Best Classic Secrets in Paris

PARIS – Not long after Rihanna wears classic pink Chanel puffer top for her pregnancy announcement, another example of an identical coat surfaced – at a Paris auction, where it sold for 2,500 euros ($2,830), beating high estimates 66%. Not that it comes from Rihanna’s wardrobe, although the owner does have her own level of fame.

That piece was one of hundreds placed on the block by a single known collector, Catherine B: a flame-haired pioneer, of indeterminate age, lavishly furnished with luxury resale game.

For nearly 30 years, Catherine Benier has been buying and selling foundations of Hermès and Chanel handbags, jewelry, scarves and other accessories from her Left Bank store, a listed landmark with a presence area a little less than 100 square meters. feet, making shopping a one-to-one experience by default.

But despite its doll-sized size, Les 3 Marches de Catherine B (named after the store’s three steps), is a prime destination for the wealthy and often famous, eager for editions. limited and styled to be hunted in porosus, lizard or avocado crocodiles. – Soft, supple box leather used in the 1960s and 1970s.

When Les 3 Marches opened in 1994 with just a handful of scarves and other accessories, early customers included Catherine Deneuve, who lived nearby, and Inès de la Fressange. Ms. Benier is known for paying upfront for resale items, unlike a traditional slipper, which operates on consignment. She also mingled nightly with the crowds at the legendary nearby Castel nightclub.

Word of mouth did the rest. The store has become a resource for stylists, editors and stylists to find fashion week outfits for their clients.

In a phone interview, interior designer Nate Berkus recalled meeting Ms. Benier in the early 1990s, when he was interning in Paris for jewelry designer Dominique Aurientis. He bought a Hermès Plume to carry, and although he no longer has that bag, the friendship remains strong.

“Catherine is an original,” he said. “She was a complete connoisseur and of character, as if she were attending a chapel run by an adorably classically dressed upper-class nun. It is always a class, a class experience and you go away with a treasure every time. “

One of the reasons for her success, Ms. Benier says, is that she “doesn’t just sell stuff.” Instead, she approaches inventory with the eyes of a collector, defining herself not as an antique dealer but as an antiques moderator, or fashionable antique.

Another reason is consistency: she has never strayed from her first two loves, Hermès and Chanel (in Lagerfeld’s time).

“While craftsmanship is essential, for me luxury has more to do with tradition than with elitism,” she says, citing Hermès for its family history and Chanel for the person. Women started it all.

“True luxury is small and rare. It’s something you wait for. I prefer that to instant gratification. ”

Until 2021, Ms. Benier was also selling vintage Chanel and Hermès clothing in another store, just a few doors down from Les 3 Marches, but earlier this year she decided to liquidate the stock – 600 lots of bags. including the pink outfit – through the Gros auction house in Paris. & Delettrez and focusing on accessories, her original obsession.

Ms. Benier says she’s been interested in fashion for as long as she can remember, not just “new” fashion. Rather, she likes things with a plot. Born and raised in the neighborhood of St.-Germain-des-Prés, she credits her father, a mosaic worker, who instilled in her respect for exceptional craftsmanship and the belief that artisans put their hearts to soul in what they do. Her esoteric views are attributed to her by her astrological sign, Cancer.

“I have a very sensual relationship with objects,” she says. “They talked to me. When I sell a bag, not just a bag, I tell the customer where it came from, why it’s special. You build a connection that does not exist in the virtual world”.

Although she has purchased a number of retail and auction products, today Ms. Benier mainly sources her goods by searching inquiries. “There’s nothing better than when someone calls and says, ‘I have this for you,'” she said. “I always hope they’ll surprise me. Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes it’s not. .”

“In life, there are things that belong to us, and then one day we have to part. Karma changes and you have to keep going for something better to come to it,” Ms. Benier said before auctioning her own.

In the pre-Covid era, during fashion week, one could often find a security detail blocking tiny Rue Guisarde while a wealthy customer flicks multiple bags off the shelf. Every now and then, a customer stops by to upgrade a bag by selling an old one back, which Ms. Benier says is how she has turned three times the same black Kelly bag.

On a recent morning, a reporter had to wait outside Les 3 Marches while a 20-year-old customer inquired about a rare miniature Kelly evening clutch in the window. Its price: 14,000 €.

Les 3 Marches is clearly one of the highest priced vintage shops in town. “My price reflects the purchase amount,” Ms. Benier said. “If something is worth the money in the beginning, it’s worth the money.”

However, there are still some products available for much less than the current retail price and well below those listed on resale platforms such as The Real Real, Vestiaire Collective and Hardly Ever Worn It : Classic Kelly for €4,800 or Birkin for €7,500 – while if you make your bag wish list at Hermès, entry-level retail prices for these styles range from €9,000 to €18,000. And a 2.55 Chanel is listed at €3,800 (retail, €8,000).

That is, if it were to be sold in the first place.

Above Mrs. Benier’s desk is an arrangement of objects “purely for visual enjoyment,” including a wicker basket designed by Mr. Lagerfeld that once belonged to the editor. Famous Italian fashionista Anna Piaggi, a Lilliputian Kelly in black lizard skin was originally commissioned. by an unnamed Hollywood actress for her daughter and sunglasses featuring the silhouette of Coco Chanel.

Also dotted around the shop: good luck charms according to feng shui principles. Tucked away in a hidden corner is a giant diamond-shaped crystal paperweight. The glittering snowballs represent the element of water. All but concealed was a 500 franc note (originally worth about $85) received from Linda Evangelista, who stopped by and bought a Chanel bandana in the store’s early days.

Ms. Benier said she took it as the best omen possible and had never considered extravagant spending.

Then there’s her most prized possession, the original Birkin bag: “The first It-bag of all time.”

Miss Benier bought the bag in 2000 for a sum she refused to disclose after it re-emerged at an auction (original and eponymous owner, Jane Birkin sold it at an auction. charity for AIDS research in 1994).

“The goose with the golden eggs and magic beans is nothing compared to my joy when I know the bag is mine,” Ms. Benier said.

“For me, the bag has no commercial value, because I never intended to sell it,” she continued. “For me, it was extraordinary, like finding Adam’s ribs. It is the most beautiful, most coveted piece in the history of fashion. “

Since then, she has turned down offers of the bag at any price (including from Rihanna), keeping it a secret except for occasional appearances in exhibitions at MoMA and Liberty department stores. of London and Galeries Lafayette in Paris. It is currently on its way back to Paris from the exhibition “Bag: Inside” at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.

Where it might go next is yet to be confirmed. She dreamed of placing it at Maison Gainsbourg, a newly opened museum in the home of Serge Gainsbourg, on Rue de Verneuil in the Seventh Arrondissement.

“The Birkin was born in 1984, when Jane was still living in that famous house. It’s like being part of the family,” she said.

Then there is her collection of some 2,500 Hermès scarves, which Ms. Benier said she believes is one of the largest in the world. She can talk about designs and their illustrators, at length. The same goes for a range of Chanel fashion jewelry.

“I turned my passion into my modeling, but not everything exists for the sake of making money,” she says. “There’s a memory that needs to be lived on.” Best Classic Secrets in Paris

Fry Electronics Team

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