Saturday 27th July

| BY Dino Bonacic

In Love With Amore: Ten Minutes to Read About Tokyo’s Vintage Xanadu

Tucked between a John Masters Organics beauty salon and the futuristic concrete and glass construction of a Tod’s flagship store, a narrow metal staircase leads the way to what looks like just another unassuming retail location in Tokyo’s Aoyama quarter. From the outside, the only thing you can see are the large windows filled with LV-monogrammed luggage and a white sign with gold letters backlit with neon that spell out “AMORE”. Without much fanfare or drama, and only 20-something steps above the ground, a vintage heaven holds fashion’s finest urban legends – and that’s only half of it.

For a long time, vintage shopping in Japan had a certain mystery about it. The locations changed often and without much notice, many of the stores being hidden away from the tourist eye. Somewhere on the 10th floor of an obscure residential estate, you’d be able to get your hands on a Margiela dress from the late 1980s, or a sample of the Comme trapper hat from the AW94 collection. Specialised forums reported on these changes, with locals and enthusiastic tourists working together on figuring out the Da Vintage codes.

Perhaps annoyed at this and realising there isn’t much space for mystery in the digital realm, Japanese sellers jumped on the e-tail train. Vintage dealers started selling online and Yahoo! Japan’s Auction site skyrocketed in popularity, partly thanks to the great offer of the extremely rare pieces in great condition. That’s not to say the physical experience evaporated. Merging the wonders of online and bricks-and-mortar vintage shopping is Amore, with its Barbie-inspired website that’s updated daily with a wide variety of branded gems and supported by two physical locations in the heart of Tokyo.

It founder, Shinako Imaduru, discovered her love for vintage 10 years ago through falling in love with archival Chanel. This hobby quickly turned into a career when, in 2013, she opened a store in Aichi Prefecture, before finally settling for Japan’s capital in 2015. Omotesando, also known as the Champs-Élysées of Tokyo, is the city’s ultimate luxury-shopping destination: the list of brands scattered down the avenue include Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Only a five-minute walk from all the new-season wonders are both Amore boutiques. The original one, just off Omotesando, only holds vintage Chanel. The hot-pink shelves are piled with tens of variations of possibly every one of their bags’ silhouettes, surrounded by unique oddities as well as ready-to-wear and accessories.

The items are merchandised totally differently from in a Chanel flagship – there’s no pretense about the shopping experience, despite their high price point often making the pieces just as expensive as new. You can interact with the fashion just as you would when shopping for a bag on the high street. “It’s satisfying because of the amazing variety of pieces, how special and one-off they are,” says writer and superfan Alexander Fury. “You see things that you never realised actually existed beyond the magazine spread, especially the Chanel pieces. And also pieces you assumed would have been lost to the ravages of time.”

The other Aoyama branch of Amore opened in 2016 and houses a wider variety of brands, the focus mostly being on Hermès and Louis Vuitton, though there’s also Gucci, Fendi, Dior, Prada, Céline… Both stores specialise in vintage items from the 1990s, 1980s and earlier, although they sometimes also stock designs from the early 2000s. The only exceptions for modern-day pieces include special designer collaborations or limited editions, such as the Chanel Be@rbrick 1000%, LV Supreme and the Hermès picnic Kelly handbag. All pieces at Amore are carefully curated and selected for their mint condition, and according to Imaduru, 90% of the stock is sourced in real life, allowing the buyers to physically inspect all the items before they go on sale.

In fashion circles, Amore is one of the symbols of Tokyo’s vintage shopping, a market completely different from the European one. “They take collecting niches to another level and put a lot of effort into procuring the best of whatever category it is – Americana, Victoriana or, indeed, 1990s-era Chanel,” says Susanna Lau, aka Susie Bubble, the journalist and blogger behind Style Bubble and an avid vintage shopper. She’s definitely not alone. According to a report carried out by online secondhand marketplace thredUP, the global apparel-resale market is currently valued at $24 billion, with predictions of it doubling in the next five years. If you think that’s a lot of money, consider this – the most expensive piece ever sold at Amore was a solid-silver miniature Hermès Kelly paperweight. It went for ¥7,980,000, which currently converts to almost £58,000.

In addition to the website, which at the time of writing holds more than 6,000 items and offers free international shipping, the main channel of communication for Amore is social media. Its Instagram profile has created a direct and instant conversation with the clients – you can enquire about the items through the DMs and comments, and can often see pieces before they go on sale. With items as rare as Rei Kawakubo’s limited edition of the Louis Vuitton-monogram tote, it’s all about the need for speed. This is also a way for those who don’t live in Tokyo to experience the brand. The Amore team pride themselves on counting celebs such as Kim Kardashian West, Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber among their top VICs, but it’s actually Chinese clients who make up the majority of their international audience. That’s why WeChat plays a big role in the sales, as the instant-payment feature on the app serves itself to the direct-to-consumer businesses. “Weirdly, I discovered Amore on eBay – where I buy probably 60 to 70% of my worldly goods,” says Fury. “When I went to Japan in November 2018, I went foraging for vintage and realised I’d seen the pieces online on Amore before. A terry-toweling Chanel backpack printed with Karl Lagerfeld drawings was the ‘rosebud’ moment.” Imaduru reports that the ratio of sales made on the website to those made in the bricks-and-mortar locations (including sales via Instagram, WeChat and email, which the store staff handle directly) is currently 20:80.

The Amore team is currently composed of about 40 members, including sales assistants, buyers and online-operations staff. The process of finding the right pieces is quite similar to that used by big department stores. “Our buyers select the items based not only on the vintage qualities of a particular item but also trying to imagine how that item works with today’s trends and styling, while also keeping in mind which items are most requested by our customers,” says Imaduru. Each item is quality checked twice, and priced individually, according to the year, condition and rarity of the piece. A classic black quilted leather Chanel bag will set you back about £2,500, but a 1980s Céline cross-body bag can be found for about £350. And while browsing is definitely one way of enjoying Amore, most pieces are unique, so the chances of seeing the right thing at the right time are low. “The problem is that you might not find it again the next time you come back,” says Lau. “To be honest, I did a lot of browsing the first few times I went, as I found the selection overwhelming but a bit out of my budget at the time. Then I plunged in and got a pastel striped bathing suit, as I thought that’s the sort of thing that is harder to find back in London or online.”

Shopping for vintage is not an activity for indecisive people. It’s that fear of missing out that makes an impulsive buyer, all in order to avoid the horror of the one that got away. For Fury, that piece is the Chanel backpack, while Lau remembers an oversized surf-line print shirt, also by Chanel. Are there any pieces Imaduru regrets selling? “A Chanel baseball jacket from 1992/93,” she writes over email. But there are still pieces in her personal collection she would never be able to part with. “There are quite a lot actually, most of them Chanel. A denim rattan-basket shoulder bag, an orange caviar- skin backpack, ribbon hair clips, which I love so much – I have about five of them.” Any advice for first-time vintage shoppers? “First of all, I think it’s best to learn the difference between vintage and secondhand. Then, when you are thinking of purchasing a vintage piece, my advice is to research the history behind it, to look at the show it was in, and to compare it to collections from different years. It will help you to choose the best item for you and you will enjoy it much more.”

While most people who buy their Chanel bags vintage do it out of owning something unique, there’s definitely something to say about the sustainable aspect of buying pre-owned luxury. The intense desire for something that’s not available in multiple copies creates a circular economy that doesn’t devalue products just because of their production date. Finally, it feels like this idea has crossed over from the narrow group of collectors, and experts such as Lau and Fury, into the mainstream. It’s not all about the new anymore – just like a bottle of good red wine, great fashion gets even better with age.

Shinako Imaduru’s Top 10 Finds

1. Cropped Top by Chanel ¥98,000 (£710)
“This is from 1995, the spring/summer collection. The length is popular with younger customers and it’s perfect for a spring/summer casual look.”

2. Logo Jacket by Chanel ¥498,000 (£3,600)
“An item from the AW95 collection – the logo on the sleeves is very on-trend and a fun detail on an otherwise very classic Chanel jacket.”

3. Alpaca-Fur Jacket by Chanel ¥698,000 (£5,050)
“From the AW94 collection – one of our most popular items.”

4. Wooden Vanity Bag by Chanel ¥1,280,000 (£9,260)
“A very rare and iconic collector’s piece. When thinking of Chanel bags made in different materials, it’s the first one that comes to mind.”

5. Heart-shaped Patent Leather Handbag by Chanel ¥980,000 (£7,090)
“Another rare piece from around 1995. Not a very practical shape, but the cuteness makes up for it.”

6. Metallic Leather Mini-chain Backpack by Chanel ¥898,000 (£6,500)
“The metallic leather makes it much more special than the regular coloured leather and it’s beautiful in every light.”

7. Heart-shaped Rhinestone Earrings by Chanel ¥148,000 (£1,070)
“A bit different from the usual gold-coloured vintage Chanel jewellery, but very Chanel nonetheless”

8. Kelly Doll Handbag by Hermès ¥143,480,000 (£25,180)
“Produced in limited edition and extremely rare, it’s a very fun version of the classic Kelly handbag, and it’s really just too cute.”

9. Pink Tweed Two-in-one Bag by Chanel ¥1,280,00 (£9,260)
“This has been produced in a variety of colours and materials, from leather to fur, and the two bags can be used together or separately.”

10. Earrings by Chanel ¥898,000 (£6,500)
“The big logo is very eye-catching and makes these earrings a great statement piece.”

10+ Issue 2, EVERYONE, VOCAL, TOGETHER is available to order HERE.

@amore_tokyo