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WHEN THE NEWS broke that Rosmah Mansor, wife of disgraced ex-Malaysian premier Najib Razak, had 284 boxes of luxury handbags - mostly Hermès Birkins - seized from her Kuala Lumpur home, the public's mental cash registers started ringing - if she had managed to offload them in the second-hand market, how much money could she have made?
The answer is - depending on the condition and age of her bags - quite a lot.
With a five-figure starting price, the Hermès Birkin - perhaps the most coveted bag on earth - has never decreased in value, say resellers who add that prices have steadily risen for the past 35 years at an average annual rate of 14.2 per cent. The most expensive Birkin ever sold in Europe to date is made of blue crocodile skin, drenched in white gold and 18-carat diamonds, valued at £125,000, which was auctioned off by Christie's last year.
Even if you can only afford 'entry level' Birkins, it's still a worthy investment, as proven by the US-based Sarah Davis of Fashionphile Outlet, one of the pioneers in the luxury vintage and second hand market. Ms Davis, who purchased her first Birkin in 2002 for US$4,500, estimates the resale value to be about US$12,000 today, if not more.
Of course, one of the reasons for the high resale value is simply that owning one is not easy. You can't get an Hermès Birkin, Kelly or Constance handbag off the shelf in an Hermès boutique unless you're insanely rich or a celebrity. And the waiting lists can be as long as six years.
That's where the appeal of vintage and second-hand luxury bags kicks in.
By definition, a bag is vintage once it crosses the 20-year mark but nowadays, anything above 10 years old is considered vintage. Second-hand luxury, of course, has no age requirement.
BEFORE YOU BUY
If you have the cash to spare, you can easily score yourself a Birkin. It may not be brand new, but the resellers who take in such bags are particular about the quality. What is crucial is to ensure that the bags are authentic. Says blogger and renowned bag expert Alvin Cher better known as Bagaholicboy from Bagaholicboy.com, "As a general rule of thumb, the older the bag, the less likely it is a fake (bags from the 40s, 50s and 60s) since there wasn't much of a counterfeit culture back in those days."
Ace Tan, a full-time TV commercial producer who also runs a vintage designer boutique in Singapore called Old So What, recommends the expertise of authentication from Carol Diva - an online luxury goods authenticator recognised by Ebay and Paypal.
Angie Chen, owner of online vintage and second-hand boutique The Fifth Collection, relies on Entrupy - a technology her company has invested in and developed to verify the authenticity of luxury items.
"The technology uses artificial intelligence and image recognition software to verify the authenticity of luxury goods with 98.5% accuracy." Ms Chen and her team also personally authenticate each and every product consigned to them in person, and also offer their customers a lifetime authenticity guarantee.
There are numerous vintage and second-hand luxury bag resellers on Ebay and Etsy, but Bagaholicboy recommends the Japanese resellers as their vintage goods are legitimate and very well-maintained. For the uninitiated in the vintage luxury world, the Japanese own possibly the biggest collection of vintage luxury goods as they were the biggest consumers of luxury items back in the 80s and 90s.
Those looking for special pieces and a diverse collection of vintage luxury items can scour some of its famous vintage shops, mainly located in Tokyo and in the Shibuya district. Some hot destinations include Vintage Brand Boutique Amore, Chicago Jingumae, Long Beach Omotesando and arguably one of the most well-known vintage shops in Japan and the rest of the world - Vintage Qoo.
Unfortunately, many of the Japanese vintage stores don't have functional English websites. But Vintage Qoo does and they also run an interactive Instagram account providing live updates on their new items and tips on how you can style them. As the owner of the store is a huge fan of Chanel, Vintage Qoo is also known for its massive selection of Chanel bags and accessories.
WHAT'S IN DEMAND
Chanel bags are so sought-after that there are re-sellers like Sarah Korsiak Cellier, owner of online boutique Rice and Beans Vintage who specialises only in vintage Chanel. Says the US-based Ms Cellier who's been in the business for 16 years, "I'm known as a trusted seller of authentic vintage Chanel bags… and for Chanel the most requested bag is always the Classic 2.55 Double Flap. It's such an iconic and recognisable piece, it will never go out of style. My clients know it's a good investment."
Next to Hermès, Chanel's popularity is due partly to its 'affordability'. The Classic 2.55 Double Flap was designed by Karl Lagerfeld the year he took up the role of creative director at Chanel in 1983. Today, the retail price for a Small Classic Handbag is S$6,620 but you can get it second-hand for almost half the price. And, if you get it on websites like Reebonz, there are instalment plans available as well as an attractive "sell back value" if you return the item within six months from the date of your purchase.
Vintage Chanel can be even cheaper. A Classic 2.55 handbag with a top handle (as opposed to the regular gold chain sling) on Vintage Qoo Tokyo costs about US$2,500 while a suede quilted mini version (also with a top handle) on Fashionphile Outlet's site is a steal at just US$895. Which shows that designer vintage doesn't have to cost a fortune and also explains why the market is so lucrative.
WHO BUYS VINTAGE
Says Ms Cellier, "My clients are nearly equally split between first time luxury buyers and collectors. I get a lot of collectors because my site is very curated and I am nitpicky about the condition!"
Adds Ms Chen, "What our customers have in common are a love for fashion, quality and luxury brands. We have a broad range so it's difficult to narrow down who they are. Our youngest is a teenager and the oldest is a grandmother. We have an equal number of first time buyers and collectors, and many women come to us to seek out pieces they might have missed out before or are seeking a rare item. And then there are those who are more comfortable shopping with us than in a boutique."
Also, first time buyers tend to buy what's trendy, says Ms Tan. On the other hand, collectors are always looking for one-of-a-kind items.
Not everyone is charmed by something that's not brand new, but resellers are unfazed.
"Many of the pieces I sell are rare and my clients appreciate this," says Ms Cellier. Ms Chen, on the other hand is a strong believer of the mileage and longevity of a vintage bag. "They're one of a kind and not mass produced. If they've lasted 20 years, they're going to last another 20 years more."
Ms Tan of Old So What points out that her collectors understand and appreciate the value of vintage which is why, when Hubert de Givenchy passed away earlier this year, all her five vintage Givenchy bags were sold out in a week.
If you're discerning, your vintage luxury and secondhand bags may even appreciate in value. For instance, Louis Vuitton will always have a high resale value for their monogram classics.
Bagaholicboy recommends buying Vuitton's limited editions like Sprouse and Murakami's Monogramouflage as they are highly prized for their cult status and historic designer collaborations.
Those who bought Dior's saddle bag designed by the house's former designer John Galliano in 1999 (and kept it) clearly had fashion foresight because earlier this year, Dior's current creative designer Maria Grazia Chiuri revived the iconic Dior Saddle bag in her Fall/Winter 2018 collection.
Ms Chen confirms, "If you had kept your Saddle bag from Galliano era and are looking to resell it now, the returns will be much better than one year ago. You're likely to get back what you had paid for it and more." In fact, according to Bagaholicboy, the price (of a vintage Dior Saddle bag) has "almost tripled" since the brand's reissue of the new saddle bags.
LOGOMANIA IS BACK
Another boom in the vintage luxury market is the rise of "logomania". Most of the big fashion brands like Fendi and Gucci are bringing back their house logo motifs and rendering it with a vintage charm. Since Alessandro Michele took over as creative director of Gucci in 2015, he reintroduced the GG logo (the signature interlocking double G logo designed by its founder Guccio Gucci during World War II) into the brand's core collections. And vintage luxury resellers are reaping its benefits such as Ms Cellier of Rice and Beans Vintage who admits to lucrative sales every time she posts models of the coated canvas Gucci logo bags with the red and green racing stripes, which peaked in popularity in the 70s' and 80s'.
When a new designer comes on board, he or she usually overhauls the brand to suit their aesthetic which is what Hedi Slimane did with Celine after the exit of Phoebe Philo. He recently launched his first bag for the luxury Parisian house - Le 16 - a structured multiway top handle handbag with a leather strap. In the press notes, it was stated that Slimane incorporated the maison's historic details particularly the cropped flap from the 60s.
If you're looking to buy talk-of-the-town vintage, Ms Tan's Old So What has a few vintage Celine bags dating back to the 70s and 80s with the old Celine logo and the vintage lock detail. We can safely say that it's a fraction of the price of the Celine Le 16 that will launch later this November.
While these vintage Celine bags are trendy now, those looking ahead may want to get their hands on Philo's Céline Classic Box bag - it's secondhand now but in a decade, it has the potential to be one of those vintage jackpot buys akin to the Dior Saddle. They are what experts label as "future antiques" - they may not be obvious collectibles now, but have the potential to grow in value.
Other "future antiques" as recommended by Bagaholicboy include "rare limited editions" like Chanel's novelty bags, anything from Louis Vuitton that's limited edition and anything that's monogram - especially if you think the brand will be launching (or relaunching) something similar in the coming seasons.
Of course, you can cut through all the guesswork simply by banking on Hermès. Birkin, Kelly, Constance - these all have investment value especially if they're kept in pristine condition. But unlike Mansor, the trick is to keep them in your possession until you can sell them.