Finding your perfect Chanel: an interview with Winnie Lee, founder of Vintage Heirloom

I have always been a vintage and luxury designer lover, and have built up a collection of special bags, silk scarfs and garments in my wardrobe. However the one thing I have dreamt of owning is a vintage Chanel bag. I have never had the nerve or expertise to commit to buying one in case god forbid, it is a fake. So you can imagine my delight when I came across a marvelous website that not only had a wonderful and unique collection of bags but also helped every buyer authenticate Chanel for themselves, Vintage Heirloom. I asked founder and director Winnie Lee some questions about her envious job as a Chanel connoisseur.

What made you want to start up vintage heirloom?

It all started from years of being an avid Chanel collector. Over the years I continued to receive many requests from friends and family to find vintage Chanel handbags and jewellery. I realised I had built up a lot of expertise that I could use to start a business, allowing me to finance my passion for Chanel full time.

I wanted to create a website where customers can shop safely and in complete confidence. All of the the bags and vintage items we stock are genuine and authentic. Also I wanted to create a website where customers are not rushed into bidding on auctions like on eBay.

And how do you feel your company differs from all the other second hand designer websites and shops?

I supply to a number of top UK stores, so I am known and trusted in the industry.Vintage Heirloom prides itself on having the best ‘edit’ of vintage Chanel pieces. I don’t buy Chanel because its says ‘Chanel’, it has to be make my heart skip a beat! If I fall in love with a vintage item then I’m pretty sure my customers will too.

The majority of my stock is – ‘In stock’, and ready to ship the next day. So most of my UK customers can receive their vintage items within 24 hours. A lot of re-sellers work on ‘consignment’, which basically means they sell on behalf of someone else and take a commission. This often leads to a delay in delivery. I buy in the stock and control and monitor stock levels, without having to wait for a customer to ‘consign’ their vintage items to me.

I am interested in investing in a vintage Chanel handbag… what advice would you give to me? and how would I know I have found a good deal?

Buy what you love. Chanel generally even at pre-owned/second hand prices are getting higher as the price of current boutique Chanel increases at 30% every season. My best advice is invest now! If you see something you love buy it as the demand is high – if you don’t buy it, someone else will!.. Stock is unique so often we can’t restock the exact same item. You can still get vintage Chanel at ‘affordable’ prices from re-sellers like Vintage Heirloom.

What are your main tips for finding a genuine bag? What gives an item away as a fake?

Buying vintage Chanel is a mine-field, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. Luckily there is lots of great advice to help you make an informed decision. We will be providing a series of authenticity videos on my website. This is being launching in September. Here’s my top 3 things to look out for:

1.Lambskin leather:Lambskin leather is expensive and almost all replica bags use ‘imitation’ or low ‘grade leather’ to keep the cost low. Chanel only use the finest quality leather, lambskin, caviar skin, calfskin and Jersey. Go to a Chanel boutique and familiarise yourself with your favourite bags. Lamb skin leather is ‘buttery soft’ to the touch, very delicate and silky smooth. This is difficult to gage from photographs on the net, but once you have felt a few genuine Chanel bags you will become familiar with the look of the leather too.

2.Hardware: Know your hardware. Replica companies slightly modify their hardware, as creating exact copies would be expensive but also is a copyright infringement. Chanel hardware comes usually in gold or silver. As a rule of thumb the right C of the famous turnstile lock should always overlap the left C. The back plate should have flat head screws. If you hold the bag in front of you it should say Chanel on the ‘west’ or left side of the plate and Paris of the ‘east’ or right hand side of the plate.

3.Stitch count: As with any high end designer bags, there should be high stitch count. This ensures durability and is a sign of good craftsmanship. Items with a high stitch count are costly to produce as the needles go through a lot of wear and tear. For Chanel bags, there should be more than 10+ stitches per 1”.

Which designers of our time do you think will be the vintage must haves of the future?

I think the current CELINE bag line is amazing! The simplicity and design is so chic (like the 2.55 Chanel bags), their styles are classic and I don’t think they will date. So I do think it’s worth investing in a CELINE bag like one of their leather shoppers or the luggage bag line. I also think Goyard is a good investment, they are the designer’s designer choice! Goyard is an old french luggage company like Louis Vuitton, but their monogram and colourful canvas shoppers are very contemporary. Their shoppers are made to last.

From your wardrobe which is your favourite designer piece and why?

I just recently purchased this Chanel jacket from one of my regular clients.I have longed for a tweed/nautical style Chanel coat, and this fitted beautifully. This jacket also came with a separate tie, so cute! The jacket was from the mid-80’s and I was told it was bought from bond street Chanel store. It was a gift from her husband to celebrate the birth of their first born, lucky me!

by Winnie Lee Director and founder of

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