In Artcurial's auction house overlooking the shuttered boutiques of the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, vintage fashion expert Clara Vivien is overseeing the sale of hundreds of Chanel jackets, shoes and jewelled accessories—all online.
Paris may be the world's fashion capital, but a third covid-19 lockdown is once again sending lovers of luxury who have time to spare and money to spend on to their screens in search of a the next vintage Chanel dress or Hermes handbag.
Vintage was already enjoying a revival, Vivien said, driven by a growing discomfort with "fast fashion" among consumers and increasing environmental awareness. But the pandemic shifted more of it online.
"Vintage is exploding on the second-hand market," Vivien said. "People can't walk into boutiques and so shop at online auctions."
Handbags sell particularly well. "People who bought a Chanel or a Hermes bag today delight in the knowledge that their investment doesn't stop growing, and with the pandemic increases with no end in sight."
Fashion and online vintage clothing sales more than quadrupled at online auction in France in 2020 compared with pre-pandemic levels to 6.2 million euros, according to the online auction house aggregator Interencheres.
Antoine Saulnier, an auctioneer at Gros & Delettrez, said vintage fashion sales that before the pandemic might have attracted 100 online buyers were now drawing five or ten times that number.
"Prices are rising on some items as a result," said Saulnier as he prepared for the sale of nearly 600 Vuitton artefacts this week.
One collector who should know is Olivier Chatenet, a flamboyant 60-year-old stylist who spent his young adult life scouring the French capital's flea markets and auction houses in the Drouot neighbourhood with his father.
His private collection is a treasure trove of Ungaro dresses, Chloe blouses and Sonia Rykiel overcoats. Several years ago he sold his entire Yves Saint Laurent collection—all 4,000 items.
"I try to be careful and buy at the right price," Chatenet said. But he admits he is not always successful.
"That moment the auction begins, when you have the item before you and you're overtaken by a frenzied desire to own it, you end up buying for more than you meant."