Have you ever considered buying a vintage Chanel bag? Well, it has not been high on the list of my shopping priorities as I always preferred fresh-out-of-the-box items. However, a few years ago I was desperately looking for a small Chanel flap bag in navy blue with a golden chain and at the time the colour was unavailable in boutiques. As my mind was firmly set on the navy classic and no alternative would do, I decided to explore other options and, somewhat reluctantly, directed my search at the online second-hand luxury market in hope of finding the coveted bag.

While the buying of a vintage Chanel bag seemed like a great idea at first, I soon realised that there were a lot of traps along the way which made the process not as straightforward as I originally anticipated. Eventually, I ended up with the bag of my dreams but the journey was, by no means, plain sailing. On the flip side, the first encounter with the pre-loved designer goods market has taught me a few valuable lessons about buying vintage online and this is exactly what I would like to share in this post.

Hence, for anyone thinking of buying their first vintage Chanel bag I have listed in the five things which may be worth bearing in mind before committing yourself to this somewhat extravagant purchase.

1. Always buy from a verified source

Nowadays a large number of second-hand transactions in luxury goods are taking place over the internet. While the ease and convenience of buying goods online has its advantages, the lack of face to face interactions and the inability of the buyer to verify authenticity of a product directly has inadvertently created a field for exploitation by sellers of counterfeits. And it goes without saying that it is virtually impossible to gauge from an ad alone if a product is genuine.

Therefore, when spending a vast amount of money on a vintage Chanel bag (and you will be spending a lot of money because classic Chanel holds its value), it is important to select the right marketplace from which the bag can be obtained. There are a few sites selling pre-authenticated second-hand luxury goods such as Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal, Yoogi’s Closet where the chance of obtaining a genuine product is much higher.

Naturally, with imitations becoming increasingly more sophisticated, no doubt there will be rare instances where a fake bag can slip through the net. However, many of these sites have a return policy with 100% money back promise if the product turns out to be a counterfeit. This should give some peace of mind to anyone concerned about spending a fortune on a replica bag. [Back to menu]

Chanel photo in front of St Pauls

2. Ask the right questions

Assuming that we are dealing with a genuine seller of an authentic bag, one thing to pay close attention to is the description of a product. The advert will often provide details of the appearance of the bag, usually ranking it as very good, good or fair depending on its condition. While some honest sellers provide multiple photos with detailed close-ups and information pointing to specific issues, it this is not always the case and frequently it will be up to the buyer to discover the flaws.

To avoid potential disappointments when the bag finally arrives on your doorstep, don’t rely on the seller to tell you absolutely everything that is wrong with the item and, instead:

Ask about the condition of the bag

It is relative what one person considers as good and another one as a very good condition. This is why, when buying used designer pieces online, always ask the seller about the appearance of the bag, any flaws, internal or external to ascertain how much wear and tear the item has been exposed to. It also makes sense to request additional photos showing areas of concern, for instance corners or the interior of the bag. While marketplaces such as Vestiaire verify that goods are as described prior to forwarding them to the buyer, it never hurts to be extra cautious and inquisitive regarding imperfections of an item which is being purchased online.

Ask about the age of the bag

While some may be enchanted by the fact that a Chanel vintage bag has its history, the truth is that the older the bag the heavier the signs of usage. This is not to say that every vintage bag will always be heavily weathered. However, a classic vintage Chanel bag from the 90s in a good condition will never have the same look and feel as,for instance, a 10 years old bag. It may sound obvious but when buying vintage online one should manage expectations and be prepared to receive a well-used item even though it may be a used item in an overall good condition.  

Ask if it comes from a pet or smoke free home

Although many people have no issues with smells, for those with more sensitive noses it is worth reminding that some odours permeate the leather and the smell of cigarettes is particularly difficult to neutralise. Thus, when buying a handbag without a prior opportunity to inspect it, it is recommended to ask the seller whether it comes from a pet or smoke free home to prevent buying an item infused with unwanted aromas.

This is exactly where I got caught out. My vintage Chanel bag was clearly pre-owned by a smoker and it never crossed my mind to ask the seller if the bag smelled of cigarettes. It took me forever to get rid of the scent which involved not only having the bag professionally cleaned but also having it stuffed for a long time with quite pungent rose soap bars. Now the bag suffers from a strong soapy smell but at least it is some improvement on the smell of cigarettes! 😉

Ask if the bag was previously restored

Although, in principle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with bag restoration services, it may be a good idea to enquire with the seller if the bag has ever been professionally repaired and the extent to which it has been refurbished. For example, if the colour has been changed or if the bag was otherwise customised, this may have an impact on the future re-sale value and its overall sellability. This may not be an issue for everyone, but those who might want to trade the bag in the future to buy another arm candy should bear in mind the added level of difficulty in selling a bag which undertook a significant make-over. [Back to menu]

Restored vintage Chanel bag worn over the shoulder

3. Have the bag authenticated

The vintage market is inundated with counterfeit products so, where possible, always endeavour to buy your bag from a seller providing authentication services. Occasionally there may be rare instances where an authenticated bag turns out to be counterfeit but these will be rare. Having the benefit of confirmation that the bag is genuine will provide a piece of mind and, as mentioned in an earlier section, professional sellers of second-hand luxury products are very likely to refund money if the item turns out to be an imitation. Companies providing that kind of service are The Real Real, Yoogi’s Closet and Vestiatire Collective, just to name a few.

If the seller does not offer the authentication service as part of a package, there is always a possibility to get in touch with an external company who can verify whether the bag is genuine. For instance, in the UK such services are made available by the Handbag Clinic who provide a number of packages in this remit, starting with a simple evaluation of authenticity on the basis of yes/no answer to a full written report with reasons why the bag may or may not be genuine. They can also issue a certificate of authenticity, if this is requested. And it gets even better! The Handbag Clinic can also assess a bag on the basis of photos submitted to them, so no trip to the UK is required. [Back to menu]

Image showing the bag with the chain draped over the front

4. Look out for signs of authentic Chanel

For those familiar with Chanel bags it may be relatively easy to recognise the look and feel of a genuine item. However, as imitations become increasingly more sophisticated even an experienced buyer of Chanel should stay alert and watch out for signs associated with an authentic product.

How to recognise if a Chanel bag is authentic? Signs to look out for in a genuine Chanel bag include:

Positioning of the interlocking CC logo – With the exception of some vintage Chanel bags, the right facing C should overlap the left facing C on the top and the left C should intersect at the bottom. The reverse of the CC logo is an embossed plaque with two screws surrounding the centre, and with the words CHANEL on top and Paris at the bottom of the hardware. 

Interlocking CC logo front
The front of the interlocking CC lock in a classic Chanel bag in caviar leather
Interlocking CC lock back
The reverse side of the CC lock with engraved words CHANEL and PARIS.

Authenticity card and a sticker – Chanel bags dating from 1984 onwards should be accompanied by an authenticity card carrying a serial number and a sticker positioned on the interior matching the card’s number. The sticker should be made of plastic and have no hologram. The serial number is indicative of the age of the bag, for instance bags from years 1984-1986 have a 6-digit number, those made between 1986-2004 have a 7-digit number, and bags postdating 2004 have an 8-digit serial number. The authenticity card should have the feel of a credit card and not be too pliable so if your card is made of malleable material it is probably an imitation.

→ Stitching count – In a genuine Chanel bag the diamond shaped stitching is dense, at least 10 stitches per inch, which results in the quilting being reasonably flat. Fewer stitches in a replica bag creates a bulbous, puffy effect.

Stiching close up on a vintage chanel bag
You can see in this photo of my vintage Chanel bag that each side of the diamond shaped quilting consists of at least 10 stiches

→ The quilting – The quilting in the shape of a diamond shape should be consistent and neat throughout the bag. The quilting on the external pocket on the back of the bag should be perfectly aligned with the quilting of the bag itself. Any irregularities are a giveaway that the bag is not genuine.

Close-up on the perfectly aligned stiching
The immaculate alignment of quilting is visible in the above photo

Chain straps – Early bags, pre-2008, have no stitching in the leather threaded through the chain element whereas newer bags have the stitching visible on one side of the strap. The stitching should be even without creating any bulging effect in the intertwined leather strip.

Strap comparison on a new and a vintage Chanel bage
A side by side comparison of a pre-2008 Chanel bag chain/leather strap (right) and a newer model (left). The vintage bag has no stiching in the leather strip.

The zipper – The pull of the zipper should blend in with the bag’s tone and match its colour. Over the years Chanel have used a variety of zippers including Lampo and Éclair, as seen in the earlier bag, as well as zippers with no stamp. From the 90s onwards Chanel bags also featured zippers manufactured by companies such as OPTI DMC, DMC or YKK. Modern zippers are engraved with an EP logo and have a thin leather pull matching the finish of the bag’s leather.

The shape of the bag – A genuine Chanel bag has a sturdy structure which allows it to stand upright with very gently rounded bottom corners. Replicas will often have a boxy shape or much rounder corners. [Back to menu]

Picture of a Vintage chanel bag held on the forearm

5. Invest in bag restoration service

While some may like the idea of a pre-loved bag, the reality is that by buying vintage you are investing in a well-used item. Especially with a vintage Chanel bag which is 20 or 30 year it is only reasonable to expect to see some scratches on the leather, the colour wearing off, the bag losing its shape or the chain losing its shine. Some may be happy to accept all of this as a price to pay for a used Chanel bag which would not be otherwise available or affordable. However, for those who are longing for the feel of a newer bag there are ways to improve the appearance of a pre-loved item through a handbag spa service.

I am definitely one of those people who are not entirely crazy about vintage. So when my bag finally arrived, while it was just as described and in a good condition, I felt it needed some TLC before it could reclaim at least some of its former glory. Aside from the strong smell of cigarettes mentioned above, there was also some visible discolouration on the corners of the flap and at the base of the bag, as well as around the interlocking CC closure which appeared more prominent in real life than on the seller’s photos. After all, the bag was from the 90s, I should have known it was never going to be flawless.

Vintage Chanel bag post treatment
This photo is showing the original condition of my vintage Chanel. You will notice some discolouration on the corner of the flap and the and the base of the bag
Image showing the condition of the item prior to restoration
This image clearly shows the original colour wearing off around the interlocking CC logo. The photo was taken on the day I received the bag from the seller.

These little imperfections prompted me to start exploring bag restoration services. After some enquiries I sent mine off the Handbag Spa for the Fully Monty which included a full clean, antibacterial treatment, colour restoration to address the discolouration issue and the removal of internal staining. I was not sure what to expect but the bag came back looking fabulous, especially the colour touch ups worked wonders. The smell of cigarettes was also far less noticeable. The whole treatment cost £250 and honestly, the money was definitely well spent.

Vintage Chanel bag post restoration
My vintage Chanel bag on the day it came back from the Handbag Spa treatment

So for anyone who, like me, prefers new bags but for one reason or another ended up buying vintage Chanel, my advice is to consider a handbag restoration service which can give a new lease of life to a second hand piece and allow it to shine again. 

I hope you have found this post helpful, if you have any other tips regarding vintage Chanel bags please share them in the comments. For reviews of other Chanel  please click here. [Back to menu]

Photos by Badiu Photography and Unwrapped.Blog

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