Pre-Owned Luxury Goods Seduce the MENA region

Once frowned upon across the Arab world, vintage fashion is now relished by local style aficionados

Old is the “new” new. If 2020 taught us one thing it’s that we need to be more conscious about our fashion choices, and vintage is as stylish as it gets when it comes to circular fashion.

It all started before the pandemic, when Jennifer Aniston chose a white satin bias-cut Dior gown for the Screen Actors Guild Awards in February 2020. Designed by John Galliano, the dress was part of the brand’s spring/summer 1999 collection. Soon after, Kim Kardashian West ensured vintage became the most talked-about trend of awards season 2020, when she walked into the into Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Alexander McQueen’s 2003 Oyster dress.

Pre-owned luxury accessories from 1954 by Rae Joseph Fashion Trust Arabia
Pre-owned luxury accessories from 1954 by Rae Joseph

In the MENA region, vintage dressing seems to be achieving a real style status. Saudi-born style icon Rae Joseph is a lawyer by profession and shuttles between New York and Riyadh. Three years ago, she launched 1954 by Rae Joseph, an online platform dealing in pre-owned luxury products, as she felt there was a gap in the market for a curated vintage destination. Her brand was recently on-boarded by one of this region’s luxury e-tailers, Ounass. Says Joseph, “There has not been the right exposure to vintage in this part of the world. There is a stigma with anything seen as ‘used’ or ‘second-hand’ rather than vintage, which is generally viewed as more luxurious and unique (which are true characteristics of vintage). The only negative reactions arise when the term ‘used’ is part of the equation.” And as more platforms and stores like 1954 educate the market on the beauty of vintage, there is a growing interest in the category.  

Beirut too is home to a handful of pre-owned luxury stores, including Chic Beirut. Its founder and managing partner Layla Bissar notes, “The crown jewels of the pre-owned world remain those highly sought-after classics like the collectible Hermès, Chanel, Dior and Fendi pieces.”

One Vintage Designs Fashion Trust Arabia
One Vintage Designs

In fashion, for a piece to be termed as vintage it generally has to pre-date 2000, so be at least 20 years old. And as seasonless becomes fashion’s new mantra, vintage pieces will automatically be more in demand. Says Rae, “People are starting to view vintage as ‘investment pieces.’ This signifies a shift in consumer mindset, which in the past tended to follow seasonal trends and quickly move on.”

While accessories are more in demand (Hermès Kelly and Birkin bags are high on the list), there’s also a growing appetite for pre-owned clothing. Rae says that younger Arabs are really embracing this trend, as vintage pieces are style buys that are sustainable. “The younger generation are more ‘woke,’ as they say, and hence more aware of the value of vintage and the benefits of wearing vintage, whether on unique style and individuality or on bigger issues such as sustainability and the environment.”

Rae Joseph Fashion Trust Arabia
Rae Joseph

And for inspiration these younger shoppers can turn to a niche set of Arabs that have looked to collect vintage pieces when they travel. London-based One Vintage Designs has been in business for 20 years, and makes one-off vintage pieces upcycled from beautiful textiles sourced by its founder, Beirut-born Marcelle Symons. She notes that about 45% of her clients are Arab – and these women really know their fashion. Lily et Cie in Beverly Hills, where both Aniston and Kardashian West bought their dresses, has always had a regular set of clients from the MENA region. “I have noticed that our Middle Eastern clients travel a lot and have homes all around the world and are super well educated,” says Lily et Cie’s founder and owner Rita Watnick. “So when you add haute couture to the mix, it would be impossible for them not to include very high-end vintage.” It’s only natural that in the MENA region, where there’s a penchant for beautifully made collectible fashion, the vintage trend looks set to explode.