As the world of fast-fashion continues to be held under an ever-critical (read: necessary) microscope, the act of adding to one’s wardrobe in the name of investment rather than trend-setting is more sought after than ever. However, the term “investment” can feel illusory at times, and what may appear to be investment-worthy to someone on a shoestring budget may, in fact, be just the opposite to someone who can afford an already plentiful collection of cashmere and Hermès. It’s hard to distinguish where the lines are drawn and what purchases might actually be worth the splurge, versus the impulse buys we justify to ourselves while standing in the checkout line at Target.
To help us unwrap what it is that makes an item worthy of investment, Rati Levesque, Chief Merchant at the world’s leading luxury consignment retailer TheRealReal has answered all of our burning questions. Spoiler alert: if you’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on those black Manolo’s in your cart, now might be the time to make your move.
Tell us a bit about yourself. “I’m Rati Levesque and I’m the Chief Merchant of The RealReal, the leader in authenticated luxury consignment. I’m responsible for the merchandising, editorial, and creative vision of the company. I also oversee all creative development, product merchandising, authentication, and customer experience.”
What did you do for work prior to working for TRR, and how did you and Julie [Wainwright, founder and CEO of TRR] connect? “Prior to joining The RealReal, I launched the fashion-forward Russian Hill boutique, Anica, with the aim to fill the void of avant-garde designers in the city. We had quite a following, especially for our luxury consignment selection. When Julie and I were introduced by a mutual friend and I heard about her vision for a new way to buy and sell consigned luxury goods, I was hooked. I joined The RealReal in 2011 as the company’s first employee.”
In your opinion, what defines an investment piece? “Clothing and accessories are objects that we use every day, so they are fashionable, but also functional. To me, investment pieces are defined by a couple of key things: quality of materials and construction, and how a specific item and brand retains value over time. Both natural and synthetic materials have a half-life, meaning with age, exposure, and especially with use, they do degrade. I believe that if you invest in better quality goods, made with high-quality materials and precise construction, you will get not only more use out of them, but more satisfaction. Additionally, these pieces will outlast your infatuation with them, meaning that if or when you fall out of love, the item can be resold to someone else who will appreciate it like you once did.
Among the spectrum of luxury fashion and prestige brands, some items retain more of their initial value (MSRP) than others. Handbags and leather goods are very durable and tend to be less seasonal, so people justify spending more for them. Occasional items like evening gowns don’t retain much value as the buyer will likely only wear it one time, so one should be more conservative with their spending.
Lastly, certain brands retain more equity than others. Hermès, Goyard, and Louis Vuitton generally have very a high return on your investment. This is due to a couple of factors: one, they don’t have seasonal sales, so customers expect to always have to pay full price; and two, these brands have a global reputation and recognizable style and logos that have cast them as the pinnacle of status symbols.”
If you had to narrow it down, what are the investment pieces that every fashion-loving woman should have in their closet forever? “Tailoring is super important; a well-cut garment defines the body in all the right ways and is a simple way to add a refined statement to any outfit. A beautifully cut and fitted blazer and an overcoat are wardrobe essentials. Buy the best you can afford and trade up as you are able.
Most people think a black slack and a black skirt are wardrobe essentials. And while I agree that a perfectly tailored pair of slacks and skirt are staples, I find different neutrals like camel, olive, or navy are actually more versatile. When the garment is simple in appearance you really want to choose a piece made of high-quality material to elevate the garment’s elegance.
Find a great piece of jewelry that you love. It should be specific to you and your personality; something that really speaks to you. I love Sophie Buhai jewelry and have a lot of her silver pieces. They’re minimalist, classic pieces, so they’re great to mix and match.
Every woman should have a shoulder bag with a flap or zipper that she can carry hands-free and a workhorse tote to use for business and travel. Choose a bag with sturdy, durable leather. For example, an Hermès Constance made out of Epsom leather is scratch-resistant, easy to clean, and lightweight. Combined with Hermès’ timeless designs, they are bags that will always be in style. Brands like Tod’s and Salvatore Ferragamo use beautiful leathers, but don’t hold their value in the same way, so they are a great option to buy on the secondary market.
A good pair of jeans is important. Care less about what silhouette is trending at the moment and choose a style that fits your body shape well. A well-cut jean should elongate the leg and positively emphasize your best assets. The production of denim is very costly on the planet, so spending a bit more for high-quality materials means they last much longer and take less of a toll on the environment.
A classic watch is truly timeless. There’s a reason the Rolex Submariner makes up the bulk of Rolex’s sales. It’s always in style, it’s impervious to trends, and it will always hold its value.
Lastly, shoes! Every season there is a new style for toe shape, heel height, etc. If you love following trends, make sure you consign these styles as soon as you’re done, before they go out of style and start to lose their value. From a classic shoe perspective, you can never go wrong with a black, calf leather Manolo Blahnik pump. You can wear with them with everything from jeans to a cocktail dress.”
Shop Rati's Investment Suggestions
Kensington Trench Coat
Silk-Blend Wide Leg Pants
$845, Max Mara
Tiny Egg Hoop Earrings
$275, Sophie Buhai
$665, Manolo Blahnik
2017 Mini Constance 18
Melk High-Rise Jeans
$250, Acne Studios
Submariner Date Watch
$1,030, Manolo Blahnik
Besides The RealReal, are there any other resources you tap regularly? “Vogue Runway is one of my favorite apps to flip through during downtime. I love that I can see all the latest looks in one place.”
Any tips for finding good deals on high-end pieces? “For starters, use The RealReal’s obsessions feature. You just click the heart on items you love to save them to your obsessions and, if one of them gets marked down, we’ll notify you. You can also create feeds on The RealReal App to help you see the newest pieces you’d be interested in right as they come in. These are essentially saved searches where you can specify designer, item type, size, and even price range. They constantly repopulate, so you can find the perfect item and see the latest inventory very easily.”
What are three investment pieces that you currently own, wear regularly, and will continue to wear for decades? “I always seem to have a great sweater by The Row or Lauren Manoogian on hand. I keep them in the office for easy layering, but they’re also really versatile pieces to dress up or down. I’ll wear one with great oversized slacks and sneakers or tucked into a simple maxi skirt with The Row knee boots. A Rachel Comey trench coat is a weekend staple for me. I need pieces that are easy for when I’m on the go with my kids, and it pairs great with denim and sneakers. I also wear my Cartier Tank watch constantly. It can literally go with anything, so it’s a great day-to-night piece.”
Shop Rati's Must-Have Pieces
What are a couple of things that are next on your investment wish list? “A vintage Cartier watch. I love the trend of women wearing men’s watches, so I’d go for a men’s model with a chunkier look. Cashmere from Loro Piana or Brunello Cucinelli is the ultimate luxury item. It breathes so well it basically self-regulates your temperature, so you can just about wear them all year long.”