The Eternal Allure of Vintage Fashion

By Tamara Abraham
Why the world’s most stylish women will always invest in rare designer finds from decades past.

W hen the Duchess of Sussex attended the christening of Zara and Mike Tindall’s daughter Lena, she won effusive praise from the fashion press for her 1950s brown silk Dior couture cape. It was not the first time she has worn vintage (a 1960s Courrèges coat for her baby shower in New York sparked a similar response), nor is it likely to be the last.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wears a 1960s Courrèges coat to her baby shower. Photo: Gotham/GC Images
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex wears a 1960s Courrèges coat to her baby shower. Photo: Gotham/GC Images

In a world where anyone with enough money can buy the latest Balenciaga trainers or Fendi bag, vintage fashion has become the stylish woman’s solution to setting herself apart. The scarcity of mint condition pieces means that there is no chance of someone else attending the same event in an identical look. It’s why Amal Clooney, regularly wears 1960s creations by Balenciaga and Lanvin, and personalities as diverse as Kim Kardashian and Cardi B are following suit.

Keen vintage enthusiasts typically guard their sources closely, but if you scan the wardrobe of any fashion insider you’ll probably discover a few treasures from times past. Indeed, for those in the industry, vintage has always been an important source of inspiration. Designers regularly trawl boutiques, using their finds as reference points for future collections.

While there has always been demand for pieces that represent key moments in fashion history, vintage has gained new relevance in the past few years because it is a more sustainable way to shop than buying brand new clothing. The global second-hand luxury business is currently worth over £17 billion and is expected to grow by up to 10 percent annually over the next few years.

Luxury leather goods and fine jewelry are particularly enticing categories because items tend to hold or appreciate in value. Nor does the buyer need to be a certain dress size or have a piece tailored to wear it.

Consider the Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags, which have achieved heirloom status thanks in part to their famous namesakes. The French luxury leather goods house has cultivated a sense of mystery around the coveted handbags by making it near-impossible to buy one new unless you are a longstanding customer. Our upcoming auction of Hermès bags includes a number of particularly rare versions, including a a 1990s Kelly 32 Tricolor Sellier Epsom in Ebène, Gold and Brown Colours with Gold Hardware, and a Birkin 35 in Shiny Amethyst Porosus Crocodile with Palladium Hardware.

Vintage fine jewelry has an allure of its own, not only for the precious materials used, but because pieces are often representative of key cultural moments. Our Fine Jewels Online auction includes a brooch by legendary Greek goldsmith Ilias Lalaounis – dating back to the 1960s, it is similar to one worn by Elizabeth Taylor on her last visit to Greece in 1988 – while a 1970s Cartier gold coin belt is like one that appeared in our auction of jewelry from the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis back in 1996.

But when it comes to one of the most enduring trends in vintage fine jewelry, we have the Duchess of Sussex to thank once again. In wearing Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara on her wedding day, she inspired renewed interest in 1930s design, and the emerald and diamond necklace from the collection of Zoe Vachell echoes the aesthetic perfectly.

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