Vintage Vault Vol. 1: Navigating the Highly Collectable World of Vintage Chanel

Welcome to the Vintage Vault series, brought to you by PurseBop, where we delve into the world of vintage Chanel and Hermès.

Our Vintage Vault series kicks off with a guide on how to buy a vintage Chanel bag. We cover everything you need to know, including factors like patina and price, to help you start your collection with confidence.

Vintage Chanel holds an undeniable allure that captivates fashion enthusiasts worldwide. When Karl Lagerfeld stepped in as Chanel’s creative director in 1983, people wondered whether and how he would fill the void left by Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel’s passing 12 years prior. He proved to be the perfect fit, injecting a modern spirit into the brand and dedicating himself to keeping Coco’s legacy alive with each new collection. 

24k gold-plated hardware on vintage Chanel Classic Flap

Although Coco Chanel established the brand, Karl Lagerfeld ushered in the era beloved by many today. Drawing inspiration directly from Coco’s iconic designs, Karl revolutionized fashion for modern women until his passing in 2019. To this day, Lagerfeld’s earliest designs from the 1980s and 1990s remain the most sought-after vintage Chanel pieces. Indeed, when referring to “vintage Chanel” this is the defining era in the brand’s rich history. 

Image courtesy: @lolariostyle

Why Vintage Chanel is in the Spotlight 

Vintage Chanel bags are a niche favorite with avid luxury collectors around the world. In recent years, their appeal has broadened and these items are increasingly in the spotlight. It is no secret that Chanel’s ever-increasing prices have a huge impact on the pre-loved market generally. 

Image courtesy: @lindseyholland_

Image courtesy: @lindseyholland_

The much-loved medium Classic Flap bag with the Lagerfeld-designed double C lock sold in the 1990s for $1,150. Today, that same bag will set you back $10,200 (Read more: The Surprising Original Price of Your Favorite Chanel Items in Your Closet) – that’s an eye-watering 787% increase since the 1990s. As a result, more people dreaming of owning their first Chanel are looking towards options on the secondary market, vintage or otherwise.

Image courtesy: @ken.elizabeth

However, it’s not just Chanel first-timers seeking vintage pieces. Even before the Met Gala 2023, themed ‘Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty’, countless celebrities covet the 80s and 90s vintage Chanel pieces. A-listers like Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Sofia Richie style anything and everything from vintage clothing to sunglasses, and of course, our favorite handbags. 

Image courtesy: @badgalriri

Kim Kardashian and her daughter North West embrace 90s Chanel in full force. They were seen accessorizing with leather pieces alongside classic patent Chanel vanity cases, medallion chain belts, and iconic 90s chain sunglasses. 

Image courtesy: @kimkardashian

Image courtesy: @kimkardashian

In addition, it’s not only about bags! Sofia Richie was all-out in Chanel for her recent wedding. Richie wore three bespoke Chanel wedding gowns for the occasion, including a mini-dress inspired by an archive piece. Originally designed by Karl Lagerfeld in the 1990s, and worn by Claudia Schiffer on the catwalk, the structured dress was adorned with iconic camellia detailing. 

Image courtesy: Cosmopolitan

Image courtesy: Tatler

The popularity of vintage Chanel goes far beyond pricing. As discussed in detail below, many hail the superior quality of the older designs, particularly as compared to modern-day pieces. On top of that, there is something special about owning a piece of history – an item that others don’t have and cannot obtain easily. 

The Golden Years

Long-time lovers of vintage Chanel are aware of the golden years, which are the 80s and 90s bags designed by Karl Lagerfeld. Just keep in mind that not every pre-owned Chanel bag is considered vintage. Even if it was Lagerfeld designed.

Image courtesy: @heyyy_june

The most popular vintage styles include the Diana, vanity case, camera bag, Kelly, Mini Dumas backpack, and of course, the Classic Flap. These bags are not only coveted, but can be fantastic investment pieces. 

Image courtesy: @missyanacherie

Quality Control: Old Vs. New

Fans and collectors of vintage Chanel often argue that the overall quality is far superior to modern-day pieces. While the leather quality certainly stands out in these vintage bags, the true gem is the luxurious and rich 24k gold-plated hardware.

Vintage Chanel handbags made before 2008 are adorned with 24k gold-plated hardware. These chains, grommets, clasps, and CC turn locks enhance the bag’s charm. However, after late 2008, Chanel shifted to gold-toned hardware which is noticeably different from its more luxurious predecessor. 

24K gold-plated hardware on vintage Chanel Jumbo. Image courtesy: @ajluxury_chanel

Condition is Key

If you’re interested in vintage Chanel bags, it is essential to consider their condition. Pristine condition handbags are rare and usually have a higher price tag. So, it’s up to you to balance your budget against the condition of the bag.

Think about how much any wear and tear you can tolerate. For example, are you okay with tarnishing on the gold-plated hardware or worn and flaked corners, or do you want a completely flawless item. Recognize that the latter will ultimately show signs of use – should you choose to put it in your bag rotation. 

Image courtesy: @missyanacherie

After all, vintage bags inevitably bear signs of wear and tear, having lived their previous life worn and loved or stored away. A few things to look out for are corner wear, loose threads, marks on the bag base, and hardware scratches and tarnishing. However, if a more worn-in look is more your style, you could certainly save some money shopping for a well-loved vintage Chanel (Read more: Well-Worn Bags Are Selling).

Slight tarnishing on 24K gold-plated hardware on vintage Chanel Mini Square Flap

Keep in mind that pristine vintage Chanel bags with the original box, dust bag, and authenticity card can be incredibly expensive. Because they are rare, their price on the pre-loved market may equal or even exceed that of a brand-new piece from a boutique.

Lambskin Vs. Caviar 

If you’re a Chanel fan, you probably know about the two most popular leather types: lambskin and caviar. But which vintage bags are made with which leather? And which option is the better choice? We explore these questions below.

Vintage lambskin Vs. vintage caviar

Lambskin leather is the OG at Chanel! Chanel bags made before the 90s were constructed in lambskin leather. Lambskin leather typically has a luxurious finish and a buttery sheen. However, not all lambskin is equal.

Indeed, Chanel’s vintage lambskin leather has some distinct characteristics that set it apart from the current fabrication. Vintage enthusiasts note that the vintage-era lambskin is noticeably more durable and visually superior to modern lambskin. Moreover, the supple sheen of vintage lambskin leather is better at concealing minor scratches, which often can be buffed out to restore the leather’s beauty. 

Vintage lambskin on small Chanel Classic Flap and Square Mini

However, as with any smooth and supple leather, scratches happen, even to vintage lambskin, and perhaps even more so due to age. Lambskin requires some TLC now and again in the form of conditioners, to avoid damaging the leather. Nevertheless, overall, of the two main Chanel leather types, vintage enthusiasts generally agree that lambskin ages more beautifully.

Patina on vintage lambskin

So what about caviar leather? Chanel introduced caviar in the 90s and it has since become its most popular leather. The grained pebbled leather is loved for being low-maintenance and scratch-resistant. However, it may not age as well as smooth and supple lambskin leather, depending on how the bag is worn and stored. Perhaps not surprisingly though, some argue that vintage caviar leather is superior to the modern-day version. Can you see a pattern here?

Vintage caviar on medium Chanel Classic Flap. Image courtesy: @ajluxury_chanel

So which leather is better? There is no clear answer here as both vintage lambskin and caviar outshine their modern-day counterparts. However, it’s worthwhile to note that caviar bags sometimes are more sought-after due to leather durability. As as a result, preloved prices can be steep.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to personal preference. Both options are gorgeous to add to your closet.

Counterfeit Chaos: Navigating the Vintage Market

In the world of handbags, unfortunately, fakes abound. Although the “superfakes” may be a relatively new phenomenon, there always have been counterfeited and trademark-infringing dupes of Chanel styles. Even in the 1980s and 90s. 

So what does this mean for you? Well, as always, consider the source. And then do your homework.

1990s Chanel Small Classic Flap Bag

To protect yourself from counterfeit Chanel, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the brand, and the bag in question prior to purchase. It’s worthwhile to study authentic bags to recognize traits such as stitching, hardware, and structure. Knowing the finer details will help you notice any discrepancies in the pre-loved market. 

Firstly, examine the quality and craftsmanship of the bag in question. Does it have popped stitches? Does the quilting align with the back pocket? Are there any loose threads? Authentic Chanel bags have consistent and neat stitching throughout, while counterfeits may have uneven and loose threads. 

Pay close attention to the hardware and logos. Authentic vintage Chanel bags have precise and well-defined logos and branding. Although the internal branding may have worn out over time, with use, any visible logos will be printed neatly, and in a consistent font. The hardware on vintage bags will typically feel luxurious and heavy. Anything light and flimsy is off.

Authenticity cards and serial numbers are helpful, but not essential. Chanel handbags produced between 1984 and 2021 included serial stickers and matching authenticity cards. So you might find a 1984 model with this documentation. But, just think of how many times you misplace the authenticity cards. And then multiply it over decades. A legit vintage bag just might not have them.

Moreover, serial numbers can fade over years and use. Whether hard to read or worn off altogether, it doesn’t necessarily mean the bag is fake.

Put another way, serial numbers and authenticity cards are useful, but they should not be the sole basis for determining authenticity. Indeed, counterfeiters have also found ways to replicate them, so it can be another item needing verification.

Seek expert advice – if you struggle to authenticate a bag, leave it to the professionals! Consult a professional authenticator if you’re second-guessing a bag’s authenticity. They can provide you with their expert opinion, which can give you some much-needed confidence before taking the plunge. 

Finally, only purchase from reputable resellers, consignment stores, and auction houses. That way, you will benefit from their authenticity guarantee policies if anything were to go wrong.

The Price of Patina

When it comes to vintage Chanel, time is not on your side. Over the years, there are fewer of these bags in top condition. Yet, both the vintage and broader pre-loved markets generally, are growing. In part, this is perhaps due to skyrocketing retail prices. Additionally, however, the stigma attached to purchasing used items is declining. 

Image courtesy: @missyanacherie

The fluctuating nature of the vintage bag market, however, means that prices vary depending on current trends and availability. As vintage is increasingly favored by both celebrities and collectors, these pieces are now harder to find, particularly in top condition. And that results in higher prices.

Some limited edition and rare bags sell for substantially more than current Chanel bags. That’s particularly true when Chanel re-releases an old style.

For example, when Chanel recently issued a new version of a heart bag, prices for the elusive 1995 version skyrocketed. Similarly, the original Duma backpack is difficult to find and comes with a higher price tag than many current iterations.

On the other hand, a well-worn vintage Classic Flap bag may cost a fraction of a new one today. But again, the condition of the bag affects current pricing. 

Image courtesy: @im.trangdang

If you’re looking to buy a vintage Chanel medium Classic Flap in excellent condition, you should expect to pay around $6,000 – $7,000 on the pre-loved market. Alternatively, a Chanel Diana bag might cost $4,000 – $5,000.

Image courtesy: @heyyy_june

With prices continually rising at Chanel (Read more: Chanel Has Not Ruled Out Increasing Prices Again This Year), opting for vintage pieces might be the right choice for you. Vintage bags possess a certain charm – a je ne sais quoi, if you will – and it’s not solely due to their price, quality, and exquisite 24K hardware. Essentially, you own a piece of fashion history.

Does your Chanel handbag collection include vintage pieces? What’s your favorite era, the 80s or 90s? Let us know your thoughts. 

Published: July 5th, 2023
Updated: July 6th, 2023

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