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The Seller Series: Clare Waight Keller

At ReSee, every one of our secondhand pieces comes with a story: perhaps that 1920s beaded gown had been in the same family for generations, while the Le Smoking suit was made by Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent for Catherine Deneuve herself. This is, in large part, thanks to our unmatched community of consignors, who have placed their inestimable trust in ReSee. In the Seller Series, industry titans and world-class collectors alike open up their archives, revealing the iconic items they parted with (and those they maybe never will). 

Since starting her career at Gucci alongside Tom Ford, Clare Waight Keller has masterminded some of the most wondrous—not to mention wearable—garments of the 21st century, and yet, when it comes to dressing herself, the former artistic director of Chloé and Givenchy often reaches for pieces from the past. “I like the eclecticness of finding different things from different eras,” says Keller, whose vast archive ranges from pristine Victorian-era blouses and 1970s Saint Laurent corduroy coats to custom-made couture suits and one-of-a-kind runway treasures. 

Below, she discusses her favorite vintage finds, how she prolongs the lifespan of her clothes, and the sartorial treasures she’s consigned with ReSee. 


When did you first start wearing vintage? 

I started in my late teens when I was at university—partly because I quite liked the hunt and partly because I was a student and couldn’t afford anything. It was the combination of the fact that you could get a bargain and something nobody else had. I loved starting to find those pieces from a young age.


Do you still shop for vintage today?

I definitely spend more time looking and more of my budget on secondhand, vintage, and pre-loved pieces. Sometimes I’ve missed out on a collection that I wanted to buy, or I might be in a vintage store or market and come across something I’ve never seen before and have to have, either for design inspiration or because I just really want to wear it.


Do you collect a specific era or designer?

I have to say I’m more of a collector of items and pieces than I have been recently of one particular designer. I used to try to find many pieces within one person’s work, but now I actually like the eclecticness of finding different things from different eras, which I think reflects my personal style. I like having pieces that are kind of unusual and undiscovered. I also buy a lot of men’s vintage because I like a little bit of masculinity in my wardrobe. The mix of the two is always fun to find.


What are your favorite vintage finds?

I really treasure two early 70s Chanel pieces: a blue boucle coat lined in Mongolian shearling and a camel tweed suit. They’re both fantastic pieces and rare finds—anything from that period is almost impossible to get a hold of… Those are top of my list along with a tiny woven basket bag by Chanel, which I found in California. It was just one of those things that I thought was unusual; now, I realize that it’s so rare. I also have some fun pieces that I never would have normally come across, like a James Galanos beige crepe dress with a platted belt and an amazing Guy Laroche red coat from the 60s. I don’t usually wear red—ever—but this red is so stunning; it’s luminous but really powdery. I actually did try to replicate it, but it was virtually impossible.


How do you wear vintage? 

I generally mix vintage with modern pieces. I always wear vintage pants with a really simple piece, like a men’s T-shirt or a beautiful cashmere sweater, while an amazing vintage coat on top of modern pieces is also great. If I’m wearing a vintage dress, I put on a modern shoe or bag because almost your whole look is vintage at that point. What’s great is that you get a modernity by mixing in newer pieces, so it gives the vintage a new proportion and attitude and makes it feel more relevant.


Why did you start consigning? 

I’ve been consigning for six or seven years, partly because sometimes I have pieces that I don’t want anymore and also because I want those pieces to have a new life with somebody else. I am really careful with my clothes and am an obsessive person in terms of keeping them all archived and hung correctly—I have moth and climate control and keep everything in a dark room—so they do still look pristine. 

The hardest thing to keep in your wardrobe is white or cream silk. It’s such an absorbent fabric; even if you don’t initially see it on the surface, over time it does come through, so you do have to be careful to always clean those pieces and not overwear them. It is a skill to understand how to clean things; I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m an expert, but I’m good at preserving what I’ve got.

I think a lot of people have this image of the smelly vintage shop—and, certainly, I’ve been in enough of them myself—but my own personal archive doesn’t smell at all. I have some beautiful embroidered Victorian blouses made of super-fine white cotton lawn, which must be at least 150-years old; if they’re washed and kept properly, they can last 100 more years. I think that’s important to teach the new generation: if you care for pieces, they don’t feel like old items from another time and can feel as fresh as when they were first made. It’s the ultimate way to be sustainable—and it’s just a sign of respect for the garment, the person that created it, and how much you spent on it. To care for clothes is as important as loving clothes.


How do you decide when to part with a piece?

I find it really hard to let go of pieces, hence why I have such a huge archive… It’s a long process—I have to keep going back to a piece over a series of months and ask myself if I’m going to wear it or if I can rework it back into my wardrobe. Sometimes it can take a year or two before I’m willing to let go of something—but there are some pieces that I know I’ve loved a lot and have really used and am now happy to pass onto somebody else.


What are some of the pieces you’ve consigned? 

I recently sent some 70s Saint Laurent dresses, bow blouses, and corduroy coats, as well as Chloé pieces from my personal collection; Chloé and Givenchy are the biggest part of my archive, so I have a lot of significant runway and one-off pieces.


What was the hardest piece to part with? 

There are some things that I’ve let go and wish I hadn’t, but such is life. A few years after I left Gucci [in 2004], I had a bit of a purge because I didn’t have much storage. I gave away some amazing shoes and great runway pieces, like a 2003 dress, which had all these ribbons coming off of it. I remember thinking, Should I keep it or should I let it go? I decided that I probably wouldn’t wear it that much, so I let it go. For a long time, it was a bit heartbreaking, but now I’m totally at peace with it. There were also some pants—now that the early 2000s are back around again—which would be really good today, but, at the same time, I know they probably have a good home… Then there are the pieces that I wish I had bought—that’s another list!


What’s something you’d never give up? 

There’s definitely a lot in that category… It’s a problem actually! I have a couture suit I had made while I was at Givenchy as well as a huge number of Chloé evening pieces, which are usually the last five or six looks on the runway. The [Spring 2016] rainbow festival collection is one of my favorites, and I’ve got three or four of the incredible long dresses with all the rainbow tassels coming off. They’re truly artistic pieces, and I know how much work went into them, so those won’t be leaving anytime soon.


Are you saving any pieces for your daughters? 

Both my daughters love my archive! They are always dropping in to have a look through my old 90s-2000s-era pieces; they are particularly into my early Miu Miu and Marc Jacobs. It’s actually really nice to see those pieces have a new life. I have so many fond memories of these items, which is one of the reasons why I still have them, but it’s also wonderful to see them being worn again in a new way that’s contemporary for their generation. I often talk to them about when I bought the piece, how much I wore it, and importantly how to take care of it. Reliving the stories is so lovely. 

There’s a lot that I’m keeping for them and would love to give them in a few years time, like Chanel bags and a few special dresses, along with a myriad of other things I’m sure… Fortunately, both daughters have got their eyes on different things.


as told to Zoe Ruffner


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