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By Chere Di Boscio
The Queen of Vintage Chanel and Hermes, Paris
“So few people truly understand what I do,” sighs Catherine B whilst exhaling yet another cigarette. “This is not a consignment store. This is something different”.
That ‘something different’ is an Aladdin’s treasure cave packed with collectable Chanel and Hermes pieces, on which Catherine is an expert. She can tell a real piece from pirated one more so than many retail directors in the fashion houses themselves. “There are many things to watch for,” she says. “And some fakes today are good…very good. But I know. I just know”.
This savvy collector stocks the most elusive bags, jackets, scarves and shoes from the 30’s to the 90’s, but not beyond. She’s not interested in being a depot for the unwanted bags of fickle rich girls; instead, she sees her shop as half museum, half retail store. “Some people can’t understand why I am charging more for a 2.55 bag than the listed price in a Chanel boutique”, she continues. “But it is because the 2.55 I am carrying is a one-of-a-kind piece designed by Mademoiselle Chanel herself, that cannot be found anywhere else in the world!”
Indeed, some of her stock is so rare, it isn’t even for sale. Take her Chanel bicycle, for instance. One of about a hundred left on the planet, it features two sidesaddle ‘handbags’ and the signature Chanel quilting not only on the bags, but on the seat as well. She also owns the original Birkin bag from Hermes. It boasts the initials JB and is numbered 0–it being the first. It also features a strap created at Ms Birkin’s request: “She wanted to be able to put it on her shoulder while she looked for things inside the bag,” explains Catherine.
Her amicable husband assures me that there are many more treasures cached around the store. “She will only show them to people who are truly interested”, he tells me. But when Catherine finds those people who share her enthusiasm and love for vintage Chanel and Hermes, it makes her day–even if there’s no sale.
Catherine explains she would love to share her enthusiasm for these collectable designer pieces in a modern venue, like Harrods Department store, because she believes the English have a better appreciation for all things vintage than the French, who are more likely to use accessories that were passed down through the generations rather than buying vintage pieces themselves. ‘It’s all about heritage,’ she says.
And we see her as a guardian of an important one: that of France’s two biggest luxury designers.