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Spotlight On... William Vintage

To celebrate MATCHESFASHION.COM’s inaugural vintage edit, William Vintage’s CEO Marie Blanchet discusses the modern appeal of vintage and the archival pieces still on her wishlist.

Words by Lauren Milligan

‘We are the first fashion brand that makes fashion, but doesn’t make clothes,’ Marie Blanchet – lifelong vintage connoisseur and CEO of William Vintage – says of the London-based company’s position in the global marketplace. ‘It’s not because it’s old that it’s precious, we’re not just selling vintage. We’re selling a fashion proposition. It doesn’t look old, it looks like exactly what you want to wear now, so selling it on MATCHESFASHION.COM alongside all the other designer brands feels extremely modern and right for now.’

Blanchet too is incredibly modern in a way that only French women can be. ‘I’d describe my style as Parisian, not French,’ she smiles. ‘I wear a piece of vintage pretty much every day, but for me it’s not a full look – I never want to look retro. My style is a mix of vintage, some pieces that I love from the past few seasons, and then current pieces. I’m a real Parisian in my style.’ From her glossy dark hair and no-make-up freckles, to the simple cotton dress she teams with covetable accessories, Blanchet is natural and effortless. Her calm and affable demeanour belies a laser eye for detail that she brings to every area of her very varied remit.

‘There’s really no lame moment in my job – you plan a day and it goes somewhere else,’ she nods. ‘I might be sourcing pieces, meeting clients to review their archive, or making selections for VIP clients who I meet myself. There’s also a lot of research – finding out the history behind our key pieces. We have a large archive from [Alexander] McQueen and most days I am adding to my research, to make sure we know everything we can about each piece. I do the Instagram myself and the styling for the shoots,’ she notes – often accompanied by her loyal and Instagram-famous English Bull Terrier, Snoopy. ‘And as a CEO of course you have to report to your board,’ she shrugs casually.

Marie Blanchet

Blanchet exhibits a knowledge of the latest catwalk collections that would rival most fashion editors, but with the added edge that she also knows which archive collection designers at major houses are referencing. ‘I love The Row, and the new team at Bottega Veneta is doing a great job,’ she says. ‘What else? I always find shoes I like at Saint Laurent; the tailoring at Balenciaga I really love; every season some pieces of Gucci, Raf Simons – these brands all have pieces that will be future classics. Tomorrow’s vintage.’

Her approach to fashion is as egalitarian as it is Parisian. While effortless in her look, no effort is spared in her search for the dream piece, which could be a cotton nightgown from the 1900s devoid of a designer label; a perfectly preserved Madame Grès gown; or equally a barely there Gucci by Tom Ford leather bustier. ‘I love the thrill of the hunt and getting a piece that has history – for me or someone else,’ she smiles. ‘When I was a teenager – at a time when you are quite fragile and trying to find your identity – vintage really helped me find my identity.’

It was as a teenager – perhaps unsure of herself, but sure of her taste – that she met Françoise Auguet: owner of Ragtime, a vintage emporium in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés and one of the city’s foremost experts in vintage. Their chance meeting was to lead to a long friendship: ‘I was studying cinema when I met her but ended up working with her for years,’ she says. ‘She is definitely my mentor. She taught me pretty much everything I know.’ There followed a three-year tenure heading up the vintage division of French-based re-sale site Vestiaire Collective before Blanchet arrived at William Vintage.

‘The company launched seven years ago really with the ambition to restore couture and celebrate designers at their best – both their creativity and the craft of couture,’ she explains. Sustainability was not then the buzzword it is now, yet William Vintage has found itself at the forefront of a new movement in fashion. ‘It’s not even something we have to try to do or defend – by definition we are sustainable,’ Blanchet says. ‘These are pieces that are being given a second life just by the fact that we are curating them, but also because we have a team of couturiers who restore the pieces to their original condition. It’s something we are very proud of.’

Each piece in the inaugural edited offering for MATCHESFASHION.COM has been hand-selected by Blanchet for its significance as a moment in fashion history, as well as for its beauty and modernity. ‘The 1969 Yves Saint Laurent safari ensemble is probably my favourite,’ she shares. ‘It’s so iconic – there is hardly one stylist’s lookbook that doesn’t have this piece as a reference and this is the original. It’s symbolic of the ingenious, timeless style of Saint Laurent that still influences fashion so much today. His undying modernity.’

Blanchet also notes her appreciation of the 1955 Christian Dior piece, and the white Gucci by Tom Ford dress that was the finale in his AW04 collection – ‘fashion history: so sexy, so modern.’ She also acknowledges that will always be one piece that she is longing to track down. ‘For autumn/winter 1969, Saint Laurent worked with a sculptor called Claude Lalanne,’ she explains. ‘The dresses are all petit-four muslin and over the muslin there were chest and stomach bustiers modelled on Verushcka [Von Lehndorff]’s body by Lalanne. I haven’t come across one yet but that collection to me is the holy grail.’

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PHOTOGRAPHS mario madeira. getty images. guy marineau

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