BY Claire Stern
When Lauren Rosas visited New York for the weekend, the 28-year-old advertising account director from San Francisco had one thing at the top of her itinerary: vintage shopping.
“People come to New York to do high-end shopping and that’s no fun for me,” she said. “It’s more fun to hunt for treasures in places like this.”
Rosas was browsing the racks at Second Time Around, a consignment boutique on Seventh Avenue between 15th and 16th streets that sells gently used, seasonally appropriate designer merchandise for 70 percent off the retail price, with additional markdowns as time goes on.
Not to be confused with thrift stores, upscale designer resale shops like Second Time Around carry labels one would find at luxury apparel stores on Fifth Avenue—Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior—priced well below market value, some still with their original tags. In recent years, sales have increased at the specialty boutiques in the Chelsea neighborhood: Second Time Around, founded outside Boston in 1973, has an outlet there, and two neighboring shops, Goldinfisch (90 Seventh Avenue between 15th and 16th streets) and Ina (207 West 18th St. between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), have opened new locations.
Second Time Around opened its spacious Seventh Avenue shop in March 2011, and the holiday season windows feature five fur-clad mannequins dressed in wintry hues and styled with high-heeled black leather pumps by Diane von Furstenberg, Badgley Mischka and Sigerson Morrison. Inside, clothing racks fill the boutique, arranged by size and type of garment. Shelved displays of accessories line the walls, along with signs that break down the store’s pricing system: green tags mark new arrivals, pink tags are 20 percent off, teal tags are 30 percent off and five other colors signify 50 percent off.
Store managers determine the prices. If an item is brand new, Second Time Around sells it for 50 percent off the retail price. If it’s an older item, they research prices on shopping websites such as Shopbop.com and ShopStyle and reduce it to between 30 and 40 percent of its original retail value. This method of pricing is also geared toward benefiting the store’s consignors, who receive 40 percent of an item’s final selling price, while Second Time Around collects 60 percent.
According to Allie Concannon, the 23-year-old manager of Second Time Around in Chelsea, each store’s selection reflects its location.
“We’re really lucky to be in a fashion-forward neighborhood near the fashion district,” she said. “People come here to shop who are in the fashion industry, so we make good connections.”
One of the store’s notable relationships is with Diane von Furstenberg, the Belgian-American designer best known for her wrap dresses. A sign currently posted outside the store advertised over 100 brand-new DVF items for the season.
Some younger shoppers, however, find that Second Time Around’s brands and prices target older consumers. Daisy Bear, a 21-year-old student at Borough of Manhattan Community College who’s worked at Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange, chains of clothing exchange stores that buy, sell and trade used clothing and accessories and cater to a younger clientele, thinks Second Time Around’s selection is more adult than most.
“It’s pretty high-end—more brand-based than style-based,” she said. “They carry more older pieces than current stuff.”
Two doors down at Goldinfisch, billed as a “luxury concierge consignment store,” owner Terin Fischer, 50, offers strictly high-end labels, as well as a pick up and drop off service, personal assistants to help clean out wardrobes, two stylists, a beautician and a personal shopper.
“We’re not vintage here,” she said emphatically. “We’re a whole different level of amazing.”
Goldinfisch opened in late November after moving from its original location on West 18th Street, where it had been for 20 years, to two smaller shops: the one on Seventh Avenue and another on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, named Fisch for the Hip, as was the original shop. The inside of Goldinfisch is narrow, with two levels of clothing racks lining the left wall and shoes in the rear of the store. A multi-tiered glass display of quilted Chanel bags separates the men’s and women’s sections, and a small changing area is situated in the back of the shop. Fischer said downsizing from the 18th Street store gave her and her staff of seven a chance to develop more personal relationships with their customers.
One woman who’s a regular customer emerged from the changing room wearing a beige Gianfranco Ferré cashmere sweater and asked Fischer if it was too tight.
“Just a hair,” Fischer responded in earnest. She leapt from her seat to grab a black pleated Miu Miu skirt. “This would look insane on you!” she exclaimed. The woman left with the skirt and another sweater, which totaled just over $500.
When asked about her prices, Fischer responded, “They’re definitely way below market, but they’re still expensive. If you know that a coat costs $4,000 and we still have it at $800 or $900, you’re saving $3,000, so it takes a special type of person to make those sales.” To price the goods that come in, Fischer looks to InStyle magazine and upscale retailers like Bergdorf’s and Barneys. She gives her consignors 50 percent of the price of the item at her point of sale.
Given Goldinfisch’s small size, Fischer limits what her store can take primarily to never-worn items, confessing that the only thing she would accept used would be a Valentino red dress, the Italian designer’s signature poppy-colored frock, or a Hermès Birkin bag, a highly coveted leather satchel that comes in a range of sizes and colors (the store already carries similarly high-end names including Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Céline and Lanvin). If there’s something Fischer can’t sell in her store, she sends it over to Second Time Around.
Perhaps the pioneer of high-end consignment shopping in New York is Ina Bernstein, whose eponymous designer resale boutique in Soho celebrated 20 years of business on Nov. 20. At first glance, the store’s Chelsea location, one of five in Manhattan, looks like a regular designer boutique: the clothes—many new with tags—are neatly folded on shelves and exhibited on racks arranged by style and color. Music pipes through an iPad, which also displays Ina’s website and eBay store. Most of the selection is contemporary, but it also carries select vintage items, including 1990s Alaïa, Prada and Gaultier.
“Things come from the people that live around us,” said Maria Ro, a 29-year-old salesperson at Ina’s Chelsea location. “[This store] is a little bit more conservative, a little older style.”
Ro said many of Ina’s consignors work for showrooms, magazines or are stylists who receive clothing for free or at a reduced price. The store typically gives 40 percent of the sale to consignors, unless an item is several seasons old, and looks to eBay, Saks and other online stores to figure out prices. If items don’t sell after one month, Ina will mark them down an additional 20 percent off. After two months, they will knock 50 percent off.
“We get so much stuff so we need to have it always going,” said Ro. “We can’t have things sitting in here for so long.”
Luis Collazo, a 51-year-old floral designer who lives in Chelsea, lists Ina among his favorite neighborhood shopping haunts.
“They keep it up to date, that’s what I like,” he said. “You find surprises.”
Collazo paused to sift through one of Ina’s two vintage racks, which are priced higher than the contemporary items, and, a moment later, uncovered a leather vest by Issey Miyake, a Japanese designer known for his innovative, technology-inspired designs. “Even though it’s old, it’s so special,” he said, though a moment later, hesitating, he put it back on the rack.
Like other specialty retail stores, Ina has a range of price points that cater to different income brackets, which is one reason the $8 billion dollar a year industry is so successful and continues to grow, according to retail expert Patricia Norins, publisher of Specialty Retail Report.
Norins attributes the success of vintage to the economic recession and the fact that American consumers are more sensitive to recycling. High-end consignment stores allow for consumers to sell things they are no longer wearing and buy at a reduced rate.
“The great thing for a retailer about opening a consignment shop is that the margins are really high, so it’s a very profitable business model and there’s a lot of consumer demand,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for retailers who are looking to grow business, and a huge opportunity for consumers looking to find some fun things at a good value that are fashion forward at the same time.”