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Victoria Stowe

Why Collect Vintage Handbags

Life is short. Time flies like a bullet. Days are packed with endless assignments, appointments, projects, and chores... And you feel that you need more time for yourself. Most definitely, you need more passion, beauty, and excitement. Perhaps, a hobby would be a great idea: something that would make you feel special and look fabulous. Something that could also become a smart investment. Collecting? Yes! Collecting vintage fashion? Absolutely!


That's what I was thinking, as I stood in front of a long row of glowing displays in an enchanting cove of the Seattle's Pike Market antique store. Such an abundance! My eyes were gliding from one cabinet to another, when I suddenly gasped, “Oh, my gosh! I've never seen anything more beautiful: a true piece of art!” That was when I first saw a vintage alligator handbag – a stunning piece by Lucille de Paris. The beauty and luxury of its skins captivated me. Since then, every spare minute I have apart from my job is devoted to collecting.


Collecting vintage exotics is a relatively new and unusual phenomenon – unlike more established areas, such as antique or vintage clothing, costume jewelry, beaded purses, or Lucite handbags. It attracts not only fashion historians who collect for preservation, but also millions of stylish women mesmerized by their timeless elegance. Nostalgia for quality, luxury and sensible glamour of the past has created an unprecedented interest in vintage exotics among fashion-conscious public. Rapid development of the Internet and online auctions have made vintage accessible and affordable. 

As a handmade product created decades ago by skilled artisans in strict accordance with ancient craft, vintage is unique. If you take the time to carefully examine a fine vintage bag, you will notice how much skill was put into its creation. Attention to detail is just mind-bending. The thought, time, and craftsmanship is always noticed when people see fine vintage for the first time. They always sigh in admiration, “Oh, they don’t make them like this anymore.” So, join us in preserving our history, heritage and culture: go green and buy vintage!  


Not every older alligator bag is collectible vintage worth thousands. Instead, it could be just insignificant second-hand you can get for a couple hundreds. That's why it is important to understand the difference between 'vintage' and 'second-hand'. The term 'collectible vintage' in designer exotics usually defines best examples produced by important makers during the period from the 1920s until 1969, when the ban on selling alligator and some crocodile skins was enforced in the United States for over a decade, until the late 1980s.


When it comes to fashion necessity, a classic vintage alligator handbag has become a true status symbol and a conversation piece.


Having a collection of vintage designer fashion and accessories would make you feel like you're set for life and don’t need to spend much on a current It bag every season.


Collecting heirloom vintage has also proved to be a smart investment opportunity rising in popularity worldwide. For over a decade, the biggest Hollywood celebrities have been promoting the trend by carrying vintage to red-carpet events.


Several museums worldwide display the finest vintage skin bags as an important part of their period fashion collections. Antique shops and leading auction houses have been doing good business in vintage as well. 


It is important to mention that the guidelines for collecting vintage fashion were set forth in the late 1990s by the Sotheby's Fashion Department under the leadership of Tiffany Dubin.


At their very successful standing-room-only auctions, where hip New Yorkers learned how to mix and match the styles of different decades, the best brands of the past specializing in alligator handbags and other exotics were offered up for bid. Among them were Hermes, Mark Cross, Gucci, Chanel, Lucille de Paris, Nettie Rosenstein, Lederer, Saks Fifth Avenue, Rosenfeld, Roberta di Camerino, Martin Van Schaak, Koret, etc. 


Needless to say, a vintage alligator purse has never been about necessity - rather about ultimate luxury.  It is its timeless elegance that makes it a unique piece of fashion history to wear. And who wouldn't want to carry a tiny bit of it, especially if it doesn't break the bank?


Photo: "Nothing to Wear" Auction Catalog, Sotheby's, April 9, 1998.


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