In Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are now fashion outlets supplying mint-condition, vintage designer clothing.
Vintage designer wear now available in the UAE
The UAE now has fashion outlets supplying mint-condition, vintage designer clothing, writes Lottie Johansson
Thought there was nothing you couldn't buy in Dubai? Until recently, there was one big hole in the UAE's shopping offerings: vintage. Apart from expensive "pre-loved" designer handbags, there was little to be found in the way of second-hand clothes, even while celebrities wore vintage Dior on the red carpet and designers name-checked favourite eras and makers as inspiration. Yet the popularity of vintage fashion has grown steadily over the past seasons to become firmly established as a long-term trend, providing a powerful and individual complement to today's constantly evolving fashion. Which makes the launch of companies such as Vintage Parlour in Abu Dhabi and Bambah in Dubai truly exciting milestones.
For women looking for rare, beautifully constructed and timeless fashion, buying vintage provides a new dimension to their wardrobes and can be mixed with contemporary designs for a highly individual and eclectic approach to dressing. Just as vintage timepieces and jewellery have experienced a surge in popularity, a gorgeous Christian Dior silk shantung gown or a sassy Biba satin crêpe dress are equally desirable investments. And while vintage labels from pioneering couturiers such as Jean Dessès and Madeleine Vionnet are much sought after, it is often the design, rather than the label, that dictates the appeal of the garment for today's passionate vintage seekers.
"I sell pieces from £75-£7,500 and the label is important, but it really is always about the design when you are looking for good vintage pieces," explains William Banks-Blaney, the discerning owner of the WilliamVintage (www.williamvintage.com) store in London. "I travel round the world to find the very best vintage because dresses travel through the decades and you never know where you will find the next important design. I probably buy one item out of every 500 I see; I'm very selective and edit carefully... At the end of the day, if the design and the price is right and the dress fits the client perfectly, then it doesn't matter if it's by an unknown designer."
Unlike today's readily available fashion, it can take time to source the perfect vintage piece and provenance is often a deciding factor when spending a lot on a second-hand garment. This can range from an attached photo showing the dress worn by its original owner many decades ago; a handwritten label in a covetable couture gown detailing the clients' name, the style name and date; or an evocative story attached to an item.
"I sold a beautiful black cocktail dress recently by Simonetta et Fabiani, who were two rival Italian designers working in Paris in the 1960s," remembers Banks-Blaney. "They met, fell in love, married and merged their labels. The dress was a result of that romantic liaison."
As with contemporary fashion, the popularity of certain eras is directly influenced by developments in the media, music and art worlds. While TV programmes such as Sex and the City introduced a wide audience to serious designer bling and vertiginous Jimmy Choos, it is the recent popularity of Mad Men, set in the 1950s and 1960s, that has really captured people's imagination and provoked many designers, including Prada and Marc Jacobs, to create collections paying homage to the show's era. The main female characters, Betty Draper and Joan Harris, epitomise ladylike glamour and have singlehandedly consolidated the demand for retro glamour from both modern and vintage collections.
As Carmen Haid, the director of the pioneering online vintage retailer Atelier-Mayer (www.atelier-mayer.com) confirms: "I sold many dresses to clients inspired by Mad Men and I can imagine that Madonna's up-and-coming Wallis Simpson movie, WE, will create another vintage trend."
Yet while vintage fashion, which is traditionally defined as being pieces that are at least 25 years old, can be readily sourced in Europe, America and Tokyo, it has only just started making its mark significantly in the UAE, with a handful of retailers, such as Bambah (www.bambah.com, opening next week on Jumeirah Beach Road) and The Vintage Parlour, leading the way.
"I'd been collecting vintage fashion for almost seven years before deciding to open a boutique in Dubai," reveals Maha Abdul Rasheed of Bambah, whose stock includes Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Christian Dior and Nina Ricci finds. "My vintage pieces are sourced from all over the world and every piece has a story. With the revival of timeless vintage, there is definitely potential for this to expand in the UAE within a couple of years, which is something I am looking forward to."
Over in Abu Dhabi, the Australian vintage aficionado Judith Hanley opened Vintage Parlour (www.myvintageparlour.com) last year, and her extensive collection is available to clients at her home-meets-showroom by appointment. "Celebrity advocates of vintage, such as Kate Moss and Chloë Sevigny, exert a significant influence on the fashion philosophies of women today," says Hanley, "proving that vintage fashion is accessible, and most importantly, contemporarily relevant."
Collaborating with a select group of international collectors and trusted authorities on vintage, her collection of mint or near-mint frocks range from delicate Edwardian lace and silk nightwear, through antique Japanese kimonos, to 1960s cocktail dresses - although, she adds, she has "a penchant for the elongated draped gowns pioneered by Madeleine Vionnet, and I've sourced a beautiful 1930s Lucien Lelong silk crêpe couture gown for my wedding."
Atelier-Mayer, which recently opened a small showroom in London's chi-chi Connaught Village, was quick to recognise the potential for vintage sales in the region and organised a trunk show at the Royal Mirage Hotel in Dubai last year - an interesting test for the market.
"Everybody who came loved the pieces, especially the big-name labels, such as Chanel and Christian Dior. Vintage accessories were also popular, particularly with women who had never shopped vintage before," remarks Haid.
Another source for high-end buys are the international auction houses specialising in vintage fashion. Kerry Taylor, of Kerry Taylor Auctions (www.kerrytaylorauctions.com) at Sotheby's, is a leading authority. The next sale, scheduled for March, features a line-up of covetable pieces including a white lace gown made by Catherine Walker for Princess Diana in the 1980s. According to Taylor, who regularly ships vintage garments to overseas clients, "wearing vintage makes a woman stand out. There's so much fashion on the high street that all looks the same and vintage is the ultimate in re-using and recycling - it is extremely green."
Dubai's multi-brand boutiques such as S*uce, in the Village Mall, and Valleydez, at Wafi, have tapped into the vintage zeitgeist. Like the Paris concept store Merci and the online phenomenon Net-a-Porter, Valleydez is following in S*uce's footsteps and adding vintage pieces to its rails this month. "Our customers come to Valleydez because of the hand-selected range of clothes that they can't find anywhere else in the UAE," says the shop manager, Cherry Cumberland. "They're after unique brands and cutting-edge fashion and our vintage range, sourced in Paris and London, will offer the best of both worlds."
It's not just those looking for an alternative to the malls that seek out vintage fashion: today's leading designers are often seen perusing the rails in international vintage stores, such as Didier Ludot (www.didierludot.fr) in Paris, Virginia (+44 (0)20 7727 9908) in London, and markets such as Camden and Saint-Ouen in search of inspiration.
Understanding the considerable influence past designs have on modern creations, Hanley also offers access to her collection as a learning resource for fashion designers and students in the UAE. "Vintage Parlour's archives are comprehensive and inspiring, as they chronicle the iconic silhouettes from the 1900s to 1970s," she explains. "One of my primary objectives is for my collections to be an inspiration-source for both emerging and established UAE-based designers.
"Quality vintage holds an elusive je ne se quoi, making it just as desirable today as in its prime."
Always pick-up your vintage piece by the hanger and invest in padded hangers or well-shaped wooden hangers. Protect delicate designs with cotton dust covers.
Source a specialist dry cleaner who will be sympathetic to the delicate nature of many vintage fabrics. Sew cotton dress shields into sleeved dresses and tops to prolong the garments' life and protect against perspiration.
A steamer is a good investment for gently removing creases and refreshing items.
Vintage mannequins not only look fabulous; they are also great for displaying vintage finds. Look for Stockman or Kennett & Lindsell mannequins on eBay or at www.vintagestylemannequins.co.uk.
If you are a serious collector you may want to consider cataloguing and photographing your vintage treasures digitally or using simple index cards.
Vintage fashion is often smaller than modern standards as it often pre-dates size standardisation introduced in the late 1950s. Don’t be put off by a label or the lack of one; always try on pieces and keep a note of your measurements.
Wear and tear
There are various methods used to describe the condition of vintage garments, but the best way to determine the condition is to use your eyes. Minor marks can often be removed or covered by a brooch. Fabrics can also become delicate through age and over-exposure to light so look carefully at how the fabric feels and hangs; minor tears can often be invisibly mended. Also check zips, buttons and buttonholes. Lost buttons can be replaced with vintage buttons and zips can also be replaced depending on the structure of the fabric surrounding the original zip. Only you can determine if the style, condition and price are right for you.
Keep an eye out for collectable labels such as the major couturiers and pioneering designers including Ossie Clarke, Mary Quant and Halston. Designer labels have changed over the years and there are also a lot of fakes out there so you need to be savvy. Check out the online Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource at www.vintagefashionguild.org.
It is difficult to set a fixed price on vintage fashion as you are often investing in one-off pieces. Get familiar with the eras and designers you are most interested in and look online for an idea of street value.
Body shapes and silhouettes have changed over the years, so you may want to tweak the design of your vintage finds to ensure they fit perfectly. Many vintage retailers offer this service. If you have bought vintage privately or at a fair and you’re not confident doing the alterations yourself, cultivate a good seamstress with a feel for vintage fabrics.