It seemed that there was a treasure in the garbage bags. Comme des Garçons, Maison Margiela, Helmut Lang and Jean Paul Gaultier were all names on the tags of the clothes stuffed inside.
The 10 black plastic bags arrived in September at a 500,000-square-foot building in Perth Amboy, N.J., where RealReal, a luxury resale marketplace, operates one of four authentication centers. They were sent by a seller who said the clothes came from a vintage store her aunt ran in Florida. After examining the contents of the bags, about 100 items of clothing in total, it was determined that the clothes were genuine – and that they could be sold second-hand for $100,000.
“These are some of the best Gautier pieces we’ve ever come across,” said Dominik Halas, master authenticator at The RealReal, which specializes in vintage clothing, which the company defines as items that are at least 20 years old.
Halas, 29, is one of the youngest people The RealReal has trusted to authenticate clothing, jewelry and other accessories. Previously working as menswear merchandising manager and archival expert at the company, where he started in 2017, he was asked to join the authentication team shortly after it began reselling vintage clothing in 2019, the same year that RealReal became a public company. (Its stock debuted on the Nasdaq at $20 a share; it now trades for less than $2.)
“We needed the right experts,” said Rachel Weisman, vice president of merchandising operations. Although RealReal has been selling vintage handbags since its inception in 2011, vintage clothing requires “a dedicated expert with extensive knowledge and passion,” she added.
Passion for (vintage) fashion
At the authentication center in Perth Amboy, clothing racks are arranged in rows that look longer than city blocks. On Monday earlier this month, Halas was picking his way through pieces of 10 bags of trash that had arrived several weeks ago. The clothes, most of which were from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, included a double-breasted black and white Jean Paul Gaultier jacket with a fabric lining featuring a male torso. The jacket was from the designer’s fall 1992 collection, which debuted before Halas was even born.
Another piece plucked from the trash bags: the “iconic Margiela tattoo top” from the spring 1994 collection, which Halas noted paid homage to an earlier piece introduced in 1989. “It’s transparent and clingy, and the tattoo print resonates with the audience,” he said. “They look so relevant to fashion now, so they retain their value.” Halas added that the top probably sold for “a few hundred dollars” when it debuted; The RealReal listed it at $7,000. Many factors determine the price of The RealReal. Condition is taken into account, as well as whether the item has ever been worn by a celebrity or featured in a museum exhibit. Commissions paid to sellers vary based on factors such as sale price and type of item.
Halas said there has been recent interest in Romeo Giuliag clothing — particularly pieces from the early 1990s, when a young Alexander McQueen worked for the brand before launching his own line. “It’s a great job and people are really paying attention to the McQueen seasons,” he said. Other brands that have become more desirable in recent years include French label Marithe and Francois Girbaud and Japanese line Matsuda, he added.
Born in Slovakia, Halas moved with his family to Montclair, New Jersey, in 1997 when he was 4 years old. a 2007 article about designer Helmut Lang in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
As a student at Montclair High School, he started a fashion club and learned the business of vintage fashion while working at Speakeasy Vintage, a boutique in Montclair that is now closed.
As a teenager, Halas began buying and reselling used clothes over the Internet. “If I had $100 to invest, I would buy something on Japanese eBay and sell it on an American site for $300,” he said. After graduating from Brown University, where he studied art history and architecture, he worked in showrooms including goods and services in New York and then consulted for Helmut Lang before joining The RealReal.
Along the way, Halas amassed his own fashion archive, which now contains about 500 items stored in his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, his parents’ home in Montclair, and his brother’s dorm room at Bard College in Annandale. on the Hudson. New York. “A lot of my net worth is in clothes, so I hope it pays off,” he said of his collection, which includes menswear and womenswear by designers such as Yohji Yamamoto and Helmut Lang. Hedi Slimane is another favorite, especially his creations for Dior Homme’s Fall 2003 collection.
In addition to clothing, Halás also collects old accounts that he and other RealReal authenticators use for research.
Weeding out fakes
When asked how often he sees a fake, Halas looked visibly uncomfortable and glanced at Weisman, his boss, before answering. “Several times a day I see snippets that have not been verified,” he said. “I’ve come across fakes made now to look like clothes from the ’80s or ’90s.”
All items sent to the company are rated from 1 to 5 based on how likely they are to be counterfeit. At the lower end of the scale, Halas said, would be a pair of modern designer jeans because the resale value would not exceed the cost of making a fake pair. At the top level: bags with Chanel, Gucci or Louis Vuitton labels, which are often counterfeited. For the bags, authenticators are aided by proprietary software called Vision, which catalogs photos of authentic styles to use for reference.
“This is how we scale Dominica globally,” Weissman said. The most difficult items to assess are reserved for authentication masters like Halás. Looking at a black Yohji Yamamoto coat, he paid particular attention to the tags that marked the coat’s size with a number, a detail that meant the piece was introduced after the spring 2000 collection (before that, he said, sizes were marked with letters). The tags also used a serif font, a detail that Halas said indicated the coat was from a pre-2010 collection. He added that the YKK zipper on the two-pull coat was a common feature in pieces from the label.
“I know it fits in the collection,” said Halas, who ultimately decided the coat was from the fall 2002 collection.
A sweater with a Louis Vuitton tag became more suspicious. Like other pieces from the brand’s fall 2018 collection, it featured a print that read “peace and love.” But closer inspection revealed that the seams on the garment were not neatly aligned and that the tag was thicker than on other Vuitton items. The tag also stated that it contained very fine vicuña fur. Halas said that when he touched the sweater, he could tell that it was too coarse to hold the material, so he thought the garment was fake.
Most sellers are notified when RealReal cannot verify the authenticity of an item. Suspicious items sent unknowingly are returned. “We have a three-strikes policy,” Weisman said. “We will notify the shipper why we cannot accept the item.” When authenticators suspect “obvious fraudulent intent, we seize the item and destroy it, and we cooperate with law enforcement,” she added.
Weissman said that if customers believe something they buy from the company isn’t genuine, “we’ll always take it back and offer it to an expert.”
Watching Halas in action suggests that his work is not exactly science. Determining the authenticity of certain items of clothing—say, a Louis Vuitton sweater or a light blue nylon jacket with the Prada logo—can sometimes be more of an art.
“The quality of the material confuses me,” he said, holding a nylon jacket. “I feel like a real Prada ready-to-wear every day, and the best I can say is that it doesn’t feel expensive enough.”