08 April 2010

New Fashion v. Old Fashion

Celine v. a French depot vent

I was recently in Paris with my girlfriend who opened up a whole new world to me: consignment shopping, or rather, depot vente, in French.

Consignment shopping never crossed my mind, simply because: 1) I didn't know the calibre of what these shops stocked and, weren't the items from the next of kin of the deceased?; and 2) there couldn't be more to Paris shopping than rue Saint Honore, Saint Germain and Bon Marche!

Now back up to the first evening in Paris when we snuck into the Celine boutique before closing. Here was a recognizable French brand whose highly-anticipated and well-received collection from their newly-appointed designer was on show, in a temporary location. The range was wearable and modern. Enter the modern brand's modern salesperson: an Asian woman with all the aggressiveness of a noodle hawker. After she asked me if I was Chinese, she spent the rest of the time speaking to me in Taiwanese after I told her that I don't speak her mother tongue. Bringing out clothes from the stockroom to show us exhibits initiative in a competitive marketplace, but calling us multiple times on the following day to confirm if we were returning to make additional purchases is outright stalking. What sent me over the edge was the way she handled our purchases: throwing the clothes onto a side table while she rang us up, thereby leaving a pile of wrinkled rags while we signed our bills. This was sales with the worst of follow-through. Perhaps a side-effect of today's "new" fashion brands' competitiveness?

On the following morning, it was to be my virgin consignment shopping hunt. I was giddy with the prospect of finally procuring a leather wallet I'd been holding out for, for seven years. Letter size paper envelopes for monetary notes, whether at home or traveling abroad, was they way I rolled. But I knew it was time to grow up. My girlfriend was amused, "Marisa, you're going to find more than a leather wallet..."

Not far from the center of Paris was a small shop hidden under scaffolding. In the windows were dustless, carefully displayed handbags, accessories and clothing, all from the top French fashion and accessories houses. It was nothing like I had anticipated. No smell of mothballs, no damaged goods and not a single aggressive salesperson in sight. Instead, these shop ladies were sophisticated and chic, with years of knowledge of their sector of the industry selling both unused and lightly used items with grace. Here was a second-chance world for gifts that weren't used or for things used enough by some.

What I also learned is that a depot vent is a testament to the timelessness that very few luxury brands represent today. An item found from ten years ago is as relevant today as it was then. And, nothing was being marketed to me. In the end, "new" fashion relies on the global marketing and sales mechanisms set in motion by bottom lines. While here, old fashion can remain eternal, unaffected by the currents of trends.

I found my wallet that day, among other things....and no, not all items in consignment shops are from the deceased.

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