How to Shop a High-End Consignment Store
Every time I enter a swanky soiree in the dead of winter, I half expect a hushed, snooty voice behind me to whisper, “OMG, there goes my coat!” This is because my Russian sable darling, my pride and joy, used to belong to someone else—a wealthy dowager or maybe a fickle social girl who coldly traded in my baby for a younger model.
When I bought my coat on eBay roughly a decade ago, that site was pretty much the only place to find such items on the Internet. Back then, the process of wealthy people unloading their unwanted jewelry and clothing was still cloaked in the tattered raiment of shame. eBay was one step up from the pawn shop—you could hide behind a quirky pseudonym, and at least you didn’t have to talk to a guy sitting behind a cage.
But stick around long enough and anything can happen. (It’s one of the chief—maybe the only— benefits of being old.) In the 10 or so years since my sable angel entered my life, there has been an incredible shift: Plenty of websites now trumpet the Richie Riches who once owned your new best friend. There is Walk In My Closet, where people of some renown, at least in fashion circles—Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Virginie Courtin Clarins, et al—are proud to brandish their bombs. On Yoox, individuals like Iris Apfel and Margherita Maccapani Missoni happily hawk their hauls. Vaunte flaunts the detritus of a welter of socialites and editors, whose pretty faces accompany their offerings.
What led up to this momentous shift in the collective consciousness? Many factors, which can be summed up thusly: It’s no longer embarrassing to be cheap. When I was growing up, you didn’t even admit to shopping at discount stores—even Loehmann’s was slightly suspect. Now ask the coolest girl at the charity gala what she’s wearing and she crows, “Margiela for H&M!” or, “I fished it out of a bin at the Prada sample sale!” If there is any shame these days, it lies in overbuying, overconsuming. We are all supposed to be hyperaware of wastefulness and the environment and stay up nights worrying about our humongous carbon footprints. It is actually considered virtuous to get rid of the multitudes of merch you don’t wear, and it’s fine to crow about it.
Even when anonymity is at a premium, the whole experience of selling your unloved goods has changed. At Circa, a company that will fork over an instant check for jewelry with no wait, Natasha Cornstein, the company’s director of corporate communications, recalls that back in the old days, selling baubles was frequently the result of three miserable Ds: death, divorce and debt. These tearful reasons have been replaced in many cases by exuberant, fun people who want to get rid of their old trinkets so they can buy…more stuff! Circa has 13 branches worldwide and operates out of glamorous offices (gray velvet sofas, warm, smiley greetings from the receptionist, private selling rooms) aimed at making selling jewelry as discreet, as glam, as delightful as, well, buying jewelry.
Every chic street in every chic town now boasts at least one resale store bursting with the rejects of fancy closets, some still sporting their tickets. (Is there anything more depressing than getting rid of items, once bought with such hopefulness, such optimism, with their original price tags still dangling?) But Ina Bernstein got there first: The high-end-resale pioneer opened her first eponymous shop in SoHo two decades ago (there are now five INA stores). Milo Bernstein, Ina’s son, concurs that there has been a major shift in the attitude of consignors. He credits the 2008 economic downturn with finally shattering any humiliation once attached to raw buying and selling. “At the time, resale stores got a lot of press—the idea was that even rich people, suddenly conscious of their budgets, would spend instead of $ 6,000, maybe $ 3,000 on a handbag, thereby contributing to the betterment of society,” he says with just the faintest wry chuckle. In the beginning, he recalls, though the store had a lot of celebrity and socialite consignors, it was hard to get referrals, since people didn’t really want to share this dark secret with anyone. Now his clients happily pass on the info to their tony colleagues, which means that his mom has so much good merchandise that she has to keep opening more stores.
Kate Sekules, the owner of the site Refashioner, which began as a sort of online swap meet and has evolved into a more conventional selling venue (it describes itself as a “curated fashion eco-mmunity”), says that when she launched in the fall of 2012, there was still some stigma attached to selling. Sekules coined the expressions “haute-cycle” and “collaborative consumption” to describe the powerful tsunami of clothes now circling the globe in endless waves. But she is not, she confesses, a particular fan of celebrities attaching their names to their rejects. “It’s going a little too far; it’s not even humble-bragging. It’s a little bit creepy. On Refashioner we prefer the story of the items—ones that have their own personality. That’s what counts for me.”
Me too, Kate! I don’t care who used to own those 20 pieces of 1940s Vuitton luggage, that Chanel couture coat, that 20-carat marquise diamond ring. I am ready to jump on the haute-cycle and peddle right over, wads of cash in hand.
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Second Time Around
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