By Vicki French Bennington
The double flap Chanel bag is probably the most historically significant fashion accessory ever. And Sue McCarthy, founder and CEO of The Vault Luxury Resale and author of “Good, Better, Best” can give you the particulars.
First, Coco Chanel added a shoulder-length strap, changing the course of handbag history. The original M lock on the purse stood for mademoiselle because Coco was single. Newer versions were replaced with the familiar interlocking Cs. The quilted exterior was reminiscent of Coco’s love for horseback riding, reminding her of the vests worn by the stable hands. The dark burgundy interior represented the color of the uniforms at the convent where she grew up, and an inside compartment was rumored to be for her love letters.
McCarthy, that’s who. She knows her stuff, and that’s just one of the long list of stories she can share about the merchandise she carries, though she said her daughter, Laura McCarthy Maurice, is the real fashion font of information. Her other daughter, Diana McCarthy Ford, is the marketing guru. Both work in the store, and both starred alongside their mother in “Resale Royalty,” the Style Network documentary series that helped launch McCarthy’s shop internationally, though she achieved success in the luxury retail trade even before the show came along.
But McCarthy didn’t start out sporting (or selling) Chanel, Louis Vuitton or Christian Louboutin in her own store in an exclusive Brentwood location. In fact, she opened her first shop with a couple of racks of clothes brought in by friends and family. But she did things a little different than some of the thrift stores she herself had shopped in.
“I always bought used, because I don’t think it makes sense to pay full price,” she said. “One day, I thought, ‘Why do these stores have to be dirty and dark? I want to do this, but I want to do it better.’”
She wanted to utilize the resale concept, but take it up a few notches.
“I wanted my store to be clean and bright, and welcome customers like any upscale shop,” she said.
She worked hard (still does), standing by the motto, “tell people what you’re going to do, and do it right,” and has always kept her stores organized, with an upscale presentation. But she said her real secret to success has always been superior customer service, which she continues to provide.
Through several stores and name changes, the business continued to thrive, and she was approached by a producer for “Resale Royalty.” When Style went off the air, another network made an offer, but McCarthy said one season was enough.
“It was wonderful. It’s great memories, it spread our reach, but it’s a lot to have the filming of a show mixed in with your life,” she said.
But fans wanted more. People continued to ask about the closets (or parting the curtain) she visited. Thus, the idea of the recently released “Good, Better, Best” was born – to fill fans in a little more on the background and continued success of the business.
“And I’ve always wanted to write a book,” McCarthy said. “Above all, I’m a storyteller. This won’t be the last one.”
The book takes readers through her trials and tribulations while growing up, sometimes homeless for a few days at a time in-between her father’s jobs, which were often scarce in the 1950s. Her journey to her current store, The Vault Luxury Resale, is chronicled, and she includes inside looks at lavish closets of socialites and celebrities.
And while the “stuff” in the closets is important, the story behind the closets and the people who own them is often just as interesting. She also sees her book as an inspiration for people to see that their dreams are possible.
“If you always do the right thing, it comes back to you,” said McCarthy, who also admits she feels like she has always lived in God’s perfect favor. “And I try to bend over backward to make people happy.”
Prior to luxury resale, she worked at other endeavors, like a painting business, The Woman’s Touch, where her first job was painting a mortuary when she outbid the competition. “It doesn’t matter what you do, the important thing is to do it with honesty and integrity,” she said.
Since her first consignment shop, she has opened and closed 20 stores. For 25 years, the business was known as The Women’s Closet Exchange. After operating on a consignment basis for many years, a decade ago, she decided to switch it up and buy outright. “We probably look at 1,000 pieces a day, and choose 400 to 600 to carry in the store,” she said.
The Vault has been at the present location for five years, with children’s, gifts and women’s sections under one roof, many of it previously owned, though the store carries some new merchandise, as well. Recently added to the available items are men’s accessories, like Hermès ties.
And though the resale queen’s model is high fashion and exclusive designers, much of the store’s offerings are affordable for the average shopper. A $400 Kate Spade bag might be available for $89; an originally priced $500 Michael Kors purse might be $198. It depends on what’s available.
“Everything comes from nice department stores, is less than two years old and in perfect condition,” McCarthy said.
The Vault is also extensively utilized after hours as event space for meetings, bachelorette parties and various occasions, where refreshments are served, and shopping is part of the fun! A portion of event sales is donated by The Vault to a range of charities – which over the last three years has amounted to nearly $100,000.
McCarthy and her daughters have traveled to Paris and London, or may find themselves in the closet of a celebrity in the Upper East Side of Manhattan or in Florence, Italy. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s rewarding. But awhile back, McCarthy thought she might be ready to retire. She gave it a whirl for about a year, and said it just wasn’t for her.
“I wasn’t happy. I gained 20 pounds. The girls would tell me about where they had been, treasures they had found for the store, and I wanted to get back in,” McCarthy said. “So, here I am.”
Find “Good, Better, Best” at The Vault Luxury Resale, amazon.com and other book outlets. Visit thevaultluxuryresale.com for more information.