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Savvy stylistas investing in high-quality vintage
The key to smart investment is selecting the right item. Picture: Robert Duncan/The West Australian

Most women shop for fashion to wear. Yet an increasing number of savvy stylistas are investing their funds in high-quality vintage, retro and current fashion by the world's renowned designers.

If they can sit on it, rather than wear it, there is a good chance that in the future they will turn over a very fashionable profit.

Leading UK auctioneer Kerry Taylor, who manages private collections for style icons such as Daphne Guinness, says smart investors can make a decent return on fashion.

"Most buy fashion for love but they can turn a profit," she says.

"For example, if you bought a Vionnet gown from me 10 years ago, you might have had to pay £2000 to £3000 (roughly $3000 to $4500); the same today of similar quality would be £50,000 (about $74,500).

The key to smart investment is in selecting the right item.

Whether antique or contemporary, potential investors should seek out important, high-quality, well-maintained pieces by the international fashion houses.

Designers such as Hermes, Chanel and Gucci - and pieces from Courreges and Cardin from about 1960 - are the designers to consider, according to Maria Ayala, general manager of cult vintage store Resurrection Vintage in New York City.

"Sales on pieces from these designers have remained consistent and they are continuously sought after, as opposed to some that come in and out of fashion," she says.

Coveted leather goods such as Chanel's 2.55 handbag and Hermes' Kelly and Birkin handbags have proved solid investments but historical pieces by European designers are also an option.

Ms Taylor currently lists a wool day dress by designer Madame Gres dating back to circa 1952 for £2000 to £4000 (roughly $3000 to $6000) and a crepe dress by Yves Saint Laurent featuring his famous lip print dating back to 1971 is valued at £500 to £700 ( roughly $750 to $1000).

A potential investment should not be limited to vintage or retro items. Pieces by contemporary designers should be considered valuable future classics, particularly those by revolutionary artists such as Alexander McQueen.

"As a 'new' designer he achieved such status and heights because of his fierce vision, execution and drive to achieve the unimaginable," Ms Ayala says.

"It may take another five years or more, but I am secure in the notion that his pieces will be worth a lot of money and remain so for years."

For young investors without the couture budget, retro items and Australian labels such as Prue Acton and House of Merivale are a less expensive entry point.

"These more modern labels are already being collected by museums and will only increase in value," says collector Nicole Jenkins of Circa Vintage Clothing in Melbourne.

To make a profit, be prepared to not wear your fashion, instead storing it away and waiting for the right time to sell.

"Good designs in quality fabrics and finishing will always be in demand, but fashion is all about change," Ms Jenkins says. "Be prepared for that big-ticket item to go through the undesirable stage before its qualities are recognised again - generally 20 years."

Like any investor, the fashion collector will face down times as well as possible pitfalls, with counterfeit product and poor quality being the biggest traps for budding investors. "There are many good fake designer handbags," Ms Ayala warns.

"One must be knowledgeable about the bag, its quality and fittings so as not to be fooled."

To hone your eye, do your research and window shop high-end designer stores taking careful note of materials and finishing and only buy used items from highly reputable dealers. This also applies when buying vintage or pre-worn items.

"Just because it's old, doesn't necessarily make it desirable. The older the garment is, the more you need to consider its condition," Ms Jenkins says.

"Buy wisely, seek out good quality, especially from major designers and take care to wash and store it well. The vintage fashion market has increased a great deal over the past few years, and is yet to peak."