By LAUREN OLSEN
Aside from the occasional lipstick or perfume, products from luxury fashion house Chanel are not ones that appear in the ordinary person’s wardrobe. Jewelry prices listed on Chanel’s official website range from $750 to $50,000, though many of the pieces simply say, “Price Available Upon Request,” implying that prices for some items are even higher.
However, Monkee’s, a boutique in downtown Fredericksburg, is turning the idea of owning a little piece of Chanel into a more likely possibility.
Since Jan. 26, the store has sold vintage Chanel button jewelry. The buttons bear Chanel’s traditional interlocking ‘C’ logo and come from a variety of vintage Chanel coats.
According to Monkee’s manager, Catherine Sullivan, some of these buttons date back to the 1800’s. She explained that they come from all over the world, and many have been sent from France and England.
The buttons are made of a metal or silver brass base or are gold-filled. They are set and encased in sterling silver and are made into jewelry by Atlanta-based company Val Colbert, who combines the buttons with black onyx or freshwater pearls to make earrings, necklaces, bracelets and rings.
Extensive research is conducted to ensure the button’s authenticity, which is crucial considering the number of counterfeits sold as originals online. The Chanel jewelry being sold at Monkee’s ranges from $200 to $390, and while Sullivan acknowledges that these prices are by no means cheap, they are still more accessible to the average consumer.
“For Chanel, it’s a reachable price point,” Sullivan explained.
Sullivan has been getting calls from across the country expressing interest in the button pieces, and said that the jewelry has sold remarkably well in Fredericksburg.
She mentioned that there was a line of customers waiting for her to unpack the first pieces and that the store sold half of what they received that same day. Monkee’s has made multiple re-orders since.
The most unique thing about this jewelry, though, is perhaps that it is not just Chanel the customer is buying. It’s also vintage.
“The button has had quite a little life before you wear it,” Sullivan explained. “It’s kind of a neat thing to think of the woman who wore it on her suit.”
University of Mary Washington junior Zoe Peters agreed, saying that one of the coolest things about vintage is imagining the life it led before it came to be yours.
“It’s kind of fun to think you’re taking someone’s memories with you,” said Peters. “There’s a history there.”
According to UMW theatre professor and fashion historian Kevin McCluskey, it was in the late 1980’s that vintage gained its appeal.
McCluskey said that, when he was in college, what we now call “vintage” was called “second-hand.”
“You wouldn’t want anyone to know you were wearing second-hand clothing,” he said.
But, now, McCluskey explained, used clothing and accessories don’t have a poor social attachment. Going to Goodwill is now considered “cool.”
McCluskey said that this transition happened primarily for two reasons.
First, celebrities started wearing it. Second, bohemian counter-cultures embraced it.
Trend watchers and forecasters popularized the trend, put it into merchandising and, suddenly, couturiers were designing pieces in vintage styles.
McCluskey said that the interest in vintage makes sense.
“Fashion is cyclical,” McCluskey said. “There are only so many ways you can adorn the body.”
Of the vintage Chanel button jewelry at Monkee’s, McCluskey said that the interest in the pieces is not surprising.
McCluskey said that the average college student, for example, may not be able to afford a Chanel suit, but can manage to pay for a button.
That way, the customer is still able to tap into the exclusivity of the brand, and according to McCluskey, exclusivity has always been a part of fashion.
“You can own a part of that mystique,” he explained.
The vintage Chanel button jewelry will continue to be stocked at Monkee’s for as long as there is a demand for it in Fredericksburg.