Tweed is having a high-fashion moment. The classic fabric returned to the style frontline last year when Balenciaga’s subversive new designer Demna Gvasalia used it extensively in his debut autumn/winter collection. But although Gvasalia proved that tweed can look decidedly edgy, it tends to be associated with a more classic look – in particular, the Chanel jacket or suit.
Coco Chanel first designed a soft, braid-trimmed tweed suit in 1925, but it wasn’t until 1954, when she revived her couture house after the war, that the design became her linchpin – as much a brand signature as her chain-handled bags and strings of pearls. When Karl Lagerfeld reinvigorated the label in 1983 he recognised the tweed suit’s value and it has featured prominently in every Chanel show since.
Unsurprisingly, prices for this favoured vintage buy are rising inexorably, driven not only by demand, but by the increasing cost of current collections. “Chanel retail prices have almost doubled in the past 10 years, which has a knock-on effect on the secondary market,” says Cécile Gaulke, founder of pre-owned-fashion e-store Rebelle, which has a 1983 black metallic tweed suit with chiffon and sequin embroidery for £1,170. A Coco-era equivalent, however, would cost “between £2,000 and £4,000”, says William Banks‑Blaney, founder of online vintage boutique William Vintage, “although we have also sold pieces for considerably more.” He currently has a c1963 haute couture wool suit for £6,875.
Chanel appeals to two tiers of buyers. “Eighty per cent of clients are looking to pay a third to a half less than current retail prices for classic items,” says Loïc Bocher, co-founder of Paris-based pre-owned-luxury specialist Collector Square. “The other 20 per cent want rare or antique pieces,” meaning couture creations from the 1950s and ’60s. “Our most expensive Chanel suit, a 1965 dogtooth tweed with leather trim, sold for £11,875 last year, over a £600-£1,000 estimate,” says specialist fashion auctioneer Kerry Taylor, adding that Coco-era pieces with her hallmark grosgrain or braid trim and double-C-logo buttons command the highest prices.
“Chanel couture is beautifully made, from the handworked decoration to the construction and fit,” says Banks-Blaney. “The jackets have super-light, hand-quilted silk linings, and the weighted gold chains ensure that they hang perfectly.” With these details, condition is key: “Buttons and linings should be original,” says Banks-Blaney, while Taylor feels that clients buying to wear “shouldn’t worry about a worn lining if they love the piece”.
And for most, these pieces are meant to be worn. Interior designer Helen Reece, for example, describes her couture and more recent ready-to-wear suits as her “working wardrobe. I wear them daily – the same jacket can go with jeans or a cocktail dress. I have both classic and more colourful items; I particularly love the Fantasy tweeds.” For one of William Vintage’s clients, the CEO of a private-equity-owned healthcare company, “The whole point of Chanel is to wear it. I cannot express the pleasure of wearing a piece by the lady herself, although I have newer pieces too.”
Collectors looking to more recent designs should be aware that those from the 1970s usually fetch the lowest prices for a reason. “After Chanel’s death in 1971 the designs were less interesting, until Lagerfeld arrived and created ready-to-wear that followed her codes,” says Pénélope Blanckaert, head of Hermès vintage and fashion arts at French auction house Artcurial. Post-1983 ready-to-wear lacks the fine detail of couture but it is the backbone of pre-owned Chanel, with prices in the £500 to £1,500 range.
Lagerfeld-era couture, meanwhile, very rarely appears on the vintage market, says Banks-Blaney: “People tend to keep these pieces and often pass them down. They’re exquisite and much coveted.” Also sought-after but more readily available are Lagerfeld’s Métiers d’Art jackets, which are favoured by Kristy Wolf, co-founder of Couture Community, a website that acts as an agent for vintage sellers and stores. “I have about 20 tweed jackets,” she says, “mostly ornate Métiers d’Art pieces. I wear them for a bit and then sell them. I sold a special one for over £6,000, but between £3,000 and £4,000 is more typical. We currently have a red and white 2008 jacket for £2,000.” Rebelle also has a number of items from the past 20 years: a 1999 tweed jacket (£965) with acrylic paint details, and a striking 2004 black, white and red example (£1,030) with double-C braid.
These new websites facilitate the kind of quick-fire buying and selling that keep this market thriving. Lush coffee-table tomes certainly help, too, such as the recently released Chanel Catwalk from Thames & Hudson, which illustrates key pieces from every Lagerfeld collection.
Vintage Chanel also takes centre stage in the new film Jackie, worn with aplomb by Natalie Portman in her enthralling depiction of the first lady. “Any associated media activity has a positive effect on resale values,” says Fanny Moizant, co-founder of online marketplace Vestiaire Collective, which has a 2005 jacket similar to the one worn by Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada for £2,500. But for some these classics need no promotion. “Chanel is a brand apart, like Hermès,” says Blanckaert. “Its timeless icons capture the imagination.”