Wednesday morning in Knightsbridge, London, and a sleek black Mercedes S-Class purrs to a halt by the kerb. Nothing unusual in that, nor in the sight of a tall, well-dressed blonde emerging from its back seat. Even beneath her Céline sunglasses, she looks somewhat furtive as she enters… wait, what? A secondhand shop? Not Gucci or Harrods?
However, Sellier Knightsbridge isn’t a charity shop like Cancer Research or Oxfam. There are no £4.99 M&S blouses here. This is thrifting for the super-rich, for whom dropping four figures on a handbag is as deleterious to their bank balance as a Zara purchase is to you or me. Where once they might have gone to Hermès or Chanel, an increasing number of wealthy women now prefer to get their fashion fixes elsewhere. Yes, buying a hot-off-the-catwalk bag from Louis Vuitton is great, but have you ever unearthed an ultra-rare Vuitton Alex Israel Capucine bag? Sellier has – and sold it for £8,610.
‘A few years ago, our high-net-worth clients would have shopped directly with the superbrands, placing pre-orders at the start of each season,’ says, Sellier’s founder Hanushka Toni. ‘Now their perspective has totally shifted. They see shopping preloved as being not just more sustainable, but it’s enabling them to secure some of the most sought-after pieces that are hard to get new.’
A 13-year-old Birkin was recently for sale on Sellier’s online store for almost £25,000. It was the highest-value item the secondhand retailer has ever sold
A cynic might say social media has helped this shift. When every influencer worth their Lady Dior is busy flaunting it on Instagram, the ultra-high-net-worther prefers a more leftfield approach. She wants something not just expensive, but ultra-rare, a talking point and reflection of her exquisite taste – or what she perceives as exquisite taste. Money may not always buy style, but it can buy exclusivity.
The highest-value item Sellier has ever sold is a crocodile and diamond Hermès Birkin. Only a few were ever produced worldwide, and it went for £68,000. ‘Our buyers are always desperate for Hermès Birkin or Kelly bags in neutral hues, and it’s pretty standard for them to sell in under two seconds. Most people have their card details already saved and have seen previews of the item they want online, so the moment it goes live they click and purchase straight away.’
There are many stores popping up like Sellier that the ultra-wealthy ‘one-per-centers’ are loving
At Sign of the Times (wearesott.com) in Chelsea, similar stories abound of ultra-wealthy ‘one-per-centers’ scouring the rails for rare finds. The store has been buying and selling preloved items since 1976, and stocks over 4,000 pieces from brands such as Burberry and Max Mara. Sale season is particularly competitive. ‘People arrive hours before the doors open with huge sacks to fill. Shoppers get undressed wherever they are, or happily share fitting rooms with strangers,’ says the store’s founder Antonia Johnstone. ‘We had one crazy incident where two women fought over a Chanel bag. Even when they’re on holiday, keen customers will call us wanting to know what’s come in while they’re away.’
WHERE TO BUY PRELOVED WITH PRESTIGE
One of the largest pre-owned sites, this is a favourite of fashion editors so there’s always top swag, from rare Chanel bags to esoteric offerings from Comme des Garçons.
Hours – nay, days – can be lost drooling over its ultra-rare fashion, furniture and fine art pieces. Every seller and item is vetted in-house for peace of mind. Users can bid or negotiate a price.
Reluxe doesn’t just sell designer brands, it gives pointers on how to wear them, via its network of stylists, models and designers such as Amber Valletta, Bella Freud and Carolyn Murphy.
Yes, this teen fave sells Nike joggers and Slazenger skorts, but after collaborations with the likes of Ralph Lauren it is now a go-to for luxe buys – plus it’s a global marketplace, so the choice is vast.
You may quite rightly be wondering why women this wealthy are so desperate for a secondhand bag. ‘It’s the thrill of the chase,’ says Renata, a former banker. ‘I love the adrenaline rush of trying to buy a one-off. It’s like bidding on Ebay – you never know until the end if you have the winning bid.’ Renata gets an equal thrill from selling her clothes. ‘I’m fortunate to be able to afford nice things, but I get bored of them, I’m fickle. Money can do that to you. I didn’t grow up wealthy, and I’ve always worked hard for my money. From a financial point of view, it makes sense to recoup money from pieces I no longer want. And if my clothes give others pleasure, that makes me happy.’
Renata is forthright about the reasons for offloading her designer swag, but not all sellers are as open. Rellik in West London’s Notting Hill is famous for its preloved designer treasures, many of which come from fashion-industry insiders – editors, stylists, influencers – who have been gifted them by brands. These items, often ultra-rare, cost the sellers nothing: understandably, there are sensitivities around them being sold for profit. At every high-end preloved store, client confidentiality is paramount, but never more so than when the offloading of a rare piece might hurt the seller’s relationship with the brand. Or, indeed, husband: most designer thrift stores stock items from wives whose partner bought them a bag in the wrong colour.
Our sellers are very diverse, both in terms of geography and background,’ says Sign of the Times’s Johnstone. ‘We have financiers, people in fashion and stay-at-home mums, both in the UK and as far away as Australia and Dubai.’ While Johnstone would never reveal her sellers’ identities, she is happy to reveal some of her buyers. Lady Amelia Windsor, the Duchess of Rutland, her daughters Lady Violet and Alice Manners and the model Kristen McMenamy have all visited the boutique, with the latter recently telling Vogue she sources 70 per cent of her wardrobe from there. ‘Our business has grown 100 per cent in the past two years. Circular fashion and sustainability are at the forefront of people’s minds, and they are choosing to invest in quality items that will last.’
Any readers tempted to offload those green designer clogs they got in 2012 should know these thrift shops are choosy. So popular is Sellier’s online store that due to volume of submissions it accepts bags from only nine luxury brands. ‘We are currently not accepting clothes or shoes,’ it adds. That the site charges up to 50 per cent commission of the sale (if a bag sells for over £2,500, this is reduced to 30 per cent) is no deterrent. All luxury resellers charge sky-high commission, justifying it due to the personalised service they provide, which includes that all-important authentication process to reassure buyers the item is genuine. But when you’re the one per cent, forfeiting £1,000 commission on a £2,000 handbag is a price worth paying for the adrenaline thrill.