The Seller Series: Vanessa Seward
Photo credits: Portrait by Noel Manalili
Vanessa Seward is learning to let go. Even with an allocated studio, the Paris-based designer’s vintage collection, which she has been adding to for nearly four decades, is at capacity. And yet, it’s no small feat for her to part with her archival treasure trove, which spans the 1930s to 1970s. “When you find a vintage piece and it fits you, it’s really destiny — it’s meant to be — so to separate from it is very hard,” she says. Nevertheless, little by little, Seward, at 52, is beginning to consign the pieces that no longer serve her, whether they’re too young (in the case of a Valentino velvet ensemble) or have fulfilled their purpose (see a leather-accented Hermès skirt, which she once had on heavy rotation). To her surprise, she’s found a silver lining: “I like the idea that they’ll have another life,” she adds. “Someone else will enjoy them now.”
Why are you drawn to vintage?
I started buying vintage when I was a teenager. At the time, in the 80s, there weren’t so many alternatives, if you didn’t have a big income; there wasn’t all this fast fashion — all these rip-offs — so the only way to have special pieces was really to go to flea markets. Back then, the queen of vintage in Paris was Anouschka, so I used to go to see her a lot. My father [an Argentine diplomat] was living in Washington at the time, and I would also always find really good things there, as well as in Buenos Aires when I would go back to visit… Later, when I joined Azzaro, I started working with Cameron Silver from Decades; through him, I got to know all the American designers, like Halston and Galanos.
I’ve been collecting since 1985. It’s a bit of a nightmare; now I have to rent out a little studio for all of my clothes. I’m a victim of my obsession! As a designer, I’ve always been attracted to timeless beauty. My favorite, favorite decade is the 30s; I have three or four evening gowns — they’re very fragile — and nightgowns, which look like slip dresses. When I was working at Chanel in the 90s, I used to wear a lot of 40s dresses; Karl [Lagerfeld] gave me a few too, which I still have. I don’t have much from the 50s and 60s because it’s really not me — it’s so not my silhouette — but there are a lot of designers that I love from the 70s. One of my favorites is Ossie Clark; my mother used to wear Ossie Clark too. And Saint Laurent, Guy Laroche, Louis Féraud, and Marc Bolan for Dior… The 70s were inspired by the 30s, you know, and I think what’s in common is their beauty and simplicity, which is a bit timeless. I also like mixing in random vintage pieces — pieces that aren’t signed but are spectacular — which is what I find a lot in Los Angeles. I love the street vintage you find in the States.
When did you start consigning?
I started very late because, to tell you the truth, I’m very attached to my collection, and I always find excuses not to let go of it. In the past, I’ve preferred giving it to a friend. When you find a vintage piece and it fits you, it’s really destiny — it’s meant to be — so to separate from it is very hard. It was very difficult for me to let go, but also I say it’s what keeps me fit because the problem with collecting clothes and keeping them a long time is that you have to stay the size of your clothes. Now I’m starting to consign for the first time with RE-SEE; I see the respect they have for the pieces, so this is the best way to do it. I have to learn to let go.
What are some of the pieces you’ve consigned?
I consigned about 20 pieces. I wanted to consign strong pieces. There’s an Azzaro dress, which I really love because, having worked there, I know it’s a rare piece. It’s very exceptional, but I never wore it and it’s not the kind of thing I’d wear now. There’s also a Nina Ricci evening dress — probably from the 70s — which I wore to a gala at the opera. I remember that it really worked; everyone was asking me where the dress came from. I wore it once and they took photos, so I’ve done it justice and it can go. I also consigned a Courrèges day dress in a thick fabric — I wore it quite a lot and thought it could even be nice for someone to use as a wedding dress — a really nice Saint Laurent green dress from the Russian collection, which will look really nice with boots, and a nice 70s Hermès skirt with leather pieces that I found in London and wore quite a lot.
Vanessa wearing '70s Azzaro & Courrèges available on Re-SEE
Do you expect to consign more now?
I have a daughter, which always gives me this very bad excuse to keep things in case she wants them, but I definitely have a space problem, so I guess I will have to. It’s always difficult to part with the pieces — I have to go little by little — but I like the idea that they’ll have another life, like the yellow Rolls-Royce, which goes from owner to owner, in the Shirley MacLaine film. Someone else will enjoy these pieces now.
What was the hardest piece to part with?
There’s a really cute Valentino 70s ensemble in black velvet. I would have loved for my daughter to have that one, but maybe it won’t be her style. I still have a lot of personal archival pieces of my own designs, so when something gets too small or young — I’m 52 — it’s time for it to go. But I especially like that skirt ensemble.
What’s something that you’d never give up?
I can’t give up anything that was my mother’s or my grandmother’s, like my collection of Saint Laurent jackets, 30s and 40s Chinese dinner jackets, and certain pieces from Azzaro where my mother worked too. I also have a 70s Celine black wool cape with a gold buckle. I’ve never worn it, but I was so happy to find it; at the moment, it’s very difficult to part with, but maybe I will… My cupboard is full of things that I think I can never part with, but when I’ve used them or been seen in them two or three times I will be able to.
Self portrait by Vanessa Seward wearing '70s Louis Feraud
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