Today's designer consignment looks nothing like the college snapshot of students pawing through piles for that Prada in the rough.
Hollywood's A-list regularly walks the red carpet in couture from Decades, the luxury consignment store that starred in the "Dukes of Melrose" reality show last spring. And savvy fashionistas everywhere have caught on to consignment as a resource for designer clothes and accessories, some worn once or never, at up to 80 percent off the original retail price.
A pioneer of the genre, Chicagoan Corri McFadden launched eDrop-Off nine years ago as an online auction house for luxury consignment. Her global success has opened the door for a boom in bricks-and-mortar shops in Chicago and beyond.
There's supply and demand for all the new players, McFadden said. Fashionistas' mentality has changed; they continuously cull their closets.
"Excess isn't cool anymore," she said. Shoppers increasingly approach their look as curators rather than consumers.
"It's about personal identity now," McFadden said. "It doesn't matter that these Chanel boots are from 1993 if they fit my personal style."
Still, Hermes bags and McQueen dresses aren't cheap even on consignment. Why would women of means want anything that anybody else has used?
"Because they feel they missed something," answered Mark Gill, co-founder of VMR, the newest Chicago shop in the luxury consignment space. "It becomes like a personal pursuit of art."
If that doesn't convince secondhand skeptics, one of these three consignment shops in Chicago probably will.
***For the connoisseur: VMR ***
Mark Gill and Tina Kourasis are discussing "collectors" and "contributors" inside their new VMR showroom above Oak Street.
"The contributor of this Thierry Mugler," Kourasis says, holding a black boucle jacket, "collected the Louis Vuitton shawl, remember? It was like a blanket, but then she fastened it at the front..."
"... and she looked like a portrait," rhapsodizes Gill, squeezing his eyes shut with a smile.
The painterly comparison he draws is fitting. VMR, which stands for Vintage Modern Resale, looks more like an art gallery than any store. White floors ground a spare interior with a choice display of Lanvin, Jil Sander, Chanel, Marc Jacobs and more, grouped by color story along the perimeter.
Contrary to its minimalism, VMR encompasses three fashion categories rarely, if ever, rolled in to one space: vintage consignment, recent season consignment and, periodically, current collections shipped in from designers. Fendi recently sent its fall 2013 assortment for a weekend pop-up shopping event, like a trunk show except that shoppers, er, collectors, walked out with what they bought rather than ordering before the season.
VMR's access to current collections reflects the clout Gill has built over years of wardrobing wealthy clients across the country — many of whom now consign with VMR, getting half of the selling price — and staging trunk shows at the Waldorf, formerly the Elysian, hotel. That evolved into VMR, which operates by appointment only.
Intimacy, not elitism, is the point. When a woman calls, Gill and Kourasis ask questions, such as, "What are your goals? What is your daily life like?" And even, "Where do your kids go to school?"
"You can tell a lot about someone's style based on where their kids go to school — Sacred Heart, Parker, Latin," Gill said. "It tells you what they believe in."
Gill then pulls what he thinks will appeal to the client. Gill's "intellectual property" distinguishes VMR from other consignment models, said Kourasis, who previously worked as an attorney.
Gill and Kourasis personally attend to clients. "We even invite people to bring in pieces they don't know what to do with," Kourasis said, "and we'll help them put looks together."
What you might find: Sonia Rykiel olive parka, $1,000. Vintage Imitation of Christ T-shirts, $25. Prada techno-fabric pantsuit in army green, $550. Alexander McQueen gold dress from 2006 $1,000. Giambattista Valli camo-print dress from spring 2013, $900. Gucci fall 2013 chevron jacket (which Gill brought in for a client; he likes it atop the Valli dress).
Where to find: 7th floor, 34 E. Oak St. Appointments can be made via email at email@example.com or by calling 312-649-6673.
***For the spontaneous: Luxury Garage Sale***
Shoppers often don't register that Luxury Garage Sale is consignment as they begin to browse the carefully curated shop in Old Town.
"We try to capture the feeling of walking into Barneys," says co-founder Lindsay Segal.
Coats are on one long rack, jewelry from Hermes and Chanel in a case. Handbags from Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and the aforementioned heavy hitters cover a wall. Shoes and boots — only never-worn pairs are displayed — are near the window. There are Oscar de la Renta belts, Chanel sunglasses — just about every fashion category but intimates. Chanel jackets get their own rack.
"We put out new items every day," Segal says. About half have never been worn. Some are directly from specialty retailers with whom Segal and cofounder Brielle Buchberg have relationships. Others are from private fashionistas, who get 65 percent of the selling price — "the best in Chicago," Segal said.
LGS started in 2010 with popup shops in Chicago. Those continue today in St. Louis, Toledo, Minneapolis and Columbus. On Nov. 13, LGS celebrates its Old Town shop's one-year anniversary and launches e-commerce (www.luxurygaragesale.com) with a party from 6 to 9 p.m. Starting Nov. 6, shoppers can pick up a scavenger hunt map at the shop, then tune in for clues all day Nov. 13 on LGS's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, which will lead to a Chanel bag that one lucky sleuth will take home.
What you might find: Never-worn Ferragamo "Varina" purple patent ballet flats, $225. Balmain leather pants, $595. Derek Lam printed skirt, with original tags, $350. Chanel sunglasses, $150. Chanel jacket with tags still on, $2,395. Hermes scarves, $195-$295.
Where to find: 1658 N. Wells St., 312-291-9126, luxurygaragesale.com
***For men too: The Haute Spot***
Karna Johnson, a former Neiman Marcus personal shopper, started The Haute Spot five years ago as the next chapter for her and her clients, who had plenty of dormant assets in their wardrobes.
Johnson has since passed the Haute helm to beauty industry veterans Bryan Payne and Chris Kvapil, to focus on her styling business. Last summer, The Haute Spot was bought by ShopMelee.com, which consigns less expensive contemporary brands. The two brands remain distinct but complementary.
The Haute Spot traffics in recent items, some menswear, mostly women's, from top-tier brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Akris and Azzedine Alaia. Women's designer suits are "a big part of our business," Payne said, as are handbags and shoes. A majority have never been worn, Payne said, and many still have original price tags. "We are not a vintage consignor," Payne emphasizes.
When items sell, consignors get 55 percent. Confidentiality is guarded. "Some of our customers are also our biggest consignors; many of our Hauties are high-profile philanthropists," Payne said. Amenities include transfers of premium denim or contemporary brands to ShopMelee.com, and referrals to Karna Johnson Styling Associates when desired as part of a closet makeover. "We are a nurturing business," Payne said.
What you might find: Judith Leiber bear minaudiere, $3,299. Chanel black sequin cashmere sweater, never worn, $649. Jean Paul Gaultier black tuxedo with cut-out back, about four years old, $540. Hermes black alligator Collier de Chien cuff, $3,000, with receipt from original $5,000 purchase.
Where to find: 935 W. Chestnut St., shophautespot.com, 312-226-7768.