Vintage Chanel: How to Spot the Real Deal

12.13.23

Interview with Jillian Bremer, Luxury Vintage Collector

By Jamie Lewin

I have been lucky enough to work with and know Jillian Bremer over the past decade and to see her covetable collection of vintage handbags and jewelry from some of the world's most sought-after luxury brands. Jillian started collecting in 2012 and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sourcing hard-to-find pieces. I sat down with Jillian to find out how she started collecting vintage handbags, specifically Chanel, where she sources them, and how she spots an authentic Chanel bag from a fake. Jillian let us in on her vast knowledge of Chanel bags, from their history and design, where she sources them, and how to spot the real deal. And if you scroll to the bottom, you can shop some of the most popular bags from her collection. But hurry, they don't last long!

Photo: Curated from Jillian's collection of vintage Chanel Bags @vettedmag

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1. When did you start collecting and selling vintage Chanel bags?

Chanel is my all time favorite luxury European fashion house, especially the Karl Lagerfeld era of the 1980s and 1990s. I've been collecting and selling vintage accessories since 2012 and specifically Chanel, since 2017. Previously, I owned a vintage company named Sweet & Spark and we had stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles but, post pandemic I have pivoted into selling vintage in a more curated way on my personal website. I specialize in 1980s,1990s and early 2000s Chanel jewelry, scarves, bags and belts. The most coveted styles from these decades are the quilted flap bags, Gripoix necklaces and earrings, silk scarves, tweed jackets, bold pendants, chokers, coin earrings, cuff bracelets and crossbody camera bags. The iconic details and motifs from these decades are hearts, pearls, leather wrapped chains, interlocking ccs, lambskin leather and enameling.

2. Where do you go to find vintage Chanel handbags?

Unlike some sites, like The Real Real and Rebag, which offer a wide range of quality, I uphold high quality standards for my collection. I find that the best vintage quality comes from Japan. Culturally, they take incredible care of the pieces and oftentimes the handbags rarely look used many years and even decades later. I have built relationships with a handful of vintage resellers abroad as well as do my own shopping on eBay from vendors that I trust. When you're shopping for vintage Chanel bags, especially the iconic quilted styles, you want to make sure that it still has the integrity of its shape, especially that the sides aren't sagging in, that the hardware has minimal tarnish and that the leather doesn't have noticeable stains or nicks, especially on the back side and around the corners. Vintage Chanel is known for their buttery soft lambskin leather, which only gets better with age, and 24kt gold plated hardware which was discontinued in the early 2000s. Textured, caviar leather, which is more durable, was used infrequently in these decades, until it became popular in the 2000s, so finding a vintage caviar leather bag is quite the find!

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3. How do you authenticate a real Chanel bag vs a fake Chanel bag?

You definitely want to be sure that what you are purchasing is a genuine Chanel bag. The first thing to note is that every single bag has a hologrammed authentication number stamped inside and therefore can be easily dated. If a bag doesn't have a clear Chanel stamp, I recommend passing on it. However, while all bags are issued with an authentication card, which looks like the shape of a credit card, it's not unusual for these cards to be missing from vintage styles. What's most important is the serial number sticker that can be found inside of the bag, usually in the corner. Since I've seen hundreds of Chanel bags over the years, I would say that my expertise comes from experience. I thoroughly understand the quality standards and designs over the years and therefore mix that knowledge with my senses to tell an authentic bag from a fake bag. There are some standard things to verify on every bag to start, like making sure there is a consistent diamond pattern throughout the bag, that the diamond pattern lines up correctly, and counting the number of stitches in each quilting pattern. Authentic Chanel handbags have a high stitch count, usually above 9 stitches per inch. I also make sure it has 24kt gold hardware, flathead screws that attach the hardware, the Chanel copyright marks, and the markings on the CC logo lock. On a Chanel logo lock, the right C will always overlap the left C at the top. And the left C will overlap the right C at the bottom. As far as the original dust bag and box goes, it doesn't change the value if they're no longer around and I'd say 80% of the ones I come across no longer have either of these. But buying from a trustworthy, reputable source is one of the most important things. It's the best way to really guarantee authenticity.

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4. What was the most exciting or unusual Chanel bag you ever found and why?

Some of my favorite Chanel bags are the fashion fabrics and colors in the classic flap styles. I adore the colorful tweeds, suedes and lambskin leathers that are rare and therefore so special to own. Some other rare styles I often stop to admire are the Kelly top handle, the alligator leather evening bags, and the wicker basket bags. Back in the days at Sweet & Spark, we had a bubblegum pink lambskin leather double flap bag with 24kt gold plated hardware that was in absolute mint condition and was so rare. I still think about it often! Another recent favorite was a dark chocolate brown suede tote that was also in mint condition, something that as you can imagine is rare for such a delicate fabric.

5. Which bags are the most coveted by your customers?

The most iconic Chanel bag style is the 2.55 double flap bag that Coco Chanel designed in February 1955. She was tired of carrying her handbags in her hands and invented the double chain strap!

The most popular style I sell is the classic vintage flap bag with the dreamy yellow gold 24kt hardware. It's the style of bags everyone thinks about when they hear the words vintage Chanel! I personally love the full crossbody styles, which come in a mini or small size because of how practical they are. Another popular style I sell often is the jumbo flap bag which is another iconic style from the 1990s; however, for someone who is on the shorter side, it is a harder style to pull off! Black lambskin leather in these style is by far the most popular but I also have a lot of requests for red, navy, beige and white which were all seasonal colors at Chanel and therefore are much harder to find. If you're ever looking for something specific, please don't hesitate to reach out to me to discuss sourcing! I also sell a variety of tote styles, like the Grand Shopping Tote, Cerf Executive Tote and Chocolate Bar Tote.

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6. Do you sell to stores or directly to clients?

I've been in the vintage business since 2012 and sell directly to clients via instagram and on my website. I usually have new arrivals in my shop weekly and do an unboxing series on my Instagram stories, sharing finds I just got in, so that my community can get first dibs! I really love creating personal relationships with my clients, many of them have become friends.

7. Were there any bags you found and just had to keep for yourself?

I have three Chanel bags in my personal collection. My first was a chocolate brown lambskin leather tote with oversized chunky chain straps that I treated myself to after opening our second store! My second was a navy lambskin leather camera bag, that I treated myself to when we closed our business. It serves as a special memory of what we accomplished over the years. I also have a classic single flap bag in black that is probably my favorite because my mom gifted me it. I recently worked with Leather Surgeons to have the hardware refinished and the leather cleaned and conditioned on that one and was so impressed with how it turned out! Highly recommend their plating and spa services.

8. Is there anything you are still searching for?

I would love to start offering Chanel clutches at some point but surprisingly they are hard to find! Other than that I'm always keeping my eyes open for 1980s and 1990s styles that are in excellent condition and haven't been recolored or altered in any way. I currently have a request for a Jumbo flap bag in beige or brown so have been keeping my eyes peeled for one in excellent condition!

If you are searching for a genuine Chanel bag in the vintage market, please remember to follow Jillian's guidelines to ensure it's real. Check the serial stickers, Chanel authenticity card, the stitch count on the diamond quilts, and the Chanel logos and hardware. If you can't pick up on the small differences of a fake yourself, make sure you work with a reputable dealer like Jillian who will guarantee you have a genuine bag. There are very good Chanel replicas out there (they don't call them "Super fakes" for nothing!), but at the end of the day they don't compare to the exceptional quality of real Chanel purses. To keep the quality of your Chanel bag, Jillian says to make sure to keep yours in the dust bag, store the chains tucked inside, and fill the bag with bubble wrap to keep its shape when you are not using it. It's also important not to stack anything on top of it. When you pay for luxury goods you want to get the best materials and construction and make sure to retain that quality. If you do, a real Chanel bag will be yours forever.

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