On an otherwise conventional Friday morning during Paris Fashion Week in late September, with flotillas of black cars arriving at salubrious venues scattered across the city, a showroom in the 16th arrondissement was about to host a different kind of coveted ticketed event: a trip back in time — specifically, to the vaunted Phoebe Philo era at Celine (a.k.a. Céline).
“People went nuts for these pieces,” says Sofia Bernardin, co-founder of Re-See, which hosted the weekend-long archive sale dedicated to the Philo years at the French heritage brand at its newly-opened Paris showroom. “There are definitely brands that follow trends, and there are brands that focus on longevity and timelessness — that’s what Phoebe Philo did.”
In order to make the event possible, the Paris-based online luxury consignment platform collaborated with Martina Lohoff, the founder of Old Céline Archive, an Instagram page that handpicks and sells pieces from the British designer’s tenure at the house. Lohoff — who lives and works in Germany — contributed 100 items from her personal collection; Re-See sourced around 100 more from other vendors across the globe. Pieces from some of the most epoch-defining shows were up for grabs for collectors and fans (a few hundred customers), with prices ranging from €500 to €1,900.
Bernardin, a former advertising executive at American Vogue, founded Re-See with Sabrina Marshall, who used to be the fashion editor at Self Service, in 2013. The business was born from conversations between the two Paris-based Americans about the collections they missed out on when they were young fashion assistants with meager salaries. Celine is just one of a number of luxury brands it stocks on its site.
“What if there was a place where you could find all of those iconic moments in fashion without having to sift through hours of junk on eBay?,” asks Bernardin over Zoom from her office in Paris. (Absent from the call: Marshall, who was at a client meeting.) “A place that was really curated and brought back all of these moments in one place.”
Initially, Re-See sourced its inventory from contacts in Paris, as well as the founders’ native cities, New York (Bernardin) and Los Angeles (Marshall). Word of the project quickly spread through the industry, which enabled connections with various editors, stylists, designers and collectors in each corner of the globe. Today, Re-See counts 20 employees in its Paris office, and works with a team of ambassadors stationed in key cities like New York, Zurich, Seoul and Tokyo — ranging from women in their 20s to septuagenarian former VIP client managers at luxury boutiques, who activate their networks to produce an extensive catalog of fashion, accessories and fine jewelry, ranging from 1930s silk gowns to 1970s Celine to 2017 Balenciaga.
Unlike on other platforms where vendors will upload photos of products, sell and package them themselves, Re-See streamlines the process by visiting clients’ houses and helping clean their closets or making it easy to send pieces directly to the Paris showroom, where they’re inspected before being photographed for the site. Each piece undergoes a restoration from the Re-See team, breathing new life into old garments and ensuring they hold their original value to the highest degree possible.
Bernardin and Marshall wanted to distinguish Re-See in a growing resale market that includes players like Depop, Vestiaire Collective, Grailed and The RealReal by creating an ultra-luxury, fashion-forward resale environment with inspiring and authenticated inventory — a place where you can not just shop past collections, but also come back and learn about them. The point isn’t to get a discounted item, necessarily (though it’s possible), but to find the ones that got away.
“When we worked in fashion editorial, you had to have the latest collections as they dropped in store,” Bernardin says. “When the season ended and the moment was over, you couldn’t be seen wearing them anymore. There’s something so wrong about that because when you have these amazing, iconic pieces, you should be able to wear them for years.”
Earlier this year, WWD reported that while the volume of transactions is smaller at Re-See than its competitors, its average basket is higher than the industry norm, rising to just under €1,300 in the first half of 2022. Its bestselling brands are Hermès, Chanel, Celine, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga; its top markets are the U.S., France and the UK.
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Bernardin emphasizes how Re-See witnessed “a huge change in momentum” during the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumer mentality around resale completely changed. People who never really considered buying secondhand before felt like they wanted to positively contribute to the environment through their consumption habits. On the other hand, people who never thought about selling their wares were spurred on by a Marie Kondo-esqe desire to purge unnecessary and unwanted belongings, and began exploring resale during global lockdowns.
“Any taboo was washed away,” Bernardin says. “It catapulted us into a whole new universe of resale.”
According to a report from Boston Consulting Group in partnership with Vestiaire Collective, the global apparel, footwear, and accessories resale market is estimated to be valued between $100 to $120 billion — and it’s “nearly tripled in size since 2020, and shows no signs of slowing down.” As a result, we’ve seen more and more brands launching their own resale businesses.
Even on the fast-fashion end of things, Zara is setting up ways for UK shoppers to resell, repair or donate clothing bought in stores, as part of a bid to mitigate its environmental impact. Ditto with Pretty Little Thing, which launched a marketplace-style platform to allow customers to sell “pre-loved” items.
“For us, it’s not just about selling someone’s secondhand clothes,” Bernardin says. “It’s about inspiring people to want to shop better.”
Re-See is having some “interesting dialogues” with brands who are considering entering the space, according to Bernardin, but she remains tight-lipped with regards to names. This month, though, it announced a partnership with Alaïa — one of its top performers since its launch — on an exclusive sale of curated pieces from its archive.
In a statement, Alaïa’s CEO Myriam Serrano said the collaboration with Re-See is a “significant initiative to put circularity into action.”
Even with backers eyeing up potential investment, Bernardin is forthright about her and Marshall’s intentions: Since day one, they have refused capital from investors and brands that they felt weren’t a good fit. (In September 2022, Re-See launched a funding round as it eyes global expansion.)
“We love forming these partnerships with these people that are as passionate about fashion and these moments in fashion as we are,” she says, with reference to collaborators like Alexander Fury, with whom Re-See hosted an event in Paris in July showcasing his extraordinary haute couture collection.
With a stateside outpost in the works, Bernardin reflects upon the last nine years and the slow and steady ascendance of Re-See.
“Luxury is a brick-by-brick approach,” she says. “And the most important thing is to have a point of view. We want to be the Chanel or Hermès of resale, and that takes time.”