Global Mode: Secondhand Luxury

Whether watered down by not-so-exclusive brands, discouraged by the government as in China after recent corruption scandals, or suffering from disillusionment among consumers, “luxury” has lost some of its aspirational allure. Quality in material and construction, tradition, and exclusivity are traditional defining characteristics, but luxury has been denigrated to self-pleasure and indulgence, stripped to facsimile expressions of wealth and exclusivity.

Webinar offered by MSLK in 2009. From their website.

Webinar offered by MSLK in 2009. From their website.

What it has retained is an association with the new, for better or worse. But as reuse and recycling become hip and take on increasingly positive connotations, there are signs that second-hand clothes and leftovers can exist within the luxury sphere. AnOther Magazine recently published an interview with Pascale Mussard, who runs the métier Pétit h, an offshoot of ultra-luxury Hermès that uses its seconds, scraps, and other materials that don’t meet the brand’s astronomical standards.  I can imagine that includes quite a bit of material, and it’s exciting to learn they are putting it to good use. Artisans and artists create clothing, installations, and art work, which are shown through installations in fashion capitals throughout Europe. These pieces are also for sale, and sell out regularly. While created from cast-offs, the materials are necessarily of the highest quality, having been purchased by Hermès in the first place. The art objects also have the honor of being one-off, unique items; luxury is nothing if not exclusive. And the AnOther article was sure to mention Mussard’s family connections: she is a descendant of the founder, Thierry Hermès, which confers long-held notions of the inheritability of taste.

Screenshot from the Petit h website, December 2013.

Screenshot from the Petit h website, December 2013.

While reusing leftover luxury materials to create exclusive pieces of art is far leap from the perhaps kitschy or crafty connotations of “reuse” and “upcycling,” this ecothink is becoming fashionable. There are interesting links to the evolving second-hand clothing market, which has been dragged out of the mire of pay-by-the-pound and used clothing into a bright, dry-cleaned, Vintage future. The websites The Real Real and Closet Rich, among many, many, many others, are well-known for having changed people’s attitudes about buying “used clothing.” They often self-describe using buzzwords like “authentic” and “designer,” the meanings of which have been diluted to homeopathic levels from overuse. Many of the items available on these websites have been used/worn at least once–although some not at all–and feature high-fashion labels. Until niche stores like What Comes Around and Decades were established, secondhand stores did not offer designer clothing except by providence for the patient thrifter. With the advent of the websites, the shopper is additionally no longer limited to what he or she can find locally, but may purchase globally. Despite apparent advantages, buying luxury items online negates my idea of the luxury experience, which includes good service, a pleasing atmosphere, a flexible return policy. But is shopping for luxury more about the object itself than how it was obtained? Does the anonymity of the internet brush away any remaining crumbs of shame associated with secondhand shopping?

Interior of Fillipa K Second Hand store on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their website.

Interior of Fillipa K Second Hand store on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their website.

Here, along the concrete sidewalks of Stockholm, Fillipa K has its own second-hand store that carries previously owned (begagnad) garments from the brand and select other vintage items in a curated milieu, often on consignment. Down the street, a few of the classic, less-well-groomed charity thrift stores that I love also work a vintage/luxury/more expensive angle: the Emmaus boutique in Södermalm is known for its little vintage shop in the basement below, where they have selected specific items for sale at higher prices. These garments usually exhibit exclusive characteristics: designer label, vintage, finer materials.

The window of the Red Cross [Röda Korset] boutique on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their Facebook page, November 2013.

The window of the Red Cross [Röda Korset] boutique on Hornsgatan in Stockholm, 2013. From their Facebook page, November 2013.

Recently, the Red Cross has expanded its business of selling used clothing as a means of supporting its charitable works to include an intensely boutiquey location in hip Södermalm, with artsy window displays by local fashion students and designers, exclusively chosen selection of designer clothing plucked from donations, and sparse interior design. In contrast to the Emmaus boutique that trades on vintage, the Red Cross store is focused on more current pre-owned fashion and designer goods, similar to the websites discussed above. The organization recently announced on their Facebook page that they opened a pop-up shop in the airport early this month (which now has its own Facebook page). Reuters reports that luxury brands are strengthening their profiles in airports, and that Sweden offers a secondhand shop along with the expanses of duty free gives visitors a specific first (or last) impression. Rather than simply a Scandinavian practicality, I would argue that it shows an eco-friendly sensibility and a certain modevetenhet (fashionability).

Can “true” luxury be second-hand? How does an authentic, pre-owned (although possibly aftermarket) piece compare with an on-trend, current fake? The shopping experience is part and parcel for many luxury shoppers; does an artsy set-up mimicking high-priced boutiques generate sales for these charity shops and their organizations, or is it the “curated” selection that draws customers?  Can these stores bring luxury back to philanthropy?

Do you see secondhand luxury where you live, whether among your friends or in the commercial sector? Do you buy luxury items secondhand, or would you consider it? Would you prefer online shopping or in a brick-and-mortar store? How have the meanings of “used,” “secondhand,” and “vintage” changed in your experience? Leave your comments below!


Further Reading

Cervellon, Marie-Cecile. “Conspicuous Conservation: using semiotics to understand sustainable luxury” International Journal of Market Research 55, 2013.

Dahlström, AnnikaWow–Jag kan bidra. AD Ecotextil, 2013.

Ricci, Manfredi and Rebecca Robins. Meta-Luxury. New York: Palmgrave MacMillan, 2012.

Roux, Dominique and Michaël Korchia. “Am I What I Wear? An Exploratory Study of Symbolic Meanings Associated with Secondhand Clothing” Advances in Consumer Research 33, 2006. [great bibliography!]

Thomas, Dana. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Lustre. New York: Penguin Press, 2007.

Rachael also recently wrote a great post for WT that gathered some new scholarship on vintage, which articles I look forward to reading.

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