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."