17 Aug, 2023

Everything You Need To Know About Buying A Pre-Loved Chanel Bag

With ‘Quiet Luxury' back on the fashion agenda and Gabrielle Chanel - Fashion Manifesto at V&A set to be autumn’s must-see fashion exhibition, the time feels right to invest in that classic Chanel bag. Is shopping for one in the vintage market a smart choice?

With ‘Quiet Luxury’ back on the fashion agenda and Gabrielle Chanel – Fashion Manifesto at the V&A set to be autumn’s must-see fashion exhibition, the time feels right to invest in that classic Chanel bag. Is shopping for one in the vintage market a smart choice?

By Sarah Bailey

I’ve long been a vintage fashion fiend. Back in the 90s when I was a trainee writer, I would always take an early train to reporting jobs around the country to allow me time to scour the local charity shops; coming home with Pucci shirts for £3 a pop and 1950s leopard print numbers worthy of Claudia Caridnale (all way more exciting than my ‘Kitten-gets-stuck- in-washing-machine-type’ cub reporter assignments). Today, however, buying preloved fashion is no longer a niche hobby for geeks like me. The rise of sleek fashion resale sites, plus a growing earth-conscious sensibility, has changed the game, so that luxury shoppers can now easily scour the ‘secondary market’ on the lookout for, say, the perfect quilted lambskin Chanel bag of their dreams at a smart price.

I confess I’ve never bought such a big ticket item in my vintage trawls. But with the forthcoming exhibition Gabrielle Chanel – Fashion Manifesto at the V&A (opening September 10th) set to be one of the Autumn’s must-see cultural highlights, and the new mood of ‘Quiet Luxury’ a necessary palate cleanser after a Barbie-crazed summer with its attendant overdose on Pepto Bismol pink fripperies; the time feels right to consider that investment buy. To further whet the appetite, auction house Bonhams is hosting ‘The Art of Luxury: Chanel’ on September 11th, its second London sale of bags, accessories and fashion, including rare couture pieces, with an online sale of additional lots running from September 11th to 21st (proof, if ever there was, about just how pukka buying into pre-owned luxury has become).

“A vintage bargain ticks so many feel-good boxes,” says Catherine Hayward, Editor at Large of sustainable glossy Calendar Magazine. “And a Chanel bag - one of the big three on the second-hand market - is an essential building block within the fashion industry’s burgeoning circular economy.”

“The vintage bag market in the last six years has really boomed, which obviously reflects the trend for internet buying and people’s ability to look around, but there’s also a real appreciation of these vintage pieces,“ says Meg Randell, UK and European Head of Designer Handbags and Fashion at Bonhams, who points out that careful owner of a classic bag, might even be able to sell their Chanel 2.55 (the original flap shoulder bag Chanel first designed in 1955) for significantly more than she paid for it.

“There’s an increased desire to have a Chanel bag and more people are looking for them, but at the same time Chanel themselves are hiking up their prices year on year,” continues Randall. “A classic flap bag in 2019 was £4,500; now it’s almost £9,000 pounds. In just four years’ time, they’ve pretty much doubled in price on the primary market, and that means that bags for the secondary market have also gone up in price.”

This same trend for classic bags appreciating in value can also be seen on the high-end resale sites, where any stigma about buying into second-hand luxury seems positively outmoded. “There is now total acceptance of pre-owned, any reticence, an antiquated idea. We all understand we are living on a finite planet, to carry a pre-owned luxury bag is now a positive personal statement,” says Rachel Reavley, of HardlyEverWornIt.com (where I spy a black Chanel lambskin medium double flap bag for sale for £3,789.56 – seller also open to offers!). “Fashion says something about our identity and this is a desirable life choice, the conscious way to shop, literally wearing your values. There has been a huge change in perception on the value of new versus pre-owned.”

Even so, with prices for a beautiful second-hand Chanel flap bag in the £1000s rather than the £100s, buying pre-owned is still a significant outlay for most of us, requiring research and a good deal of buying reassurance before making that leap to purchase. Provenance and authenticity are all part of what you are paying for, so it’s important not to let the dopamine rush triggered by the bargain price tag overtake your rational brain and to make sure that you tick all the boxes that indicate your potential purchase is the real deal. “Ensure you always see the branding, gold plate stamp, hologram and stitching as they are the most important signifiers of authenticity,” advises Reavley. Sites like HardlyEverWornIt.com pride themselves on their authentication process, but she says it is fine and completely justifiable to ask to see more photos to scrutinise these tell-tale details, and to examine any blemishes and marks. And if the price seems too good to be true, well my friend, that’s probably a sign that it probably is…

Vintage guru Grace Timothy, Revive & Thrive Brand Lead at Goodwood Revival festival, carries a classic Chanel bag, stitched with big interlocking Cs, which was sourced by (and is now shared with!) her mother, from their family favourite vintage haunt Preloved of Brighton. “It’s definitely been used and used. However, it’s in perfect working order,” says Timothy. “So compared to the other bags I’ve carried and probably overfilled, there’s not one mark on it. The chain is still perfect. The zip has got its beautiful charm, the lining is perfect, and while it looks a little bit worn in terms of the colour and the texture of the exterior, I think it feels a little bit more special than something new, in the sense that it’s carrying on a story of the lives it lived before it came to us. And now we’re part of that story continuing, both my mother and I… and one day my daughter I’m sure.”

A word about the aesthetics of imperfection… Sourcing a mint-condition bag will be a priority for many luxury shoppers, particularly those who like to resell and trade their pieces. My own tastes happen to skew more towards the ‘wabi-sabi’, so I actually relish signs of wear and tear (within reason!) as something that gives a piece its soul and authenticity, a sign of love rather than damage! Earlier this year, The New York Times ran a story dissecting the pleasures, and semiotics of carrying a conspicuously worn-in luxury bag, as an introverted status signifer, under the headline “Your Pristine Hermès Bag, to Some, Looks Tacky”. Indeed Jane Birkin herself was known for tricking out her eponymous Hermès tote with prayer beads and Aung San Suu Kyi stickers (zut alors!). Stickers may be a bridge too far even for me, but when it comes to investing in a luxury bag that you will carry for life, I certainly ascribe to the idea that you should buy what you love, rather than what you think you should buy. Scroll down for more words from the wise about how to score the bag of your dreams in the vintage market without tears:

What You Really, Really Want

Are you a ‘perfect skin’ obsessive? How practical do you need your bag to be? Think about whether you want to buy the smooth lambskin leather, or whether the textured ‘caviar calfskin’ (more resistant to scratches) will give more wears-per-buy, before you invest.

All In The Details

The weight of the chain, the yellow of the gold, the hologram, the elegant typography of the Chanel brand are the signifiers of real deal, but buying through a known resale site or an auction house with a robust authentication process will provide expert endorsement. HardlyEverWornIt.com offers a copper-bottomed ‘Managed By Hewi’ service. “All ‘Managed By Hewi’ items are inspected by our in-house team, passing through at least two checks before being listed,” advises Rachel Reavley. “We also work with external partners backed by PayPal to offer certificates to buyers if needed. Items that are sold using the private seller service are all also authenticated and we vet each seller and ask for proof of purchase where possible. If we have the slightest doubt we will not accept the item and our payment policy is in place to protect the buyer, payment is held by Hewi until the buyer has received their item and is entirely happy. We also offer a full refund policy too.”

Little Black Book

The phenomenon of luxury resale sites has changed the game for high end vintage, but trusted bricks and mortar dealers can often source pieces for you. Vanessa Wright of Preloved of Brighton is trusted by her loyal clientele (like Grace Timothy’s Mum). https://prelovedofbrighton.com/. Sign of the Times is the storied Chelsea fashion resell agency frequented by Kristen McMenamy and many a celebrity stylist: A great source for spotless Chanel bags.  Where does Rihanna source her vintage Chanel? From Catherine Benier, the vintage queen of Paris, who has over three decades of experience in luxury resale. Her stores Les 3 Marches de Catherine B can be found on 1 Rue Guisarde on the Left Bank, specialising in a breathtaking array of Chanel and Hermès (an appointment may be necessary).

To Bid Or Not To Bid

What are the advantages to buying through a big auction house like Bonhams? Meg Randall highlights the opportunity to talk directly with the Luxury Bag specialists (whose phone numbers and email addresses are easily accessible on the Bonham’s site); and to view the lots in person at the auction preview: “So if you’re in London, you can come and physically see the bag you want itself, which can make such a big difference,” says Randall. “Even our timed online sales have physical auction previews.” As one might expect, everything at Bonhams is rigorously authenticated: “We authenticate everything ourselves in-house with our specialists,” says Randall. “And then once it’s passed our authentication, we actually invite external authenticators to come in and they double check, so everything’s gone through a two point process.”

Don’t Settle, Source the Bag You Really Want

Just because you are buying vintage, doesn’t mean you have to ‘settle’. “There really is some amazing vintage Chanel out there, so it’s worth taking the time to find the piece of your dreams,”advises Rachel Reavley. “Hewi for example can help source in the secondary market the piece you are looking for, so always ask if you can’t find it.”

Show A Little Respect

Oh, and do show your vintage Chanel bag the respect a purchase such as this deserves. Cameron Silver, the OG of vintage fashion, whose store Decades in Los Angeles was a game-changer luxury resale, always tells his customers, not to over-use their bags, but to rotate them, to give the exterior a quick freshen up with Method leather-wipes and to never, ever carry a pen in a beautiful bag… a burst Pentel or a biro mark can never ever be erased. Now, go and bag yourself that 2.55 of your dreams….

Main image: Pinterest