When Christos Garkinos, co-owner of vintage emporium Decades, first visited the closet of Rachel Zoe, it took three hours to extract six pairs of shoes. "She has an amazing vintage collection but a hard time letting go," says Garkinos of Zoe, consigner No. 143 on Decades’ list of nearly 5,000 fashionistas who resell their gently worn frocks to reap up to half of their resale value.
PHOTOS: THR’s 25 Most Powerful Stylists 2013: The Photographs
Garkinos, business partner to "king of vintage" Cameron Silver — who founded world-class vintage boutique Decades (8214 Melrose Ave.) in 1997 — is talking about what used to be fashion’s dirty little secret. No longer anywhere in the neighborhood of pawn shops, consignment is a high-fashion transaction indulged in by celebrities, stylists and socialites seeking to unload their "preloved pieces."
Naturally, Decades’ list of consigners and buyers comprises a who’s who of the fashionable wealthy, including socialites Vanessa Getty (a San Franciscan who frequents L.A.), Barbara de Kwiatkowski, Patricia Kennedy and LACMA Costume Council’s Liza-Mae Carlin as well as celebrities such as Courtney Love, Rose McGowan, Garcelle Beauvais, Winona Ryder, Selma Blair and Blake Lively. "I’m the Robin Hood of fashion," says Garkinos. "I buy from the rich and sell it for a quarter of the price."
Consignment occurs where celebrity culture — in which wearing an outfit for more than one appearance is a transgression — meets a guilty acquirer’s need to recycle. Says Elizabeth Mason, owner of The Paperbag Princess (8818 W. Olympic Blvd.), which does 40 percent of its business in consignment: "When actresses like Maria Bello wear a piece once, they can’t wear it again, so she’ll let me sell it."
Not that cash doesn’t play a part in consignment’s surge. "The biggest wave was during the 2008 crash," says Garkinos, adding that the economics of Hollywood’s marriage-to-divorce ratio also helps business. "The happiest moment in my life is when a woman tells me she’s getting a divorce," he says of the bounty that results from the inevitable makeover that ensues and the urge to replenish both a closet and a drop in income.
PHOTOS: Oscars Fashion: The 50 Best Dresses of All Time
But consignment’s biggest driver might simply be fashion addiction. "Consigner No. 679 is a lawyer obsessed with shoes," he says. "She buys two pairs of shoes in the same size and consigns every season. When I send out a tweet saying 679 dropped off, there’s a rush." Noting that fashion collecting sometimes reaches hoarder levels, Garkinos adds: "I go to these huge homes in L.A. and in New York on the Upper East Side, and people say, ‘Come to my closet, I have a problem.’ Once I was invited to the apartment of a woman and I couldn’t open her door — she had hundreds of Chanels. I took half her collection."
Not every piece makes the cut. Only "top labels, something unusual, something that flew out of the store or never went on sale," says Mason, who counts Betsy Bloomingdale and Henry Fonda‘s widow, Shirlee Fonda (who gave Mason all 175 of her Vicky Tiels), among her consigners. And, we repeat, high-end designers only: "We like the woman who buys the entire Rochas collection, then dumps it when that season’s over. We just got our first Hedi Slimane for Yves St. Laurent pieces — they immediately sold out," says Garkinos, who recently landed $1 million worth of Gucci men’s clothing.
Women camp out overnight for Decades’ twice-a-year Chanel sale, and even high-earning celebrities are hooked on getting used designer pieces on the cheap. Love once asked Garkinos to keep the store open late; she showed up at 11 p.m. and shopped till 3:30 a.m. ‘s Perrey Reeves has become a Decades family member. "It’s the best resale shopping," she proclaims. "I even consult Cameron on pieces from my mother’s closet." Garkinos can spend all day on such house calls, or "closet appointments," especially when visiting New York or San Francisco. Sales are split 50-50 with the owner, and checks are sent out twice monthly.
PHOTOS: Street Chic Feet: Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez’s Favorite High-Fashion High-Tops
Stylish L.A. women such as magazine founder Jennifer Smith Hale, Crystal Lourd and Brooke Davenport say their like-minded friends are consigning at the following brick-and-mortar and online spots: The just-opened Matti & Me (1306 Montana Ave.) from Montecito counts Brentwood fashionistas of all ages among its consigners of Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, Prada and Fendi accessories, dresses and evening wear. Caroline Bray, a former model and founder of A-List Sample Sale, buys Balenciaga, Gucci, Rick Owens and Commes des Garcons items that are as recent as last year from major L.A. shoppers, including costumer and designer Susan Becker; Bray then hosts private sales by invitation only at her Mid-Wilshire home every few months. Julie Bowen and E! Entertainment Television’s Catt Sadler shop at one of L.A.’s original resale shops, Entre Nous (8430 W. 3rd St.), which opened more than a decade ago and stocks Missoni, Herve Leger, Dries Van Noten and Marni. Many women use resources like Shop-hers, a new site repped by UTA, which picks up their old designer clothes and sends a check once they sell. The RealReal is the hottest consignment website right now — the new, chicer eBay — with 1.5 million unique visits in January alone and a membership of 750,000 luxury-obsessed customers.
PHOTOS: It’s All in the Wrist: Bracelets Become Hot Hollywood Accessory
That’s not to say that there still aren’t people who don’t understand the advantages of consigning. "I have one client who only lets me come to her closet when her husband isn’t home," confides Garkinos. "We arrange the closet like nothing has left it. Her plan is to fill it back up again but not have him notice! One day, I was coming out of her house, and the husband pulled in. I told him I was the dry cleaner."