As much as we love the instant gratification of going into a shop and picking up the newest it bag that has been pictured across social media, there’s a certain charm that accompanies a beautiful, well-designed vintage bag.
And it doesn’t just apply to bags but clothing, jewellery and shoes too. Sure, you could have the latest Givenchy release but there’s immeasurable cachet when it comes to owning a vintage Chanel made in the 20th century.
To help you on the quest of collecting the best vintage designs that luxury brands such as Hermès, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent have to offer, we’ve consulted Ace Tan of Oldsowhat, a local collector who specialises in collecting and selling vintage clothing, bags and accessories, to give you tips on ways you can ensure your piece is authentic.
Trust us, you’re going to want to bookmark this piece before diving headfirst into a flea market, vintage fashion or an antique store.
After all, you don’t want your hard-earned money to go down the drain because you can’t tell a fake from the real deal.
Vintage leather bags are made with calf or lamb leather. The former is slightly harder while lamb skin is soft. Both of these skins will soften as they age but they will also last for a long time when kept in proper conditions.
Here, Ace recommends looking out for flaking. You wouldn’t want the vintage bag you’ve gotten to end up shedding like a snake right? While she states that flaking might occur due to wear and tear, it could also be a sign that the bag has been restored or treated with artificial mink oil during cleaning.
Pure, real mink oil acts as a moisturiser for the leather and you would need very little amounts when using it. However, Ace adds that many of the mink oil sold commercially are mixed with chemicals to increase the lifespan of the oil, and it is these chemicals that result in the leather flaking.
According to Ace, the hooks of the bag are another way to verify the bag. Firstly, the signs of wear should be obvious, even if they’re rarely used.
Secondly, the design of hooks, buckles and other hardware that support the structure of the bag are much more complex for vintage pieces, compared to their modern day counterparts. Lastly, look at the straps and belts of the bag.
Leather has a “memory” that retains the shape that they’re normally used or kept in. If the way the leather curls or hangs look odd and contrary to common sense, put it down and say no to the purchase.
Another way to authenticate the bag is to look at the label. Here, Ace has a few tips to help you.
Firstly, trawl through Google and forums to find out how the brand label looks like from the period it was created — does it match in terms of the font and labelling?
Secondly, the series number is another avenue to investigate. Ace gives an example: A Chanel bag from the early ’80s would not have a serial number as the system hadn’t been introduced yet. As such, you shouldn’t expect a serial number sticker or card.
Brands such as Chanel, Celine and Salvatore Ferragamo only started serial numbering in the mid ’80s.
In short, we recommend erring on the side of caution and doing more research than you need to give you a peace of mind.
This point is clear-cut. Regardless of how well the bag is stored, Ace argues that natural leather and suede will inevitably age, soften with time and will definitely not look fresh from the factory.
Therefore, if the bag looks brand new, it is likely a sign of a fake so don’t even bother.
Ace recommends taking a picture of the bag and looking it up online on popular shopping websites, especially those from China and Korea.
If the bag appears multiple times and in multiple quantities, think twice. She further states that branded products from the 1970s to the 1990s are rare, which make them more likely to be sold by a personal collector or a reputable online store such as Farfetch, which has a niche in selling vintage designer pieces.
In a sense, scarcity would denote that the bag has a lower chance of being a fake.
These online verifiers can a) give you a peace of mind that you’re not buying a fake, b) equip you with relevant expertise to train your critical eye and c) help you dispute your case with the retailer and get your money back.
Etinceler Authentications is an independent authentication service that specialises in verifying Chanel products including handbags, wallets, ready-to-wear and costume jewellery.
All you’ve got to do is to take photos of the products in accordance to its guideline and email it the photos. Etinceler Authentications will then verify them for you for a small fee.
The website however, does not authenticate certain bag series due to the presence of what it terms as “super fakes” that make it near impossible to verify via pictures only.
Etinceler Authentications also has several guides (which you have to buy) on how to authenticate the Chanel items yourself.
Carol Diva on the other hand, doesn’t have a specialisation on specific luxury brands like Etinceler Authentications, but it did specifically list a separate pricing for verifying Hermès bags and wallets.
Say you’ve already purchased the bag, but you’re still unsure if the bag is completely authentic. Here, Ace suggests that we send the bags back to the brand for cleaning and maintenance, especially for bigger brands such as Hermès and Chanel.
Many of these brands will send the product back to their headquarters where their experts will do the cleaning and preservation service. While this process isn’t cheap, you’ll get a definitive answer from the brand if they reject you on the grounds of it being a fake.
Lastly, luxury bags are an investment, not only because of their hefty price tag but also because many designs multiply in value with time and can be resold for a profit. Think about an Hermes Birkin bag for example.
In this regard, Ace recommends not buying a restored bag if you plan to resell it in the future. Because restored bags are treated, they would a) not last as long and b) not be in the original colour, which also makes it more difficult to ascertain their authenticity. If the bags are not advertised as being restored, Ace adds that you can get a clue by touching them — restored bags feel hard or have a plastic-y feel to them.
This article was originally published in Singapore Women’s Weekly on July 12, 2019 and updated on Aug 20, 2023.