its own checks and tests – diamonds are given the once over with some sort of diamond-detector tool and the veracity of gold is tested out with a special chemical.
Certain VIPs and celebrities (they did namedrop a few well known fashion editors who are big Vestaire Collective sellers – *ahem ahem*) are dealt with in VC’s consignment department as all items are taken in-house before they are sold to be checked and held until they are sold. Delving into the clothes rail was the real highlight for me, seeing as I’m always going to be more of a clothes fiend than a bag hag. One surprising find was a Dior neon yellow knit dress from Raf Simons’ first ready to wear show for the house, which I actually borrowed and wore to the cruise show in Monaco last year. The VC team said it came from the UK and is a press sample so this was probably the very dress, which I wore and somehow, inadvertently it has ended up here waiting to be sold at a heavily discounted price. Current season pieces the markdowns on VC will range from 20-30% and beyond that of course, the prices will dip dramatically.
Then came the “fun” part of the day – or fun if you’re a designer bag expert like Saloua and have the all-mighty KNOWLEDGE when it comes to differentiating between real and fakes. We played a game of “Real or Fake” as a table of real and fake examples of Balenciaga motorcycle bags, Louis Vuitton epi leather and monogram bags, Chloé Paddington bags and Isabel Marant wedge trainers were laid out before us. Vestiaire Collective, to support their Say No to Fakes campaign, recently conducted a study which revealed that 35% of the female online marketplace in the UK have been misled into purchasing counterfeit designer goods, spending between £200-£1000 on their purchase and that scarily, 66% of women admitted they don’t feel they possess the knowledge to accurately identity a counterfeit product from a genuine item. Apparently women living in London were most confident in their ability to identify a fake.
Well, you can put me in that category of clueless and slightly arrogant Londoner. I was vaguely confident I could spot the fake by looking at linings, hardware and sniffing out the leathers but the truth is out of the five pairs of examples we were presented with, I only got one right. Admittedly I’ll put my hand up and say that I haven’t really had that much first hand experience of any of these items. I don’t actually own any of these items myself and have only man handled some Louis Vuitton bag samples from the press office. The Chloé Paddington leathers were easy to tell apart as the red one had a very plastic-feel to it. Ok so then smarty pants-me applied the same approach to the Balenciaga motorcycle leathers – the blue one looked more weathered than the berry one so I thought the latter would the fake. WRONG! Apparently I didn’t spot the fact that the serial numbers aren’t correctly marked and whilst we were looking at the mis-matching coloured hardware of one bag, Saloua pointed out that the real Balenciaga do sometimes come with mis-matched hardware. Then we looked at the Isabel Marant trainers. Whilst bags run the biggest risk of being fake at VC, they also have to watch out for items like fake Moncler jackets and increasingly, fake Isabel Marant wedge trainers. Odd. I’m not a fan myself nor have I ever felt them so I was completely out of my depth with this one. I’d vaguely seen the suede ones and so said the denim ones were fake. WRONG! The suede ones are apparently too “puffy” and the soles are not quite correct so the denim ones are the real deal.
Then we get to the most faked of all fakes – Louis Vuitton. Looking at two examples of Louis Vuitton Epi leather bags, I thought the red Speedy Epi just looked wrong. It had a funny plasticky pocket with no lining. The purple Noé felt right. Wrong! The red Speedy is actually an older Louis Vuitton style, hence why the pocket is a like that. The purple Noé is a good fake but the stitching gives it away. And then the monogram. By then, I was thinking “F*** it – I’m shit at this game!” so I think I got it wrong without looking properly. The way the LV monogram is positioned of course gives the game away and how the monogram print is aligned at the seams. Again, stitching and hardware are also tell-tale signs.
So I know nothing… which didn’t surprise me that much considering what a dunce I am when it comes to handbags. If and when I do get a hankering for a designer handbag, then my sources will be limited to designer resale sites like VC or of course going into the real store itself to get assurance of authenticity.
VC assures us that I’m on much safer ground with clothing (although one quick search on Chinese global market place Taobao and you’ll find some truly scary knock-off Simone Rocha pearl-encrusted tops and Christopher Kane flower sweatshirts going for next to nothing). In the quick turnaround of collections and the great quantities produced, the value of clothing and shoes depreciates far quicker than that of bags and so the problem of counterfeit is not nearly as serious. Fine by me as I’m almost always in it for the clothes anyway and VC does consistently have a tasty selection. I just skimmed a few of my favourite labels to find the following…
From top to bottom, left to right: Marc Jacobs top, Chanel crop top, Carven skirt and Sophia Webster shoes; Prada sunglasses, Prada dress, Louis Vuitton jeans and Marc Jacobs shoes; Miu Miu leather trench, Dior top, Christopher Kane skirt and Balenciaga shoes; Marc Jacobs jacket, Balenciaga skirt and Acne shoes; Comme des Garcons shirt, Dries van Noten waistcoat, Celine skirt and Marni sandals; Celine leather jacket, Prada dress and Tabitha Simmons shoes