They don't make things like they used to

Updated: 2013-11-11 00:35

By Kitty Go (China Daily)

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They don't make things like they used to

 Bernardini Luxury Vintage's shop in Central, Hong Kong.

An innovative new retail concept is taking vintage luxury items and repurposing them for modern use. Kitty Go reports from what may be the world's chicest recycling boutique in Hong Kong.

There is a Broadway tune titled Everything Old is New Again which could summarize the many ways vintage objects get "a new lease on life". With a retail concept not yet experienced in Asia and rarely seen in the West, seasoned retailer and successful fashion e-tailer Adrienne Ma is breathing a second life into collectibles. Think 1950s-Louis Vuitton cases turned mahjong set holders or iPod docks, Goyard suitcases becoming dressing tables or portable whiskey bars (hanging against a wall, no less) or rock crystal from a 1930s chandelier that formerly hung in the palace of an Italian nobleman now dangling as a glamorous handbag hook.

Clearly this is way beyond your typical expensive, specialty vintage boutique. Ma is CEO of Bernardini Luxury Vintage, a pioneering retail concept in Asia in partnership with the Milanese luxury vintage boutique.

"The reason I opened something like this is I really appreciate the beauty of these pieces," says Ma with great enthusiasm and a twinkle in her eye. "I want to share it and I am confident that Asians will have the same ability to appreciate them as well. I am pioneering a retail concept as well as a trend … The fun part of this new venture is that we are taking an early stake in a new industry that is just warming up… Yes, there are vintage watches and antiques around but this format of modern or luxury vintage is not done yet … This is an alternative to the vintage and antique markets we see around the world."

If there is anyone who has literally lived with luxury in life and business, it has to be Ma, who devoted most of her career to luxury brands and boutiques in Asia and then set up Chinese e-tailer, which she later sold to Net-a-porter. She has the ability to sniff a trend before the market even knows one is coming.

The first thing Ma wants to define is the term modern or luxury vintage. "Antiques are over a hundred years old and they are decorative things that you collect, store or display. Other than beauty and value, you can't really use them. There's hardly any functionality to them," she explains. "What we have are collectibles from 1900 to the 1980s. So we technically — and I am no historian — do not classify our merchandise as antiques yet."

Every piece in the boutique has to be functional. "When we choose anything, we have usage in mind. What can you do with LV trunks aside from using them as coffee or side tables? From trunks, cases, handbags, you name it, the way anything functions will complement and will be suitable to today's lifestyle," she emphasizes. But not everything that has a function makes the cut. She turned down a specially commissioned hand painted enamel cigarette case because it would not hold today's longer and fatter cigarettes.

For his personal use, Milan partner Max Bernardini fashioned a Valextra cabine traveling case to stylishly house his audio-visual equipment. Another great idea she turned down. "I thought that idea was very brave but I turned it down because I suspect, with me as an example, Asians tend to have a lot of AV equipment and they want the newest ones. Europeans have simpler and more basic tastes when it comes to AV. With us, by the time you hook everything up, you will need a wardrobe trunk! I always consider the functionality's feasibility to and habits of the local market."

Another unique selling point is that all merchandise is in excellent condition and meets today's quality standards. Tiffany champagne glasses from 1910 sparkle like new. A Rolex from 1939 tells "the correct, present" time. A 1950s Hermes Birkin looks just the right side of used. "It's not that we just brush them up or completely remake them into mint condition. Asian customers, like myself, while they appreciate history, don't like things too beat up," Ma says.

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