I have this very green-and-glam friend who has Italian style in spades with some French je ne sais quoi thrown in. As I was drooling over her zebra print bag one day, she nonchalantly said: “Oh, I have plenty more like these that my grandmother had left me”. Needless to say, I was intrigued. And so Giuditta shared with me the story of her family treasures which is just perfect for this week’s green-and-glam idea: V for Vintage.
“Back in the day, there was a saying in Italy which was echoed at all levels of wealth: meglio pochi ma buoni (better less, but better). Starting from teenage years, we used to receive one beautiful thing for each big event — anniversary, end-of-year exams— and we treasured it. Our wardrobe was built from the fundamentals: a nice dress, a nice suit, a nice coat, a nice bag, and some nice shoes!’
‘Back then, there were already ‘It’ bags and ‘It’ brands. In Italy, Gucci was famous only for its beautiful bags, though Ferragamo was considered classier for perfect shoes and timeless bags. Prada was the odd thing to have in the wardrobe— it started with nylon bags we used to take to the beach — by the way, I still have them.’
‘Armani was Mr. Impeccable Suits. We loved Ferré’s architectural shirts. And of course, Valentino was the ultimate creator of flawless cocktail dresses, something you would get for your 18th birthday. Versace became famous for its metal tricot dresses (where have they gone? they were gorgeous!) though it was always considered a bit too pricey and a bit too vulgar. This one has not changed much: we used to say that the wives dress in Armani and the mistresses in Versace!’
‘My grandmother was an early day fashionista; my grandparents used to run a hotel and my grandmother wanted to be impeccable in front of the guests. She loved bags and managed to collect a number, though she used them relatively little, and we ended up with some pieces that, I dare say, are collector’s items.’
‘Below is a snapshot of the many bags we inherited, and I am rather impressed by the fact that many of them are still fashionable and beautiful: quality-wise, nothing to do with today’s bags. And style-wise, either the creators were visionary 30 or 40 years ago, or there is really little novelty today.”
And so here are, in my humble opinion, the top five of Giuditta’s grandmother’s amazing handbag collection:
- ALPI Zebra Print Bag: 35 y.o.
2. Yellow GUCCI, c.1980s
3. Pink CHANEL look-alike, 30 y.o.
4. “Old and battered” FENDI
5. Roberta di Camerino, late 1970s
“I love to think that I carry my grandmother with me when I use one of her bags, and I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to go back to the ‘few but good’ philosophy,” concludes Giuditta.
One thing’s for sure: Giuditta’s heirlooms left me feeling green… with envy! Which begs the question: what can those of us not blessed with a stylish Italian nonna do? With so many websites and shops offering ‘vintage bargains’, how does one choose?
Here are my five tips to get into the vintage vibe:
1. Know what’s vintage
Technically, only clothing and accessories from the 1920s to 1940s can be called vintage. Anything newer is considered retro. However it is not unusual to have some 1980s and 1990s pieces being sold online as ‘vintage’. For me, vintage stops in 1979. Why? Because this is the year I was born! I know, this is highly subjective, but here we go!
2. Choose your fashion era
Think which fashion era you identify with – and stick with it! For example, I know that the 1960s mod look works for me, but I would go nowhere near the 1970s boho style or the Great Gatsby period fashion with its headbands and dropped waists even though its going through a bit of a revival at the moment.
3. Know vintage value
Generally, vintage coats, dresses and accessories are the best buys, and it is worth doing a bit of research on which brands are famous for which items. For example, Missoni knits, Hermès scarves and Burberry trenches will always be sought-after; and accessories (especially bags!) make a good investment.
4. Make it your own
I know this would be considered a travesty for some, but you can always adjust a vintage piece to suit your personal style and shape. You can transform an A-line skirt into a pencil skirt, or you can nip in a boxy jacket at the waist. Considering the quality of material and craftsmanship, it is actually worth doing! The point is, your vintage piece is not a museum exhibit, but a part of your wardrobe – to be worn and enjoyed!
5. Clean it!
Whatever vintage treasure you have chosen to purchase, the first thing to do even before you lay your hands on it is to take it to a professional cleaning service. If you have an original designer bag, such as Hermès, with an original authenticity certificate, you can take it to a professional bag spa no matter how old it is. For the rest, a good old clean with a damp cloth and a bit of disinfectant would do the trick.
Voilà! Good luck with your vintage adventures! And ciao for now!