There are now quite a few ecommerce startups offering visitors the opportunity to shop the closets of celebrities and "fashion insiders," (Material Wrld, Hipswap) but we're not sure any of them are doing it as well as Vaunte. Launched last November by two former Gilt employees, Vaunte is glossy and easy to use and has really good people (Vaunte calls them "starlets") on board selling their unwanted goods (Charlotte Ronson, Liz Goldwyn, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, Annabel Tollman, to name a few). It's sort of like The Coveteur except you can buy all the pieces they photograph--as in seriously the exact same pieces in all their pre-owned glory. The inventory is pretty much all designer, so nothing is super cheap--the people behind the site know what things are worth--but there are definitely good deals to be found.
We chatted with Vaunte's co-founders Leah Park and Christian Leone about how the site came about, where it's going, and how they get fashion people to part with their designer wares (or accidentally convince them not to), and got a sneak peek at Bird owner Jen Mankins's closet, which goes up for sale tomorrow. Think about it--we can't go to Bird without wanting to buy everything, so can you imagine how incredible its owner's wardrobe must be?
How did you guys meet and decide to start Vaunte? Leah: Christian and I met at Gilt Groupe and we immediately hit it off because we were the only two people with luxury high end fashion women's experience in the company. Over the years Gilt grew really large and Christian and I both left around the same time and then we started Vaunte in November.
How did you come up with the concept? Christian: In initial conversations, we wanted it to be different, we really wanted it to have an editorial voice. With fashion magazines, everything is very celebrity-focused and we really wanted to focus on real women that have beautiful clothes. The consignment shop has existed for years, it's a great model, but it's a model that really never evolved and we wanted to take that model and change it and 'evolutionize' it and have it be about these women's closets. I'm such a fanatic of interiors and antiques and you always hear about the provenance of furniture and you never hear that about women's fashion really. We wanted to take it to every woman.
Leah: They're not playing dress up with their stylists or PR companies. They're actually going out there and selecting items, so it becomes very curated to the utmost point.
Do you plan to keep the site womenswear only? Christian: We did a sale with men's ties and I think we're going to do more of that. We have talked about maybe profiling some men. We have a lot of people coming to us about home and children. We're open to a lot of different things, with the main thing being women's fashion and accessories.
How do you find and choose ladies to feature? Christian: We launched the business in New York; we're based in New York, so we focus on women in New York. We went to L.A. and shot women there and in San Francisco and we want to hit Dallas, Houston, and Miami before the summer. It's about women who are stylish, have great fashion, have a career. We want women to be interesting and compelling and dynamic and who love fashion. Leah: A lot of the closets are personal friends--best friends--of Christian's. He fortunately has a lot of connects and every single socialite knows who he is and wants to be a part of it, so that was a huge incentive and something that really boosted our profile. Christian: We have women reaching out to us and we have publicists reaching out to us for their clients to be featured. [Ed note: Leone was dubbed one of the "new society men" by the Times in 2006.]
Is it ever a challenge to get the "starlets" to part with their goods? Christian: They're pretty willing for the most part, but sometimes what happens is--we like them to be shot in one of these outfits that they're going to sell. Sometimes they'll try them on and they're like, 'Oh I love this.' Leah: And of course Christian is like, 'You should definitely keep that' and I'm like, 'Don't tell them that!' What we're finding is that a lot of these women will have such a fun experience that they'll say, 'I'm sending even more stuff.' That's what I love is that even the sellers like the experience.
Will the closets live on the site forever? Leah: It's not a flash sale, so it's always going to be there and what we're finding is as our membership grows, they're going back through the initial closets. Christian: Today, we sold a Roberto Cavalli dress from Veronica Beard's closet that went up the day we launched.
How much commission do you take? Leah: It's different for every person, but it starts at around 30% and we're going to do premium service soon and that's 40%. It's pretty competitive--you go to any consignment store and it starts at 50-60, so we're here to build a business and service these women.
What have you found sells the best so far? Leah: I'm obsessed with that kind of data. Our best-selling brand is Chanel. Our best-selling color is black. The best style is dress and the best accessory is bags. Over 22% of our customers make repeat purchases, in just four months.
How do you see Vaunte growing and evolving over the next few years? Leah: We're really about lifestyle and the people behind these sales so I want to be able to sell anything these personalities want to sell. We're just the platform. We will be really flexible and see where the market takes us. We don't really have any hard fast rules except for the fact that we're celebrating people and what they love and their style.
Vaunte includes brief interviews each starlet to go alongside her sale and one of our favorite aspects of it is that instead of asking the starlet to describe her style, they ask for a quote from a friend, which makes so much sense because people who can accurately describe their own style are weird and pretentious. Here's what Jen Mankins's friend, Starrett Ringbom, said about her:
Jen’s style is as ebullient as her personality. She shines daily in an extravagant mix of designer duds, wild patterns, gorgeous jewels and LAYERS. She is the queen of layering. Most of all, Jen’s style is decidedly her own. I have never seen anyone look anything like her, ever, or pull off mixing with such panache. She’s our very own rogue style icon in the making, and I love her for it.
Click through for a sneak peek at what will be in Mankins's sale, which you can shop tomorrow via this VIP link (instead of waiting a day to get approved). Dries, Proenza, or Marant, anyone?