Vintage and salvage: luxury houses are playing the sustainable card
For years, they didn’t want to hear about it. But today, even the biggest luxury brands are realizing that they can no longer ignore the vintage, recycling and upcycling trend.
Who would have imagined that Édouard Vermeulen would create a Natan collection from unsold items from previous years? That labels like Burberry and Gucci would make deals with resale platforms? Or that Raf Simons and Versace would bring their old classics back to market? Obviously, luxury brands are seduced by vintage – a term that, until recently, was not part of their vocabulary because they considered it to be bad for their sales.
But the world has changed, and not just because of the coronavirus. More and more people are making sustainability a top priority. As a fashion company (an industry that is considered a very big polluter), you better adjust the shot. This is why more and more luxury labels are betting on old fashion, so as not to miss the trend while contributing to the general well-being of the planet.
Trend 1: UPCYCLING
Designer Marine Serre, whose “green fashion” became famous a few years ago thanks to Beyoncé, has shown the way: since then, many labels and designers have jumped on the upcycling bandwagon. In all fairness, however, these are often just marginal projects with limited impact.
For example, the Louis Vuitton house transforms unsold ‘LV Trainer’ sneakers into ‘LV Trainer Upcycling’ sneakers. Prada uses recycled nylon for its Re-Nylon line. For his new brand Viron, the Belgian shoe designer Mats Rombaut manufactures boots with surplus canvas from military tents. The young, ultra-award-winning Brussels brand Ester Manas recycles unused rolls of fabric, collected from major houses. Burberry donates its surplus fabric to students of fashion schools in Great Britain.
With the Natan Circular line, even Natan does a bit of upcycling. For this summer’s collection, the fashion house has selected a few pieces from previous collections to radically transform them: a skirt becomes a top, a sweater transforms into a skirt.
“I have always found it unfortunate that the fashion world finds itself with such large surpluses on its hands”, declares Édouard Vermeulen of Natan. “And it’s a waste to scratch an item after a season. So my wish was to give some of our centerpieces a second life.” Thus, Natan is playing on velvet, because upcycling reigns even in haute couture salons.
Admittedly, for the moment, this reign is less obvious in the big houses, but look at Ronald van der Kemp who, with his label RVDK, is a Dutch pioneer of dead stocks.
Or Viktor & Rolf: last month the famous Dutch designer duo presented an haute couture collection made up entirely of dead stocks of lace ribbons, pieces of dresses, parts of sweatshirts and other remnants of previous designs, which appeared to have been assembled at random. The models wore second-hand jewelry and shoes made from recycled plastic in bright colors. We can say what we want, this is not a creative whim!
Trend 2: REISSUES
If there is one sector in which the fashion world can follow suit, it is the furniture industry. Not only in terms of recycling, but also through the reissues that are offered year after year: the classics of Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Jeanneret and Perriand have always been available. While the old fashion collections served at most as a source of inspiration, labels are now realizing that young fashion lovers are interested in their “greatest hits”.
Ralph Lauren was one of the first to adopt this trend: several times a year, the American fashion designer dust off old collections and re-presents them to the public in limited editions. Two years ago, Ralph Lauren reissued the legendary 1993 “Snow Beach” collection. That same year, Marc Jacobs recreated the “Redux Grunge Collection” marketed for Perry Ellis in 1992 – which had allowed him to break through, but which had also earned him his dismissal. Last year, Versace surprised with the reissue of “That Dress”, a tropical print dress with a hell of a neckline worn by Jennifer Lopez in 2000.
Did you ask for the greatest hits? Raf Simons has just reissued a hundred pieces chosen from his old collections on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his label and which he has gathered under the name Archive Redux. Presented in stores last December, they were a huge success. Indeed, since Kanye West declared himself a fan, the pieces of the Belgian designer have been among the favorites of the ‘Grailed’ generation, who collects rare streetwear clothes and makes occasional forays into high fashion. Classics from the late 90s and early 2000s became expensive collectibles, and Archive Redux fulfilled that demand.
Trend 3: VINTAGE VOLTAGE
Of course, there is also the ‘cool factor’ of second-hand shops and webshops. After chain stores attracting a young audience (Urban Outfitters, Top Shop and the French brand Citadium) have installed second-hand corners in their flagship stores, more and more brands are starting to integrate vintage into their business plan. It doesn’t pay much, but it does.
Spencer Phipps, an American designer of men’s fashion based in Paris, sells on his website a selection of vintage in addition to his collection. “I consider Gold Label Vintage to be a kind of second line,” he explains.
“We sell second-hand items that relate to the theme of my collection on which we sew our label. For that, I work with a distributor in Los Angeles. By offering second-hand items, I don’t need to make jeans or flannel shirts, but I find them for my customers. This is an ecological initiative in that regard. “
According to Phipps, who worked for Dries Van Noten, the relatively expensive vintage line is working better than he could ever have hoped for. “Many customers online order a jacket from my new collection to wear with one of my vintage T-shirts.”
Which brings us to Dries Van Noten: in his Los Angeles boutique, which opened last year, the Belgian rigger offers a curated selection of old pieces.
Also in America, the resale platform The RealReal has made deals with Stella McCartney, Burberry and Gucci. A tree is planted for every ‘pre-loved’ Gucci item on the site, and the brand provides pieces that have been used for the filming of advertising campaigns and therefore can no longer be sold as new.
But not everyone is convinced. “We are monitoring what is happening,” Antoine Arnault said during the LVMH Climate Week in December 2020. “It is an economy that exists and which continues to gain in importance. But, for us, it is still a little early. ” To be continued.