What makes Winnie McGee, the founder & buyer of Vintage Heirloom tick? Why the passion for all things Chanel? And what sparked her idea for setting up the online fashion store Vintage Heirloom?
WHERE DID THE NAME VINTAGE HEIRLOOM COME FROM?
My sister Egem, thought of the name. The word ‘Vintage’ is now a byword for collectible fashion and ‘heirloom’ was quite apt as a lot of our pieces are high end and unique. Heirloom works because the items we find are just that, timeless classics and sometimes acquired through inheritance. We love the idea that we will pass our personal collection on to our kids to enjoy one day. On a personal level it’s like creating our own fashion heritage.
I have always loved vintage fashion. I used vintage as inspiration when I was studying fashion design. My first job was working as assistant designer to Megan Park. This involved a lot of research, sourcing design inspirations at vintage flea markets or from vintage design books. I would come across everything from vintage Victorian beaded gowns to vintage Indian printing blocks – the past continues to be an amazing database for inspiration.
WHAT’S YOUR BEST VINTAGE FIND?
I guess it would have to be my first ever Chanel bag, which I bought at a vintage fair in London in 2006. It’s hard to believe but it only cost me £40. I’m sure the best bargain I’ll ever get in my life! The bag was well used, the zip was broken, some fragile quilting, but overall not bad. I love it, I still use take it out once in a while. It’s a very old classic black Chanel bag, early 1980s, which makes it even more special. Great examples of these are becoming impossibly rare. My advice to anyone would be to snap these up, they make a great investment.
HOW MANY VINTAGE ITEMS DO YOU OWN? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITES?
I’m lucky to have access to so much fantastic vintage running our online fashion store. But business wise I’m not at the stage where I can indulge too much. I have around 15 vintage Chanel items, a mixture of vintage Chanel jewellery and bags. I collect vintage Chanel jewellery more than the bags. There is something mesmerising about Chanel jewellery, they are individual statement pieces.
My other vintage favourites include a vintage Dior triple anchor necklace and a very early Karl Lagerfeld cube necklace pre-Chanel days.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Our customers are a pretty diverse group, ages range from 18 – 63. What I think unifies them all is an appreciation of style as opposed to fashion. Both men and women shop at Vintage Heirloom. Younger women typically have tighter budgets, understandably and want to start owning something ‘grown up’ and ‘iconic’. Often this translates to a vintage LV speedy bag or Chanel purse. The more mature woman is after investment pieces like a Chanel 2.55 quilted flap bag. Classic pieces that will not date and eventually they can pass on down to her daughter. We also have lots of men buying vintage as gifts for wives and girlfriends or even both! Our customers are great and very loyal. Because we’ve received so much lovely feedback from our customers, it made sense to show these to new visitors. It’s well worth making sure you read reviews on websites but only if they are hostly independently by a reputable review site. So it made perfect sense that we signed up with Trusted Shops.
WHERE DO YOU SOURCE YOUR VINTAGE PIECES?
Mostly through wealthy private individuals with amazing closets! Auction houses and vintage fairs can be tough, but sometimes you can get some great deals. Its taken a long time to build up great relationships I can depend on but the effort was well worth it. Finding a few great vintage items here and there is fairly easy but trying to maintain a high level of quality vintage is much more of a challenge. But I love it, and every year more bags and jewellery turn 10 years old, so vintage is here to stay! We also have a consignment service where we sell vintage Chanel on behalf of customers.
WHY THE SURGE IN THE POPULARITY OF VINTAGE OVER THE PAST DECADE?
Desire for vintage has always been around, before vintage we called it second hand! But since celebrities and style icons like Kate Moss openly admitting they wear ‘second-hand’ it has made it ok, even ‘Cool’. I guess designer vintage is becoming increasingly popular as great vintage pieces are often rare, one-of-a-kind. There is a certain undeniable attraction to knowing that you have something your friends can’t simply copy by buying at the local department store. Vintage offers a chance to stamp your individuality.
WHAT BRANDS DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE NEXT ‘VINTAGE’?
I do like early Celine and Versace pieces. They are still affordable right now but growing in popularity. Early Versace pieces like their Medusa head sunglasses and bags are gaining a bit of cult status.
WHAT’S YOUR MOST POPULAR ITEM?
For us it’s Chanel, especially the 2.55 quilted flap bag. It’s very difficult to buy even at Chanel stores as it’s often sold out with a long waiting list. It’s just an iconic bag – its a classic! I never get tired of wearing my 2.55. With prices increasing at Chanel every season (up to 30%), vintage pieces are a slightly more affordable option. Although really rare and immaculate condition Chanel bags are more expensive than new bags! Personally I think every girl should save up for a 2.55 quilted classic flap bag. It’s a rights of passage from fashion to style. They are bags that will never date, a perennial classic and it’s a ‘heirloom’ piece that I will pass on to my kids. Louis Vuitton is also very popular – more affordable, but still with a great heritage. Customer’s love the monogram pieces like the ‘Alma’ and ‘Speedy’ handbags.
WHAT MAKES YOUR BUSINESS DIFFERENT THAN ANY OTHER VINTAGE RETAILER?
I think we stand out because we take care to buy only the most amazing vintage. I’m constantly striving to preserve a cult collection, our ‘edit’ is important to us. Buying unique, rare and interesting vintage pieces is difficult but we stand by this it’s what makes us tick. Our vintage is quirky, left-field, often different and reflects our own personal taste. We hope that browsing our site reflects this, and with something different every 2 weeks, we hope a bit exciting too! Also as a virtual store we are very opaque about our business. We want to build trust. So offer something more than just selling great vintage. We have a new amazing blog site, how to video guides, interesting articles an active Facebook and Twitter presence. We constantly interact with our customers which is a great way to build up our reputation by providing a 1st class service. We also have stunning Tumblr and Pinterest boards for vintage design inspiration, which are attracting a lot of attention.
WHICH ITEM WOULD YOU LOVE TO KEEP FOR YOURSELF?
We will be getting this piece round large vanity case in by Chanel. It’s really unusual very early 1990s style (best period of vintage Chanel bags) and its the first time I have come across this usual shape and its in red – bonus!
HAVE YOU EVER FOUND ANYTHING INTERESTING INSIDE A VINTAGE PIECE?
A 500 franc note ! Unfortunately now worthless :-(. We have bought vintage pieces from interesting people from royalty to ex-Chanel accessory designers, so there’s always the potential for more surprises.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF OWNING A VINTAGE E-STORE? THE HARDEST?
I love the vintage sourcing, its so exciting! Meeting people and forming friendships has been really rewarding. Also discovering interesting stories behind the vintage piece. It’s lovely when we get positive feedback from customers – they are so happy to have found their perfect vintage piece! The hardest? Finding affordable pieces, people are increasingly driving a hard bargain. It’s testament to the investment value of designer bags.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE FROM VINTAGE HEIRLOOM IN THE FUTURE?
A lot more unique vintage! More ‘how to’ video guides and more compelling blogs. Lots of fun social interaction, and events, even the odd sale!