Vintage Versace. The phrase itself has an aura about it, one that whispers of swishes of fabric and whirls of colour, lovingly brought together in high-fashion garments that have remained relevant over the years.
To mark the 20th anniversary of Gianni Versace’s untimely death, a collection of the designer’s timeless creations will be available from next month on online shopping platform Farfetch.com, in collaboration with William Vintage. The London-based boutique specialises in high-end collections of vintage clothing, and often welcomes the likes of Amal Clooney, Helena Bonham Carter and Victoria Beckham.
The boutique’s Versace trove features more than 500 pieces, from Gianni’s early 1977 designs through to his final autumn/winter 1997 collection. This includes the Andy Warhol-inspired Pop range from 1991, the Miss S&M pieces from 1992 and the Punk collection from 1994. “The focus for this vintage Versace collection was to celebrate Gianni’s life and career 20 years after his death, and also to build out those pieces that reflected his extraordinary, luxurious and opulent approach to clothing,” says William Banks-Blaney of William Vintage.
So why invest in vintage fashion? Exclusivity, for one. Wearable vintage fashion is finite, and its collector base is growing exponentially, as compared to a few decades ago. "Luxury is all about pieces that no one else has. And, to be totally candid, there's nothing worse than walking into a room and seeing another woman wearing exactly the same dress as you," says Emily Bothwell, founder of London-based Peekaboo Vintage. "By the same extension, if you see a piece of vintage you love, grab it. Even if it's not quite the right fit, still buy it; it doesn't cost much to alter the arms or waist of a garment. Because, usually, once it's gone, it's gone for good," she adds. Plus, in the fast-disposable versus sustainable fashion debate, vintage emerges the winner.
The market for these one-off pieces skyrocketed in the early 2000s, when Hollywood stars looked to vintage haute couture for red-carpet events – notably Julia Roberts, who picked up her Oscar for Erin Brockovich in 2001 wearing a resplendent velvet and satin Valentino gown, from the designer's 1982 collection. Since then, celebrities such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Beyoncé (who collects vintage Chanel) and Alexa Chung have increasingly turned to vintage for high-profile events and everyday wear. Of course, Moss somewhat infamously ripped the vintage Christian Dior satin dress that she wore to the Golden Age of Couture gala in 2007. While that was fellow attendee Courtney Love's fault – she mistakenly stepped on the gown's train – it should perhaps serve as a reminder that when investing in vintage, it is important to verify not only the provenance of a piece, but also its quality and condition.
"The mark of good vintage is unprecedented quality that stands the test of time," agrees Candice Fragis, buying and merchandising director at Farfetch, who says that, thus far, vintage bags and accessories have been the most sought-after items on the portal. Banks-Blaney adds: "Condition is the first requirement and it greatly increases the rarity of a piece. When you invest in vintage, focus on condition, relevance and on pieces that are intrinsically representative of their designers – these will always be coveted items."
As with any investment decision, knowledge is key. This is where specialist vintage stores and auction houses come in. Farfetch, for example, only works with boutiques that have been certified by the brands that they stock, or with those that hold the official archives of specific collections and designers, so they are in the know about the history, make, maintenance requirements and rarity of the clothes, shoes, bags and accessories they are selling. For instance, Banks-Blaney reveals about the Farfetch vintage collection: "A number of very rare and high-value pieces will be available, but the 1992 harness dress and Gianni's spectacular Oroton metal pieces are among the most important and expensive. We have focused on pieces that are uniquely and unmistakably Gianni in his golden period, and they range in price from £200 to over £30,000 [up to Dh140,000]."
The appeal of a one-off item also lies in its heritage and the stories it can tell – or that its new owners can build on. As the owner of Los Angeles-based Rococo Vintage puts it: "Antique clothing is either steeped in history or mystery, and learning about it or dreaming it up is half the charm of wearing it. It's rather like having a bunch of wonderful imaginary friends hanging out in your closet."
"You can also switch your look based on an era you admire. So one day I might be in 1970s gear and the next day in 1930s dresses," adds Bothwell. She says she advises her clients to wear vintage regularly, but never more than one piece at a time. "To me, that would be overdoing it. I would invest in a beautiful white cotton dress, because that never dates, but I would pair it with a contemporary belt and shoes, maybe a lived-in leather jacket when it's cooler." She lists designers such as Ossie Clark, Halston, Theo Porter and Frank Usher as her favourite vintage go-tos.
There's no real cause for concern about the aesthetic appeal of a piece that was produced many moons ago, though, because, as Fragis explains: "Fashion is cyclical. The house Gianni founded, for example, is still an enormous voice in the fashion world, and his designs are the bedrock of that. Often, the styles and trends of today were created yesterday. Buying the original design in the form of vintage is, in fact, a more authentic and unique way to reference ongoing trends." This might explain why some of the most stylish women and men in the world choose to invest in decades-old designs.