How Vintage Can Help Fashion Stores Set Themselves Apart

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Morphew’s showroom is a treasure trove of vintage items.

As consumers increasingly look to differentiate themselves with one-of-a-kind items that carry a badge of authenticity, offering vintage and vintage-inspired pieces makes sense for any retailer hoping to attract today’s reluctant shoppers.

Big retailers, like Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman, are all experimenting with vintage offerings—from handbags to dresses and jewelry—using pop ups and permanent displays in a variety of merchandising approaches. Smaller boutiques and designers have also found that capitalizing on the vintage trend is a way of differentiating themselves with consumers who value quality and a curated in-store experience. The key is to mix high quality, on-trend vintage pieces with newer findings so that consumers can quickly assemble a contemporary look that is unique.

“Nobody wants to wear something that looks like a costume,” explains Jason Lyon and Bridgette Morphew of Morphew, an inspirational lifestyle brand that sources vintage pieces from around the globe for designers, collectors, editors and stylists. “It’s all about wearing things that are trendy today, based on vintage.”

Clearly, some retailers have already gotten the message, and are reaping the rewards with increased sales and customer traffic.

Linda’s at Bergdorf Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman’s new Linda’s lifestyle shop features touches of vintage beloved by Fashion Director Linda Fargo, all artfully mixed in (think capes, leopard prints and vintage jewelry). “In her specialty shop, customers can discover a trove of treasures, essentials to exotics, highly curated just for them,” notes Jim Gold, CMO of Neiman Marcus Group.

At its new full-floor The Dress Address, Lord & Taylor successfully incorporated vintage dresses into their mix earlier this year with a pop up curated by Cameron Silver of the renowned LA-based vintage shop Decades. According to Stephanie Solomon, Lord & Taylor’s Vice President and Fashion Director, sales were so strong that the only challenge was an inability to reorder, although Solomon points out that the one-of-a-kind nature of the dresses was a large part of their appeal. Lord & Taylor has also been a market leader in vintage jewelry, which buyer Helen Cain first introduced into the store five years ago. Solomon credits the younger generation with driving the vintage trend.

“Vintage is better made than fast fashion; it’s cool and has value. Plus, it’s a conversation piece. People talk about it.”

–Stephanie Solomon, VP and Fashion Director, Lord & Taylor

Getting the vintage message across to the customer requires knowledge, however. “Training is key to the entire process,” adds Solomon. “[Salespeople] need to know the date of the piece and the designer. Kenneth Jay Lane is a wonderful and important vendor to this area.”

For Darling, a West-Village, NY boutique that has migrated online, vintage is about a curated selection of both old and the new items. “It’s nice for styling purposes to mix and match, and we make it very clear what’s new and what’s vintage,” says Darling co-owner Raquelle Stiefler, who said she often has customers buy two or three new pieces and then add a great vintage bag and shoe. At Darling, the vintage pieces are all part of Darling’s overall aesthetic and branding, which makes it easy for customers to find what they like—a key factor when curating a vintage collection.  The most popular items for the boutique have been bags and jewelry—particularly vintage Coach from the eighties, Whiting and Davis bags from the twenties and thirties, as well as a large collection of vintage chains. Items are sourced on buying trips to such diverse places as Berlin, Nashville, Paris, Brooklyn, and parts of Pennsylvania with each region offering its own unique finds.

INSPIRED BY THE PAST

Many accessories designers are recognizing the appeal of vintage, with anniversary collections often a reason to celebrate decades-old aesthetics.

Whiting & Davis kiss-lock frame bag inspired from its archives.

Inge Hendromartono, President and Creative Director of Inge Christopher, which took over the Whiting & Davis brand nearly 20 years ago, thinks it makes sense that there is a rising interest in vintage. “As the oldest handbag brand in the United States, there are a lot of pieces out there, and a lot of collectors. The fringe detailing and elegant lines are as popular today as they were a century ago.” While the company does not sell vintage directly, Hendromartono occasionally draws on the past for inspiration, including a limited edition, five style heritage collection which she created for the company’s 140th anniversary last year. “I think younger generations are starting to appreciate old things and with that appreciation comes discovery,” notes Hendromartono, who continues to mix old and new in the company’s collections. The mega Bubble launched SS 2017 (shown above) and the Tasseled Bucket for Fall 2017 both draw on designs from the fifties and sixties.

Badgley Mischka jewelry casts vintage elements and then designs new pieces around them.

Badgley Mischka’s new fashion jewelry line is also infusing the past into the present. “We are naturally drawn to the vintage aesthetic, and wanted to incorporate the leaves, feathers and classic color palette that inspired our Fall 2017 runway show,” note Mark Badgley and James Mischka. To create the look, Julie DeCesare, Design Director of licensee Kenilworth, began with jewelry models from the forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, making subtle manipulations to create something timeless yet up-to-date. “It could be one little shape in how we deconstruct something and put it back together that makes it feel new and modern,” she notes.

Like other designers, DeCesare understands that vintage appeals to consumers on a number of levels. “In this day and age, consumers want to feel good about things they own. They want to get versatility out of an item, but also have it be unique to them and not in every store.”  

For brands like Lenore Dame, vintage is in their DNA, with all of the designs inspired or made from vintage materials. Dame started the company with bracelets made out of Victorian buttons and soon branched out into pieces inspired from old clip earrings and buckles. She still incorporates vintage elements into all of her lines, even if it’s just a scrap of fabric from old drapes. “People love it,” Dame says, noting that consumers are attracted to the “richness of the past,” To stay on trend, Dame looks for inspiration in modern color palettes and likes to mix patterns, colors and prints in unexpected ways.

John Wind Maximal Art Locket Bangles

John Wind of Maximal Art is similarly inspired by vintage, and will sometimes mix true vintage items into trunk shows or use vintage pieces to create new looks, such as in their Fall collection that incorporates and embellishes 1970’s vintage lockets.

Briana Erin, Owner/Designer of Tat2 uses travel as an inspiration, combing antique malls, flea markets, and estate sales around the world for unique coins or relics to incorporate into her designs, always taking care to mix them with contemporary touches, like leather or semi-precious stones to give each piece edge and sophistication. “Our customers get to feel like part of a tribe that travels around the world with me each time they accessorize,” says Erin.

FROM THE SOURCE

For retailers looking to add a slice of vintage into an otherwise new aesthetic, the key is sourcing and quality, whether it’s with designers who incorporate vintage into their new product lines, or with high quality, pre-owned goods.

Vintage@Intermezzo. Photo JBascom

Vintage@Intermezzo. Photo: J. Bascom

Peter Berta, director of Accessorie Circuit and Intermezzo notes that buyers can quickly “add an infusion of one of a kind pieces” into their stores with a visit to the trade show VINTAGE@Intermezzo. “With all the trend reports emphasizing the direction toward heritage fashion, Vintage has become more than just a buzzword,” says Berta.

For companies that don’t want to source vintage directly, “luxury vintage curator” LXR and Co brings their “store within a store” concept to retailers across the US, Canada and Europe, providing staff along with a curated collection of pre-owned designer handbags, glasses, jewelry and watches. “We know that the average basket for our store-within-a-store is about $750—much higher than in other parts of the store. We are driving traffic and revitalizing the market,” notes Charlotte Parnet, Operations and Marketing Director of LXR and Co.

Still not convinced? Lyons of Morphew believes that it’s hard to go wrong with quality vintage. “Vintage is sort of like a car,” he explains. “Anything over 25 years old qualifies as a vintage item. Nineties is totally vintage and so is early two-thousands.” Parnet from LXR and Co. doesn’t even think you need to qualify vintage by age, convinced that it’s the quality and beauty of an authentic pre-owned product that the consumers are after. That, and the chance to give a great product a second life. “It’s a trending mindset for everyone,” she notes.  Why not let it be yours?

–by Joanne Fisher

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