Vintage Gucci and other designer labels now lead an important and buoyant new category for collectors—vintage couture.

Before the rest of the world rediscovered vintage couture, the market existed as a small, intimate group of passionate collectors. This market was restricted to those in fashion circles, and those of a certain social calibre. However, times have changed, and demand is now high from a wide range of fashion- hungry individuals. It seems no one can resist the enchanting allure of times past. Vintage labels are both investment purchases and, for those desiring imaginative recognition, a creative alternative to shop-bought clothing.

Hamish Bowles, Editor of Vogue, explains the magnetism of such vintage labels: ‘There’s a history. Vintage pieces are extremely evocative witnesses to the ages in which they were created.’ It is exactly this vintage charm, encapsulated in items of clothing, that has elevated vintage shopping from mysterious back-rooms to highly recognised boutiques and auction houses.

What’s more, the digital age has significantly affected the market, providing consumers with instant access to designers and trends through shop windows such as eBay. Online auctions were arguably pioneered by Christie’s auction house, with December 2011s ‘Collection of Elizabeth Taylor’. This has now progressed into an active calendar of approximately 30 online-only sales scheduled throughout 2013.

This flood of interest has lead to the recent partnership of Christie’s and Gucci for the pioneering website, ‘Gucci Collector’. This stands as the very first Gucci-certified online space for appraising vintage Gucci products. Since launching, the service has proven to be a real hit with collectors worldwide.

And it is Gucci that first caused a stir in the auction houses for vintage couture. In the 1990s, the hammer went down on a pair of Gucci ‘Genius Jeans’, the most expensive pair of vintage jeans ever sold ($3,134). Interest in such vintage items soared from this moment onwards.

The acceleration in vintage label sales is evident from the recent ‘Vintage Couture’ auction, held at Christie’s South Kensington in November last year. Realising £567,200 in total, the auction featured numerous luxury items from celebrated fashion brands.

Pat Frost, Director of the Fashion & Textiles department at Christie’s, explains: ‘This auction is the first in a series of sales offered across both Live and Online-Only platforms to give access to exclusive Vintage Couture wardrobes and the rarest and most coveted handbags and accessories.’

This display of rare, exquisite goods generated global interest, including attention from institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, who battled for the finest items.

Frost continues: ‘Couture from the pre-Second World War period, such as Schiaparelli, Chanel, Poiret and Vionnet all command high prices and would potentially achieve £50,000 and above at auction. Many of these designers are also of interest to museums. We have not yet seen one of these come to auction at Christie’s and most museums have never had one in their collection.’

A stunning Lanvin day dress from 1926 was the second highest lot on the day, estimated at £3000-£5000 but realising £51,650.

The item was previously owned by the Spanish actress Catalina Barcena; naturally, an auction fracas ensued. As always, handbags received high interest, with two classic Hermes Birkin bags selling for no less than £39,650 each. However, the star of the show was the spectacular 1939 velvet jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, set with baroque mirror panels to the front and trimmed with twisted gold foil foliate scrolling embroidery. This item took the highest bid of the day, acquired for £73,250 by Francesca Galloway Ltd.

The evidence is clear: vintage labels are a significant and prosperous category for dealers and collectors worldwide. In terms of investment, inimitability is the main attraction, with vintage items being attractive both for their provenance and their mystery.

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