Website of the Month
04 Mar. 2013
WEBSITE OF THE MONTH: BYRONESQUE.COMToday we are launching a new online feature, Website of the Month, in which we will highlight our favorite fashion-related websites–whether they are an online retailer, blog, news site, etc. Our first Website of the Month is byronesque.com, a new New York-based destination that combines editorial content and specialized e-tailing to explore and sell one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. “Despite the rapidly growing popularity of vintage fashion, there isn’t a media or retail brand dedicated to the category that speaks to a modern, avant-garde audience, who don’t want to look like everyone else or read about Kim Kardasian,” says the site’s CEO and Editor in Chief, Gill Linton, about why the site was launched a few months ago. North American Senior Features Editor Christopher Blomquist talks about byronesque.com and its services with Linton in the following interview….
Please discuss Byroneque’s purpose. And how did the site come about?
There are some industries that have existed forever and we accept them for what they are, until someone reinvents them, makes them better and raises the standard for everyone. Buying and reading about contemporary fashion is easy and can be special, but, even though vintage fashion is a fast growing category, it’s a difficult and outdated experience.
The “you never know what you might find” rummage of shopping for vintage, whether it’s at a mom and pop store, a vintage fair or on eBay, isn’t rewarding anymore. It’s frustrating and unrewarding, especially now we’re culturally trained to expect a sophisticated shopping experience, especially online.
For a sophisticated fashion consumer who appreciates the quality and stories behind vintage that doesn’t make them look like an extra in a period drama, there isn’t a globally influential, authentic, vintage fashion brand that speaks to them in a contemporary voice.
Byronesque came from dissatisfaction with the banality of today’s fast fashion culture and a frustration with the outdated nature of vintage, which has also become an abused marketing buzzword, misappropriated by faux-vintage brands, thrift stores and resale retailers.
Ultimately, we exist to challenge fashion and popular culture mediocrity and push people’s imaginations, so we don’t all look the same without adding more waste to the planet. Our editorial pays intellectual homage to the lives and minds of the most important people in fashion history and the vintage we sell is edited from a growing network of the best vintage stores and private showrooms from around the world.
And although we are a site dedicated to vintage fashion, we consider ourselves to be in the contemporary fashion business—being the first combined editorial and e-commerce website to treat designer vintage fashion with the same progressive creativity as contemporary fashion magazines and boutiques.
When exactly did it launch and what has the initial reaction been?
We launched quietly mid October 2012. We’ve had a good response to the brand and what we stand for, as well as the design and shopping experience being something genuinely new and engaging. I really believe that people are ready for something more intelligent and inspiring online. In the first week we had calls from retailers in London and the States and have subsequently taken on three more retailers than we had originally planned for.
The site combines retailing with editorial. How inter-related are the two fields today in your opinion? And what editorial offerings can we look forward to in the coming year?
Brands have been using stories in their marketing for decades. It’s only recently that the fashion world has caught up with online retailers adding “magazines” (essentially look books and fashion gossip masquerading as journalistic editorial) and magazines adding retail (with more intention than affiliate programs). It’s still an emerging model, and it’s getting better all the time, but unfortunately, for the most part, it’s an afterthought, and the user experience is derivative and unsophisticated.
Editorial has taken on the role of storytelling to drive sales, but it’s hard to differentiate when one retailer is selling the same thing as the next, especially when they don’t have a unique point of view of their own beyond what the site looks like. We specifically launched with a strong point of view about fashion and culture and the reason we exist.
The beauty of vintage is that every item has it’s own unique story; the history and provenance of the piece itself, the designer and also its journey from owner to owner. It adds a lot of emotional value to something. It’s what makes it more meaningful than, let’s say, a fast fashion knockoff.
Our goal from the outset has been to create a third way for editorial and e-commerce to coexist online, where there’s a complete overlap between editorial and e-commerce, without it feeling like a promotional look book where users are being given the hard sell. At every point of the experience, users can access related editorial content while they’re shopping and vice versa. Our product pages also provide historical context for each item and we have plans to expand this in the coming months.
We recently interviewed Vivienne Westwood about over-fashion-consumption. The interview will accompany a fashion film of models wearing original and rare Seditionaries outfits. We’re about to shoot a fashion film with the band Zebra Katz, directed by Tim Richardson. Diane Pernet has written a great historical timeline piece about the highs and lows of the fashion critic and we also have an interview with stylist Havana Lafitte talking about her inspirations for the coming year.
How were the vintage shops chosen for the site and has there been any wariness from customers about purchasing a pricey vintage garment online without seeing it any trying it on in person?
We partner with vintage retailers and showrooms around the world. Initially, I spent a lot of time going to vintage retailers across the main fashion capitals, narrowing down the real vintage from the thrift and the ugly. We only partner with retailers and showrooms that share our sense of style, that only deal in authentic, 20 years or older vintage and who have unrivaled access to private vintage sales and auctions. Our head of merchandise, Renee Bejil, is also the owner of The New World Order. He closed his store to join the company and to sell exclusively through Byronesque. He has a very contemporary approach to vintage and a lot of experience buying from global markets—being a very successful retailer himself makes him an invaluable resource for our retail partners. We get a lot of compliments about our merchandise selection.
Buying a luxury vintage item without seeing it or trying it on in person is no different from buying contemporary clothing online. We’re inspired by the success of the M’oda ‘Operandi model, as we similarly offer people something very unique while ignoring the “best-practices” that the fashion industry is trapped by.
How many members does the site currently have and how many are you looking to have in the long run?
King and Partners, who designed the site, and who are also investors in the company, created a new way of experiencing content and shopping online and the results so far show that people keep coming back to spend quality time on the site.
We’ve beaten our traffic projections so far and in the long run our goal is to significantly grow the category—it’s a misconception that vintage is a niche business.
It’s never been more credible to wear “used” clothing. It’s socially responsible and people value the scarcity and stories behind authentic “vintage” items that last. This makes it a less price sensitive business than the contemporary fashion market, and all the more appealing when you consider that margins on vintage can be anywhere from 200%-500%.
Our priority is to create an influential vintage fashion brand with a contemporary voice and grow the market globally with many more retailers around the world.
What have been the biggest challenges of running the site thus far? And the greatest joys?
Without question the biggest challenge has been integrating an international shipping platform. The carriers are so far behind online retail, it’s a joke.
The greatest joy has been creating something disruptive with our creative director Justin Westover and King & Partners who designed the site.
What are the short-term and long-term plans for the site overall? Are you looking to add more stores to the mix?
The response from retailers has been really positive and we’re adding more retailers than we first anticipated we would this early on. As we expand our inventory, we’ll be adding a broader priced range of items as well as rare used fashion and culture books. We’re also about to start offering rentals to designers and stylists of special pieces that our retailers don’t want to part with.
Later this year, we’re launching “The Back Room” a paid for subscription for fashion designers and stylists. Our initial research told us that very creative, avant-garde fashion designers and stylist who don’t follow trends are underserved online. Designers are under pressure to design more and more collections each year with less time to be inspired. The best vintage stores and showrooms have a “back room” where they keep their really special pieces. Often these items aren’t for sale but are an important source of knowledge and inspiration for designers. A subscription to The Back Room gives designers unique access to inspirational vintage and editorial content, without having to invest significant amounts of time and money on research and travel.
Why, in your opinion, is vintage fashion so important?
There aren’t subcultures like there used to be, magazines are chasing the same trends and fashion has become so driven by “corporate profit first,” that it’s hard to be really inspired anymore. Amongst the growing number of lowest common denominator fashion blogs there are few places online that take the time to create something intelligent, meaningful and beautiful to look at.
It’s easy for people to dismiss fashion as being frivolous and superficial (frankly most of it is) but 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, new romantics etc. They all had a point of view and you were either with them or against them. It created diverse groups that creatively challenged and inspired each other – it’s how subcultures morph, bifurcate and grow.
Right now the dominant culture is “fast” and I wanted to slow it down and create something better, something polarizing.
Why does the site offer womenswear only?
We get a lot of requests for menswear and we do plan to offer menswear when the time is right. It’s a massively underserved audience for those who don’t want vintage Levi’s and flannel shirts. However, our editorial is for men and women and of course the inventory is for male designers and stylists also.
How often is new product offered on the site? And new editorial content?
We have new inventory and editorial on the site at least every two weeks. We’re not a blog. We want Byronesque to feel special. It’s hard to achieve that when you bombard people with content everyday.
How do you stay in touch with your members?
We do send e-mails, but currently only 2-3 per week when we have new items or editorial to share. Our Facebook timeline is the history according to Byronesque, which doesn’t include most of the usual suspects, so we have quite a good dialogue going on there.
We also encourage people to use our personal shopper service. We only partner with retailers and showrooms who have unrivaled access to private vintage sales and auctions. This means we’re tapped into a pretty impressive network of vintage experts. If you’re looking for something in particular or an item isn’t your size or has already sold, we’ll do our best to find a similar item. Obviously everything we sell has its own unique story, so we can never find the exact same item, but that’s why we wear vintage.
What is your personal favorite aspect of the site?
Being an inspiration to fashion designers and stylists is personally very important to me. We’re not driven by trends.
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