Uscha Pohl: How would you define Vintage?

    Lydia Kamitsis: Vintage covers a lot of different attitudes and principally is applied to any ‘old’ creation re-used in a contemporary context. We mainly refer to a garment as vintage if it is 20th century and particularly post-twenties. Garments prior to this period are more commonly referred to as ‘1890s’ for example, ‘historical’, costume, belle epoche,... or twenties.

    Re-using old as new is not a new idea. For it to be ‘chic’ however, is. Traditionally, to be re-using something old meant that you were ‘poor’ and couldn’t afford something new, hence were doing so out of necessity.

    Vintage first gained popularity in the ‘70s as an ideological statement signaling a rejection of consumerist society. People started to wear second-hand garments from markets and mixed and matched expensive with cheap to create their own style which meant not to be part of ‘the system’. Wearing ‘original’ 20s and 30s clothes together with Indian and ethnic finds was intendedly anti-mainstream and political.

  • [LK] The vintage phenomenon has developed since and is a mixed bag, today. Vintage today can first of all be an original authentic, old piece in good condition (new old).

    But then there are new versions of vintage on the market:

    - fashion houses releasing re-editions of their own designs/collections from the past. Example: Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga or Alber Elbaz at Lanvin re-editing designs from years gone by and presenting them as separate ‘heritage collection’…
    - fashion houses re-editing iconic garments as for example YSL re-releasing the smoking dress, or their op-art dresses from the ‘60s, or Sonia Rykiel re-editing iconic items from the past.
    - The most radical version of a fashion house looking at its own history is Martin Margiela who has presented new versions of old collections - just all died in grey.
    - vintage as re-edition of an original piece not necessarily the houses’ own (Adidas vintage collection),
    - vintage high street meaning a new garment is based on a vintage cut or print (vintage H & M).

    Then there is another use of vintage which is designers using parts of original items in their new collections, be it the cut, print, embroidery or so, to include in their own design.

  • [LK] An anecdote on vintage in fashion is the story of the designer Marc Le Bihan who bought himself a vintage tuxedo to go to a party one day in the market. Back at the studio he looked inside the pockets and as at the time the client’s name was noted there he realized that he had bought a smoking that had been tailor-made for no one else than Man Ray.

    Amazed and inspired, he decided to replicate this smoking cut ‘à l’identique’ - but in varying fabrics every season, and to offer it as a special, unisex piece.

    UP: Why does the phenomenon of vintage appear now?

    LK: I think it is the normal extension of the interest in history. Fashion and period clothing embodies the special relationship with history at a time, it brings back memories, individual and collective.

    Since the ‘80s and ‘90s revisiting time through its clothing became a strong source of inspiration. Interest in original pieces - rather than images in books or photos - has become an integral part of design. Garments are analyzed for all their various components.


  • UP: What does vintage contribute to fashion?

    LK: Fashion is defined by the ‘new’ - or, the illusion of the ‘new’. So in principle it embodies a rejection of the past. What exists now, since the ‘80s, is that designers re-evaluate the past by revisiting the history of fashion. In the ‘90s the stylist began to partly substitute the designer. In a global market of international brands the stylist has become the key person in the fashion business and styling largely replaced creation.

    Today the word “luxury” has been rendered meaningless. The notion of legitimy of fashion brands now stems from their history.

    Therefore brands start to look for their own DNA in iconic parts of their original design and thus building their own “grammar”. Story telling and image making becomes their brand message, company history an affective value and part of the offer.

    Success stories of ‘old’ staying ‘current’ is for example the Hermes ‘Kelly’ bag, which is still produced and has been year after year since its original conception; Converse sneakers who are continued in their original design. I wouldn’t call it a ‘classic’ - but a design object with the great ability to be continually re-actualized.


  • UP: What is vintage versus 2nd hand?

    LK: We generally call ‘vintage’ garments of high quality, in terms of artistic quality as well as make. If you are a purist, you would only refer as vintage to garments which are not very used and in very good condition.

    But it is a fine line, and in the end the word vintage s also a form of snobbery. To call something vintage, is a way to express a selection, and at the same time exclusion of others. It is part of an editing process. In this way, vintage becomes a matter of style and individual elevation, we edit history and re-evaluate it.

    Second hand is the non-elect part of garment history, and becomes part of the recycling process. However there is not one rational, positive criteria to elect one or another as vintage… the criteria that come into the selection process are:

    - condition
    uniqueness, originality
    - the name of the brand / designer / fashion house

  • UP: Who collects vintage?

    LK: Designers and costume designers for their work and research; museums for their social history, private individuals with a strong knowledge of history, materials, fashion, who can appreciate them for any one of these reason, and for a certain snobbery, as they are very likely to rest assured that they are purchasing a unique piece, and hence will be the only one in the world to have this one outfit.

    This development has been aided by glamorous and publicized events such as the Oscars, where the competitiveness of the situation has made actors, stars and their stylists look at vintage as a way to ensure a unique look on the red carpet.

    The positive attitude to conservation of contemporary fashion is new. Up until the late ‘80s, museums used to collect garments up to the ‘30s and the main source for their acquisitions until the end of the ‘80s were to 95% donations: private, or of fashion houses. Auctions for 20th century fashion or clothing didn’t exist, only auctions for historical garments. Since the beginning of the ‘90s, designers and brands started to value their own history and started to archive their collections, even create their own museums.

  • [LK] Only through this shift in appreciation a valuable vintage market started developing. Now, design houses are buying back their own designs, from individuals or auctions, to complete their own history.

    UP: As fashion curator you look after a private collection in Chile, where you present exhibitions of different fashion contexts every year. What is the set up?

    LK: This collection is a very personal project of the owner. He belongs to a family who used to keep “everything”, hence have an amazing archive of items in all sorts of fields - which can tell stories of centuries. As he himself is very interested in the social and cultural aspect of clothing he has the collection on view and we create one exhibition per year. The current exhibition is… The upcoming one is an exhibition on fashion of the ‘80s.


    Vintage became relevant as soon as fashion began to cannibalize its past, which really began in the ‘80s. Personally I would regard anything that the person buying regards as vintage, which would mean he or she hasn’t experienced the first time round. The idea of vintage therefore depends on your age.

    Relevant for collection I regard as the ‘best and the first’ of its kind; the first time a designer created a style and him or her the best exponent for it. For example, Dior, the New Look, the first Bodymap collection, original Vivienne Westwood pieces.

    The item in question also needs to be in good condition. Another important factor for collecting also is to select a strong look, a key item, a strong exponent of its type. There is no point in going for a nice, good taste, label item, if you are looking at vintage with value to last. When you wear vintage, it really only works if you mix it with unexpected things, you weave it in with your other wardrobe.

    Vintage I would call everything you wear or intend to wear. Once vintage garments have reached a museum they become part of the decorative arts culture secured as part of the history of a nation, and would then be regarded as ‘costume’ to be referred to by future generations.


    In fashion the idea of looking back to its own past has always existed. French revolution style was neoclassical hence based on the Greeks, the designers Jaques Fath, Givenchy and particularly Dior were excellent in re-interpreting pre WW II designs. The notion of Vintage however has only recently been attached to fashion.

    In the past, garments would have been thrown out by the rich and picked up by the poor, or a lady would hand a garment down to her maid who would pass it onto her niece. And eventually they would be shredded and recycled to pillow fillers or so. The 1880s saw the famous ‘germs campaign’ against this form of recycling as the passed along garments were regarded as carrying too many germs to be re-used.

    The idea of wearing what we would now say was vintage really appeared in the mid ‘70s when we started wearing non-contemporary garments (bought 2nd hand) - and mix them with our wardrobe. These could have been Victorian or from the 30s for example and wearing them allowed us to create our own, individual style. It was a non-conformist way of dressing and at the time, dressed like this we would be called ‘bohemian’.

  • UP: What would you call Vintage and what determines the value of a piece?

    JW: To qualify as vintage, a garment needs to have some kind of quality attached, be an interesting piece, have a historical resonance. This doesn’t mean it has to be couture or designer but it needs to awaken some kind of memory. The historical context, may it be social or fashion history, makes it interesting. Being able to date a piece, retrace its history and create a story around it constitutes a value.

    UP: To what periods do you apply the term?

    JW: I regard everything from the beginning of the 20th century to the (pre-punk) ‘70s, as vintage. Everything before is ‘historical’ or ‘antique’. The interest in wearing vintage is really escapism: the fantasy of delving into another universe. The beauty of it, the uniqueness of the piece…, the fabrics, the touch, the quality of an era gone by.

    The role of vintage in fashion is two fold: for the consumer to be able to dress individually, and for the industry to give designers ideas. The influence of vintage is relative as to how it influences designers. This reaches from designer down to the high street chains. If Kate Moss says ‘her collection is based in on pieces in my cupboard’, it really means it is based on vintage. It is a way of recycling the past in a very direct manner.


  • [JW] With regards to designers, the kings of re-interpreting vintage for me are John Galliano and Marc Jacobs, who do it brilliantly, Albert Elbaz of Lanvin on the other hand told me in a conversation that he wasn’t interested in vintage, that he ‘didn’t like it much’. For me that shows in his work, for Lanvin he went back to the essence and created a new style from there, rather than basing his designs on individual pieces from the past.

    As collector I buy Edwardian pieces, hence, historical rather than vintage, and early 20th century. I am passionate about the clothes; the pieces are inspiring the way they look and feel like nothing else, the way they transport you into another space.

    A particular Victorian accessory for example with its silk satin and ever so soft rabbit fur will conjure up perfectly the times pre-French revolution. As fashion historian and academic I am equally fascinated by the stories they tell: it is a tangible, feminine social history, relics of the times and extraordinary people.

    The future of vintage? Supply is drying up, there will simply be less and less.

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