His brick-and-mortar store, which opened in 2009, has been a staple stop for celebrities like Amal Clooney, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter, but now, William Banks-Blaney has taken his popular London boutique William Vintage online, making it newly accessible for luxury fashion fans worldwide. A particularly large market awaits William Vintage in China, where vintage clothing, jewelry, and accessories have been growing in popularity in the last few years as consumers seek to find unique ways of self-expression. With the website and e-commerce store launch, William Vintage has seen an increase in interest from Chinese consumers eager to branch out beyond seasonal trends and collections from big-name luxury brands, prompting plans by the brand to host a shopping event there next year.
Overseas clients for William Vintage have been a more recent phenomenon. Banks-Blaney says the store, which is by-appointment only, is “something of an ‘insider secret.’” Shoppers in on that secret have access to a range of handpicked products ranging from under £200 to over £20,000. Gowns are a particular highlight for the brand, and Banks-Blaney’s knowledge of iconic styles over the years has even been documented into a book called 25 Dresses. The online store translates this information into in-depth descriptions, including when dresses were first featured on the runway and detailed designer biographies so that the buyer can be well-informed on their treasure hunt for outfits with a story.
Luxury vintage and secondhand websites within China are not uncommon, but many sellers are still faced with convincing customers they don’t carry fake merchandise. On William Vintage, shoppers won’t find Louis Vuitton handbags with questionable origins, but a selection where no two offerings on the site are alike, as if the clients were browsing the boutique in person. Currently, this type of personalized experience is still in its very early stages in China, with only a handful of independent luxury vintage fashion curators serving the market. Jing Daily caught up with Banks-Blaney via email to find out his own plans for attracting Chinese consumers.
Luxury vintage has been a growing, niche market in China in terms of brick-and-mortar stores and locally based sellers, but it’s still nowhere near established as in the West. Do you perceive that as a challenge or an opportunity?
I think it’s a huge opportunity. We are never afraid of competition because we always aim to be the best, and our new online platform was geared specifically for both U.S. and Far East markets, with multiple currency and shipping options and free worldwide returns. We wanted to remove any impediments and make shopping for vintage online every bit as easy as shopping for the contemporary.
Do you think the luxury slowdown in China will have any affect on your business?
The slowdown had a huge impact globally and particularly on major contemporary brands where so much is seasonal and trend-led. We have noticed the reverse—that people are viewing superb vintage as not only tremendously stylish but also as a very secure investment.
What have you noticed so far about what Chinese customers tend to buy? Is there a desire to get big-name brands or are they going for more niche items?
There really is very little difference and we tend to view each customer independently rather than each nationality. Of course we notice that our vintage Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga is popular—however, that is the case around the world.
Do you find your Chinese customers are knowledgeable about the garments and the brands, or is there still need for education?
I hope that our online platform helps this greatly. I think high-end vintage is a huge growth market in China, and we have many clients who approach us as their first foray into vintage. Our site has designer biographies, our social media explains couture labeling, and our products are filmed and photographed, really so that the consumer can delve as deeply as they want to into vintage shopping.
In China, there are still many who are superstitious about buying clothes that have been worn by someone else. How do you plan on changing the consumer’s concept of vintage clothing?
I would hope that our approach may help them overcome that. When I see a wonderful piece of vintage clothing I think of the love someone had for that item to care for it so well, the wonderful events it will have witnessed and that it is ready to start its life with someone new. It’s a part of legacy and love, just as much as design and clothing.
Is vintage fashion seen as an investment for Chinese consumers in the same way that hard-to-find designer handbags are starting to be viewed as collectors items in Asia?
Yes, very much so, and the idea of vintage items of very high quality being considered as art or inheritance items is greatly increasing—the idea of a unique item, made by hand and with a superb history, appeals to everyone and particularly to our Chinese customers.
Do you have plans for marketing to Chinese consumers specifically? Do you plan on getting on Chinese social media platforms, etc.?
Yes… watch this space!