The fact that Paris happens to be a shopping mecca is very likely not to be enlightening news for you, neither would be the fact that myriads of tourists flood the city of Light, not in search of steak tartare and views of the Eiffel tower, but of their dream Hermes Birkin bag and Chanel 2.55. What you might not know however, is that the quality of the bags that are mass-produced today has nothing to do with the quality of vintage items, so in many ways if you really are in search of a truly special piece, you might want to re-think your buying habits. In fact, I would suggest that on your next Parisian shopping trip, you stop circling the boutiques on rue Saint-Honoré and move on to the Left Bank’s charming St. Germain. As you wander around the cobbled streets of rue Bonaparte, enjoying your coffee at the legendary Café de Flore, you might stumble upon the hidden treasure on rue Guisarde that is Catherine B’s boutique, stocking an extensive collection of vintage Chanel and Hermes pieces.
As I talk to Catherine about her love of these two couture houses that she turned into a successful business, her own enviable collection (she happens to own the very first Birkin bag that was ever produced) and fashion today, the word ‘passion’ seems to be recurrent in the conversation. Passion is what led her to decide to only stock Chanel and Hermes in her boutique, what drives her customers back to her shop and most importantly the reason for her professional success. It really makes you realise what it means to fall in love with a luxurious fashion item and the story behind it, aside from the consumerist hunger to own the latest it-bag that lies behind most women’s purchases.
Read my interview with this sophisticated Parisienne and fall in love with her vintage world, filled with tweed, luxurious croc leather and myriads of Chanel double Cs.
Your boutique stocks vintage collections from the houses of Chanel and Hermès exclusively. Initially I’d think that this is a buying decision that would limit your clients’ choice but you completely turned it around, becoming known for this exclusivity. How did you come about this decision at the beginning of your career?
My choice was based on my perfect knowledge of Chanel and Hermès, I wasn’t taking the risk of buying fakes. But first and foremost this decision originated from my passion for these two houses.
Is there a certain trait that’s characteristic of all the clients that visit the boutique?
Passion for the product!
What are some of the pieces in your personal collection that are particularly special to you?
My personal collection is very extensive, ranging from 2000 Hermès scarves, to the very first Hermès Birkin which will be celebrating its 30 years in 2014, Chanel sunglasses that were only seen in runway shows, Chanel bags from the ’90s and of course ready-to-wear that’s now impossible to find.
When did you buy your first Chanel or Hermes bag?
It’s been a while, but I remember having this feeling of a personal victory, like the fulfilment of a desire that was very different from when my family would buy something for me.
A Chanel classic bag or the Kelly and Birkin from the house of Hermès are really what we call iconic, investment pieces. Sales of these items have multiplied the past few years and we see them on more and more women, yet their image hasn’t been tarnished by commercialisation. How would you say is this maintained?
The dream around these pieces is still relevant today, it represents an elite, an exclusive club of all the women that have the bag.
You seem so passionate with the world of vintage and with this incredible business that you created. What advice would you give to young women who are just starting their own professional journeys?
Always do things out of passion rather than to gain anything else. Life forces the need to find a profitable job but we should always keep in mind that passion needs to remain the main motivation.
What do you think about the current ready-to-wear collections of these two couture houses?
I never really find anything exciting, I can’t say that I get thrilled with what is going on in the catwalks because no one has been inventing anything for a while now. Karl Lagerfeld however is ‘tattooed’ with the Chanel brand so even when his collections are not groundbreaking, there are always elements that can pass the test of time, like the plastic bag shaped as a No5 perfume bottle.
What would you say to all those who claim to dislike vintage and are only willing to buy the latest trend?
Those who don’t like vintage don’t like quality, they are not looking to buy into something with a spiritual dimension to it, they are simply after an image sold by magazines. It’s difficult to understand that the quality of the bags produced in the 60s has nothing to do with the way bags are mass-produced today.
For more info and online shopping, of course, visit: http://www.catherine-b.com/fr/
You will find Les Trois Marchés de Catherine B. on: 3 Rue Guisarde, 75006, Paris