Q&A: Cherie Balch of Shrimpton Couture, Vintage Dealer
We did a digital sit-down with Cherie Balch, vintage couture connoisseur and dealer, and picked her brain about her brand and how vintage has become the hottest go-to on the red carpet.
Tell us about Shrimpton Couture. What’s your story? How did you start?
I have always collected but followed a more corporate path. As I moved upon the ladder in my career I was able to indulge in my collecting more and more. In my spare time I was really delving into the research and history of fashion. Then one day about 12 years ago, I bought my first piece of vintage that was $1000. It was an Ossie Clark and from a very famous vintage store at the time. It arrives jammed into an envelope, uncleaned and wrinkled beyond belief. It was still very beautiful and as I looked at that poor little dress I thought, I could do better then this. I launched a very tiny little web store that was more of a hobby then anything else and then in 2008 made the jump to pursue this 100% and have never looked back. And yes I still have that dress!
What are some of your favorite projects/experiences that have come about since starting SC?
So many! Working with stylists who are dressing big stars for the red carpet is always a thrill of course, but so is dressing a girl for her wedding or a big event in her life. Its thrilling to uncover a piece of couture from some unexpected source. That always gives me a sense of awe. I love the research part of things and am always proud that my contribution is adding to the future provenance of a piece.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced when it comes to sourcing, marketing, content?
It is very challenging to get mainstream attention for the overall brand. They want a story and selling vintage is not a story. So thats always a tough one to work around and I have not quite figured out the answer to it to be perfectly honest. I just plug away at things. Instagram has been a dream. It really allows you to connect with people all over the world and to get your message out.
You talk a lot about sustainability in buying vintage/second hand. You've recently mentioned that in your business clothes don't have a "shelf life" as with other retailers.
I used to avoid that word “sustainability” like the plague, I felt like it was more a marketing ploy then a movement. But as the world has evolved I have changed my stance on that front. I now like to mention it more often because it is important to not just treat fashion as throwaways. It does make a difference and clothing was made differently and with more care. I think at very least it is something for people to take into consideration when they spend their hard earned dollars. I buy new and current as well for my own closet but its with great care and with a view that this will be a piece of 'future vintage’.
Is it more satisfying dressing people that have a true sense of their style rather than basing their look solely on current collections?
When it comes to style there is a bit more freedom when it comes to vintage. You can pretty much throw the rules of the season out the window. It really allows you to create your own point of view through what you choose to wear. You can still give a nod to the current season’s trends but at least you are not wearing the exact thing everyone else is wearing! Where is the fun in that?
You've sourced for some well-known celebrities and tastemakers - who have been some of your favorite people to dress?
Anyone who chooses to wears vintage over new, especially in a world where they are often paid or gifted the items, has a permanent place in my heart.
Who are some of your favorite designers that you think people should be collecting?
This is one of those questions that I get asked a lot and its the hardest to answer. The obvious answer is the greats like, YSL, Dior etc. The current in vogue answer is the avant-garde, the Japanese, McQueen, Comme… the real answer is that like all collecting, you should follow your heart and buy what you love. If you click with a designer then that is your path.
Of the contemporary designers, who are your favorites?
I love what Pierpaolo Piccioli has brought to the house of Valentino. I cannot imagine at the death of contentment that Mr Valentino must have to see his legacy in such great and capable hands. I have seen so many great ateliers wither away and die when their original creative founder leaves and it gives me great joy to see Valentino succeed.
What is your "holy grail" piece?
My latest great find, and then the next, and the next…..
As someone who is constantly surrounded by fashion, how do you keep yourself from seriously becoming a hoarder?
I don’t. I just succumb and try to find the extra room.
How do you stay organized?
I am OCD about my vintage. Staying organized is never the problem.
Is there a difference in craftsmanship that you've noticed from pieces created 70 years ago vs. today?
100%. Great craftsmanship is still out there. It absolutely exists and it is a fallacy to say that all the masters of the crafts have gone and fashion is all mass produced. But the ratio changes steadily as time passes. As you go farther into the past, the quality is all at a bar sky high for pieces produced for sale. As you move forward that bar is still there but the prices have risen to match it. It is harder to get that quality at anything normal people can afford. That is why vintage is such an extraordinary bargain. Even the highest priced things are still relatively cheap compared to their modern, new counterparts.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
If I say buying vintage is that cheating the question?
You can follow Shrimpton Couture on Instagram @shrimptoncouture or visit the website: www.shrimptoncouture.com.