Spoils of the Thrift: Vintage Gucci Bag.

Whole Bag

This is either the greatest thrift of my life or a lesson in spotting the fake. Either way, when it comes to authenticating vintage designer bags (or designer bags in general), it’s no easy task. With the rise of “super-fakes,” fakes so good that only an expert in-house inspection can tell you whether it’s counterfeit (and even the experts get duped), it’s harder and harder to be absolutely sure that yours is the real thing. And standing there on the main floor of Savers, I realized I didn’t have the first clue about authenticating bags. And I can’t even tell you why I hesitated, except for the reason that every thrifter hesitates over a faded and probably fake bag: What if? 

After two days of a crash course in authenticating (re: the internet), I’ve put together four tips you can use on the hunt, four basic checks that will help determine whether or not you should take the risk and hire an official authenticator (more on that later). Now these rules are not hard and fast and there are exceptions. There are also detailed guides on Ebay and elsewhere to get into the nitty-gritty of authenticating but we’re not here for that. We’re here for basic one-shot rules that you can remember for future thrift finds, should you be so lucky.

(And yes, the idea of “authentic” is dubious, deeply flawed and obviously suspect. All I know is that if this is real, I’m going to freak out).

Location

Location is a good but not entirely reliable indicator. While Savers and other thrift chain stores keep anything of real value behind a special counter, this does not mean that you won’t find a designer bag on the main floor. Even though I found this little Gucci bag out in the purse mayhem section that is the Savers I frequent, this doesn’t mean it can’t be real. Presumably someone deemed it a fake but since Savers employees are not experts in the vintage history of major fashion houses, they may well have simply determined this bag a fake simply because it doesn’t look like anything Gucci currently makes (nor do they have the time to thoroughly check). It’s also old, faded and stinky. And there’s the “fake” bias. Fakes are so ubiquitous that everyone assumes it has to be a fake because the real deal is too rare to be believed (I believe). So if you stumble across something designer on the main floor, don’t discount it right away.

Above all: follow your instincts. Thrifting is 50% instinct and 50% espresso enthusiasm.

Zipper pulls 1

Hardware:

Ok, so you’ve found something interesting on the main floor or behind the fancy counter. What’s your first stop? Authenticators often rely on feel so give your bag a good grope. Does it feel like good quality leather? Or does it have a “cheap” slippery feel? One of the reasons I paused over this bag is because despite its obvious age and wear, the bag is still extremely sturdy. Then check all the hardware: zipper tags, metal links, etc. Not only should they be of obvious quality (not plastic, rusted or otherwise flimsy) but this is also where (depending on the designer), the brand will be imprinted. Look for logos on both sides of the zipper tabs, on the metal connections and anywhere else a logo could be lurking. Now check the depth and regularity of the imprints. Everything should be uniform, spelled correctly and properly stamped. If one or more of the letters look “light” to you, that’s a yellow flag.

My bag has no Gucci imprints in the metal hardware connecting the handles to the bag but it is uniformly imprinted on both sides of the zipper pulls. The outer leather is rough  but the interior has soft high quality leather as do the handles. So maybe. 

Logo Pattern

Logo: 

When it comes to logos, certain things are obvious. The Gucci logo is a set of two facing G’s. The left side faces up, the second faces down. Not E or C or P. If the bag is a printed monogram bag, the logo should be uniformly distributed. Check the overall pattern for symmetry/regularity. Some education helps here–Prada, for example, never uses grommets in its famous metal “triangle” logo so if you find a Prada bag with grommets that’s a dead give-away–so it’s worth doing a little research on the big labels. Next you want to check the tag. Italian handbags are not made in China (obviously) but you also want to check here for uniformity of the logo (no spelling mistakes, even imprint, etc). Labels are tricky because fake bags now carry serial “numbers” but if the numbers look like they’ve been imprinted by a blind person, that’s another yellow flag.

Mine are a little irregular but nothing crazy and the Gucci logo is uniform throughout the bag. Good sign. 

Stitching

Stitching: 

Stitching is your last stop and a major one. If everything looks kosher, you now want to do a detailed inspection of the stitching on every part of the bag. No one is perfect so you can account for a little bit of variation, but if the stitching looks like someone sewed the bag while also drinking copious amounts of gin, that’s a huge red flag. If the stitching doesn’t match up or runs over into another section, that’s a red flag. If it is crooked or missing stitches, that’s another red flag. Why do people pay thousands of dollars for a bag? Because of craftsmanship. If the bag doesn’t look good to you, it’s probably a fake. This bag has excellent stitching except for one section at the top where the stitching narrows but it’s the only variation I can identify. It’s a pretty glaring mistake but not terrible so it’s enough to warrant a question mark.

We’re back to maybe. 

Hiring An Authenticator:

After employing these four rules, I still don’t know for sure and so I’ve hired an authenticating service to take a look. Authenticating services are inexpensive and generally reliable. You photograph your bag in detail and for $20, you can have an expert decide for you. Perhaps it’s not worth dropping $20 into a bag that is probably fake except that this bag has enough positive details to warrant a second look. Authenticators also do “pre-purchase” checks so if you are eyeing a vintage designer piece online and want verification, you can employ them to check for you. I used Authenticate First but there are others.

So is it vintage gold or vintage fake?

AF05754 14687 Andrea Gyenge - Vintage Gucci Bag 052715Verdict: Authentic. I’m now the proud owner of vintage Gucci bag, circa late 1970’s, thrifted for $4 from Savers! It’s a lesson in the magic of thrifting, friends. Anything can happen even now when the stores have gotten so good at identifying vintage pieces so don’t despair on those treasure-less days. The thrifting gods reward dedication. Happy thrifting!

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Runway Rites: Envision Minneapolis Spring 2015

When it comes to the fashion cities of the world, it’s time to be brutally honest: Minneapolis simply doesn’t register. As someone who routinely covets the NYFW tents and the Paris couture shows, it’s easy to feel marooned in this arctic city. And with the news that Macy’s is ending its Glamourama show and the folding of MNFashion, it seems ever more fashion desert. But on May 2nd, hundreds of people (hundreds of incredibly well-dressed people) packed into the new Orchestra Hall to watch the spring edition of Envision Minneapolis, a bi-annual runway show that has been bringing local designers to the eyes of the Minneapolis fashion scene for over 15 seasons. In collaboration with Ignite Models and Public Functionary, Envision donates part of its ticket sales back to Public Functionary (an nonprofit art exhibition space), a move that keeps the event committed to both design talent and public art.

If there’s one thing Envision does well, it’s to inspire you to wear local designers. Collection after collection, the work spoke for itself. Wearable and brilliantly designed, the show’s designers were stellar (trend tip: culottes and crops!). It was also fantastic to see a design roster almost entirely featuring women, a rarity in a male-dominated field that often spends more time celebrating masculine virtuosity than mentoring women. I hope to feature a few of the great pieces I saw on the runway in future blog posts but in the meantime, you can catch my review of my favorite collections below. Enjoy!

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Considering that I was sitting in the front row wearing my brand-new pair of blue culottes from ASOS, it was fantastic to see Ellie Hottinger’s collection feature not one but two gorgeous tailored summer culottes in light crisp linens. Hottinger transformed a difficult and potentially unflattering pant into an impeccably tailored and stylish summer staple. While white is a safe color for a summer collection–always sellable and perfectly on point–Hottinger’s unfinished edge detailing on a trapeze dress took a one-season summer item to a statement piece, perfect for those days when it’s too hot to think about what to wear but you still need to look polished. Summer pieces tend to have a disposable feel but her choice of textured white linens–heavier than most but light enough to move–gave the collection a durability worth investing in.

Inspired by the iconic images of Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (the definition of classic style depending on who you ask), the House of Gina Marie + Mien Kielo collection featured a fantastic light-weight camel trench with large white buttons that gave a definitive answer to the perennial Minneapolis problem: What to wear when it’s too hot for wool but too cold for bare shoulders? A few of the daytime pieces felt a little forgettable if still perfectly wearable (the nod to Hepburn coming mostly from the accessories) but a stunning pale blue ‘kimono’ sleeve dress brought the collection back to the whimsical feminine image for which Hepburn was so often celebrated.

Yevette Willaert designed a beautiful collection, through and through, that matched daring with outstanding design. This is especially admirable considering that tropical patterns are one of the most difficult patterns to execute well. It verges on the garish, it recalls middle-aged men at tiki bars and it’s usually found on cheap swim-wear. But Willaert sent out a perfect tropical romper with sharp collars and a structured white blazer (one of two well-tailored summer jackets). A two-piece skirt and crop followed in a charming green and yellow polka dot pattern. Matched with a wide-brimmed white hat, it was both chic and fun. A pair of white wool wide-legged pants rounded out the collection, another fantastic item for cool evenings or summer travel.

Of all the collections, Jenny Carle designed the most mature. Featuring a stunning chartreuse pattern floral textile (a found vintage textile, no less), Carle built a remarkable palette out of greens, beiges, yellows and blacks. The first dress was brilliantly executed, designed so that the white and grey floral dramas of the found pattern moved with the shape of the body. A light camel leather mini-skirt followed, proving once and for all that leather need not be black to be sophisticated and stylish. And if there’s one piece I buy locally this year, it’ll be Carle’s fantastic black and beige geometric print crop top.

Ellie Hottinger

Ellie Hottinger

Kozol’s breezy mints and sherberts were a refreshing take on summer colors, offering a light-weight swinging crop top, a daring horizontal stripped pant and classic denim pencil skirt with dramatic buttons. Cliché, one of Minneapolis’s foremost fashion boutiques (and strong supporter of local work) sent out the best of the store, from causal printed pants to a black and orange abstract maxi dress. Their fantastic eye for unusual statement jewelry was front and center, with a couple of beautiful knotted fabric tassel necklaces (also seen on the fall runways, from Lanvin to Mara Hoffman). The styling of Cliché’s collection was one of the few to tell a story, the models sporting septum rings and towering black platforms reminiscent of Alexander Wang’s recent goth-inspired fall 2015 collection. If there’s one thing to take away from Cliché’s runway show, it’s that they pay close attention to the trends inspiring New York and Paris, and bring them quickly to Minneapolis.

Emily Trevor's tennis-inspired ball gown.

Emily Trevor’s tennis-inspired ball gown.

Emily Trevor’s collection was the “talked-about” collection of the night. The halls were buzzing about the tennis-wear inspired collection, featuring the “Adidas” stripe on tight white midi-dresses with polo collars, mesh tops with billowy sleeves, cute bustiers and tennis visors. Trevor also sent out the dress of the evening:  a “tennis wedding” inspired work of serious genius with a deep-halter bodice, white mesh skirt with neon green satin stripes and flawless flounces. The dress was as impeccably designed as it was cheeky and irreverent. It was a dress to show the rest of the world how do we here in Minneapolis and we do very well, thank you.

George Moskal’s collection was the last of the night, featuring icy pastels and sophisticated evening pieces. Moskal is a clear master of the full skirt, featured in a boldly colorful sequined skater dress and an absolutely outstanding silver snake pattern knee-length skirt. A lilac grecian dress and risky “pajama” style pant suit showcased his ability to both keep to classic silhouettes while still testing boundaries. I’d love him to design a whole collection of gorgeous skirts in statement patterns because like Trevor, he has a gift for bringing fabrics to life, a necessity for any ambitious designer.

For more information (and shopping details!), see:

Ignite Models, Public Functionary, Envision Minneapolis, Ellie HottingerHouse of Gina MarieYevette WillaertJenny CarleKozolClicheEmily TrevorGeorge Moskal,