Next time you happen to spill wine on a cherished piece of arm candy, take a leaf out of designer Dylan Ryu's book.
"I spilled red wine on my mum's Christian Dior purse and I couldn't remove the wine stain," Ryu says. "So, instead, I added lace and vintage tape to cover it up. It was in that particular moment that I discovered the beauty of reinventing vintage bags."
Now, the Korean designer's reworked vintage Chanel flap bags and Hermès Birkins are stocked at prestigious boutiques such as 10 Corso Como in Seoul and Joyce in Hong Kong. Ryu's reinterpreted Chanel chain bag, featuring badges and embellishments, can go for over HK$45,000, while Birkin bags bearing her designs can easily set you back HK$135,000.
While they might be a fashion purist's nightmare, reworked vintage pieces - be they accessories, fashions or luxury watches - are gaining momentum for their prestige, exclusivity and uniqueness.
"The demand [for reworked vintage] keeps growing as [the pieces] show us their timeless beauty," Ryu says. "Customers want reworked vintage if it respects the [original] designs."
Jung-sun Lee, founder of the fashion label Tiger In The Rain, agrees, saying: "The trend will continue if the reinterpretations feature unique designs yet still retain the essentials of the vintage clothing."
A-listers and taste-makers are embracing the love of vintage on movie sets and red carpets. Hollywood stars such as Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway and Reese Witherspoon have given classic pieces a new lease of life, drawing the attention of trend-obsessed fashionistas. Lee was driven to her innovative designs by a passion for vintage paired with a vision of its future potential. She got her start in the business almost 10 years ago when she reworked her vintage Burberry trench coat from a London flea market. "Whenever I wore the coat I got complimented on its uniqueness and how nicely it fitted me," she says. "I thus started redesigning Burberry trench coats in a series."
Now she reinterprets luxury vintage pieces ranging from Chanel tweed jackets to Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking suits, catering to the rising demand. Tiger In The Rain is well-received among collectors and critics thanks to its innovative redesigns, such as a Chanel jacket altered to have rolled or cape sleeves. A classic knit Chanel jacket reworked by Lee can fetch over HK$40,000.
While the price points for such reworked vintage pieces can nearly match those of luxury brands' contemporary collections, their rarity and uniqueness offers added value and appeal to customers. Many collectors are also already proud owners of more up-to-date items from coveted labels.
"Most of my customers already have those 'It' bags, yet they want something special, memorable and the one and only," Ryu says.
Vintage watch experts Daniel Bourn of Project X and Eric Ku of 10 Past Ten are optimistic that the reworked aesthetic can also appeal to avid collectors and newcomers. The pair have developed the VDB/TPT label to offer a limited-edition series featuring vintage Rolex Air-Kings with camouflage dials and matching Nato straps in trendy yet versatile hues such as pastel pink and navy blue. The timepieces are available exclusively at Lane Crawford.
"The pieces took a long time to develop, as they fuse vintage watches with contemporary designs," Bourn says. Like the contemporary Air-Kings with their classic flair, the reworked vintage watches adapt timeless designs to a modern lifestyle.
However, this trend poses continuing challenges for designers. The source material for their creations is rare and expensive, so they truly can't afford to make any mistakes.
"After I source vintage garments, I usually sit there and stare at it quietly, as I have so much respect for the original designs," Lee says. "The hardest moment is always just before I grab the scissors to begin the first cut."
Ku adds that the difficulties in reworking vintage watches vary, as the quality of calibres and parts differ. "When you are dealing with vintage watches, each piece has a certain situation. It's always a challenge to find enough supply for high-condition quality pieces to use for a project."
As the interest in vintage luxury items grows, the stigma towards second-hand fashions is quickly wearing off - even in Asia, where used items have long been regarded as having ominous attachments.
"Being Chinese myself, I know how people react to used and second-hand watches," Ku says. "But since the buzzword 'vintage' has been coined, used items give a different feeling."
Luxury retailers have quickly capitalised on the new demand for reworked classics, including Joyce, which hosted the "Histoires" exhibition last year that showcased vintage pieces alongside contemporary styles. "'Histoires' [marries] current and vintage pieces in each look," says Andrew Keith, president of Joyce and Lane Crawford. "Great design knows no time."
BRANDS TO WATCH
Tiger In The Rain
Korean designer Jung Sun-lee worked in the fashion trade for over a decade before launching her own label, reworking vintage garments from luxury brands such as Burberry, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
History by Dylan
Seoul-based designer Dylan Ryu worked for a slew of fashion brands before starting her project to rework vintage bags from Chanel and Hermès in 2006. Her pieces have been exhibited at places such as Seoul's Gallery EM.