NEW YORK, United States — Today, curated online marketplace Byronesque is set to launch with the aim of connecting consumers across the world with a carefully edited selection of designer vintage from a growing network of specialised boutiques, beginning with One of a Kind in London, Quidam de Revel in Paris and The New World Order in New York. Seed investors include Andrew Rosen, the late Marvin Traub and Morty Singer from Marvin Traub Associates, as well as digital agency King & Partners, who developed the site. The company’s valuation was not disclosed.
“Vintage stores are run by individuals who often don’t have the time or resources to create and manage a successful e-commerce business. They are also scattered around the world and poorly merchandised,” Byronesque’s CEO and editor-in-chief, Gill Linton, told BoF in an exclusive pre-launch interview. “We provide a sophisticated online shopping environment and very easy backend e-commerce system for them to sell their collections to an international audience who otherwise wouldn’t have access to this quality of merchandise.”
“It was a natural progression for me. I love the idea of being able to reach a broader audience,” said Renee Bejil, owner of The New World Order, considered to be one of the most meticulously curated designer vintage shops in New York, who shuttered the store’s physical retail operations to sell exclusively through Byronesque, where he is now employed as head of merchandise.
“I have been asked by a lot of sites to sell my collections, but Byronesque is the only one that totally understood me and my contemporary approach to vintage,” said Jeff Ihenacho, owner of One of a Kind, one of London’s most carefully sourced vintage stores. “I felt comfortable with their vision. They understand the importance of authenticity.”
The definition of what qualifies as authentic vintage fashion can be extremely fuzzy, however. Sites like Nasty Gal and ModCloth have built highly successful online businesses selling vintage and vintage-inspired fashion. But Linton is careful to differentiate her approach. “ModCloth and Nasty Gal have always been more thrift than designer vintage,” she said. “Vintage has become a marketing buzzword abused by faux-vintage brands, thrift stores, resale boutiques and online marketplaces. Authentic vintage is at least 20 years old.”
But like the Betty Davis-inspired Nasty Gal, with its “badass” and “unapologetically sexy” vibe, Byronesque (named after Romantic poet Lord Byron) has a clear stylistic point of view. Unmistakably dark and subversive, the site is rooted in an affinity for irreverent subcultures and a firm belief that authentic vintage fashion is culturally meaningful. “When you look back at some of the most seminal subcultures in history, how people dressed played an important role in shaping identity, attitudes and beliefs. You only have to look at mods, punks, skinheads or new romantics,” said Linton, a former advertising strategist with a penchant for punky looks. It’s a perspective the site channels through its merchandise — think Vivienne Westwood “seditionaries” trousers and Claude Montana sweaters with embroidered leather cuffs — as well as a growing array of original editorial content, which currently includes an article on scars by artist Jake Chapman and a fashion film inspired by a 19th century poem, “Company of Melancholiacs.”
From a business model standpoint, Byronesque’s marketplace approach makes it more like Farfetch than Nasty Gal, however. Unlike traditional e-tailers, the company avoids the risk of buying and holding inventory, with orders drop shipped directly to customers (in Byronesque-branded packaging) by participating stores. Byronesque, which earns a commission on sales made via the site, handles customer service and works closely with stores to select and shoot inventory.
While the model offers clear advantages, execution isn’t always easy. Indeed, in its first 18 months, Farfetch faced a storm of customer complaints relating to international fulfilment issues and associated customer service failings. But, as Farfetch has demonstrated, with the right operational expertise and corresponding service upgrades, these challenges can be overcome.
Starting in early 2013, Byronesque plans to generate additional revenue through a paid subscription service aimed at fashion industry professionals called ‘The Back Room,’ offering privileged access to private sales, new items, exclusive content, a growing image archive of vintage pieces and a tailored shopping service that can help subscribers source pieces based on a specific brief.
“The best vintage stores and showrooms have a back room where they keep their really special pieces,” said Linton. “Often these items aren’t for sale, but are an important source of knowledge and inspiration for designers. Large brands are well catered to by online inspiration resources like Stylesight and WGSN, but these sites aren’t relevant to designers who don’t follow trends. We give designers unique access to inspirational vintage and editorial content, without them having to invest significant amounts of time and money on research and travel.”
As for expansion, Byronesque plans to grow steadily, maintaining a “discreet and self-discovered sensibility.” By the end of its first year, the store aims to move approximately 5000 units from about 10 hand-picked retailers.
“Right now the dominant culture is fast,” said Linton. “I wanted to slow it down and create something better, something polarizing.”
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion