Recently, during a routine sleuthing through the “Just In” tab on Matchesfashion, I noticed a new featured seller, “William Vintage,” boasting collector items from designers like Dior, Versace, and Givenchy. Most of the displayed pieces come with notorious stories attached to them: The Tom Ford Gucci sex dress from 1998, for example; boob cup couture by ’93 Versace; and a handful of some of the most iconic Yves Saint Laurent moments in the house’s history. There’s a 3-piece “Le Smoking ” suit from 1991 categorized as “One of a Kind.” A hooded velvet cape. An iterative rendering of the original Safari collection, dated 1990, and a true set from the widely-referenced-as-groundbreaking ’68 collection.
This outfit—the one from ’68—is on sale for $27,291.
Let me write that again: The outfit is on sale for $27,291. That is like, the price of a brand! new! car! A down payment on a small home! More than a decades’ worth of daily artisanal lattes! I’m not sure that someone will deign to fork over the incredibly high price for the outfit, but I am positive that someone will consider it. Someone who genuinely believes their wardrobe to be a collection of art. Or a costume institute curator–unclear. But the price got me thinking about the broader fashion conversation as it pertains to sustainability.
I am, by no means, an expert on the topic of sustainability, but I think that culturally, we are doing a pretty good job at both identifying a need for change in the practices of the fashion industry and subsequently insisting that the change take place. As a byproduct, tons of new brands with a conscious tilt have sprouted. Old favorites have started to change their practices and almost everyone has something to say about their clothes being ethically produced. The brands employ local artisans, are slow to develop, don’t utilize animal products and so forth.
But the fact remains that they’re being made and thereby making demands of the environment that might actually run counter to what their respective brand identities embody. This is a sweeping generalization, make no mistake, and I am not suggesting that no new product come into the marketplace. Not at all! I love new stuff! But as far as I am concerned, the most truly sustainable way to shop is to to buy shit you will be tempted to keep forever.
According to a pretty thorough dive into the different forms of sustainable fashion, the seven key attributes include: rental, upcycling, custom-made, “green and clean,” timeless design, fair and ethical, and secondhand. The kind of “shit you’re tempted to keep forever” (assuming they fall from the trees of genuine luxury brands like Brunello Cucinelli or Chanel) overlap with the highest number of these attributes. The design is timeless, the quality is good. Sometimes they’re custom-made (like in the case, for example, of a 1968 safari suit), and many of these quality-first luxury brands are ethical to the extent that their artisans are purportedly compensated satisfactorily (there is debate on this particularly clause), and propose the supposition that a secondary market, or rental system (which, by the way, requires so much dry cleaning that wastes so much water…), will command value for the item in question.
Again, I am by no means an expert on the topic, but the weighty price tag affixed to the vintage suit substantiated this theory I have been harboring. And by the way, I totally get that very few people can afford Chanel or Hermès or Manolo Blahnik or The Row at retail; I get that these brands may not speak to the personal style notes of everyone, point-blank, but there are brands that we each align with, right? And there are, now more than ever, vast tricks that have lowered the barrier for acquisition on these luxury items. So while there is no way I could justify spending so much money on a single outfit, I love what the price tag represents: the possibility, even probability that clothes are not disposable or frivolous, that they’re more than just clothes. More than that, they’re collections of stories and memories and feelings, as important as any other physical talisman we deem significant or everlasting.
Feature photo via The Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris.