The garbage bags appeared to contain a treasure trove. Comme des Garçons, Maison Margiela, Helmut Lang and Jean Paul Gaultier were names on the labels of the items of clothing stored inside.
The 10 black plastic bags arrived in September at a 500,000-square-foot building in Perth Amboy, NJ, where RealReal, the luxury resale marketplace, operates one of four authentication centers. They had been sent by a salesman who said the clothes were from a vintage store her aunt ran in Florida. After examining the contents of the bags, about 100 items of clothing in all, it was determined that the clothes were genuine — and that they could be sold second-hand for up to $100,000.
“These are some of the best Gaultier pieces we’ve come across,” said Dominik Halás, a master authenticator at RealReal who specializes in vintage clothing, which the company defines as pieces that are at least 20 years old .
Mister. Halás, 29, is one of the youngest people hired by RealReal to authenticate clothing, jewelry and other accessories. Previously menswear merchandising manager and archives expert at the company where he started working in 2017, he was asked to join the authentication team shortly after it began reselling vintage clothing in 2019, the same year that RealReal went public company became. (The stock debuted on the Nasdaq at $20 per share; it currently trades for less than $2.)
“We needed the right experts,” said Rachel Viasman, vice president of merchandising operations. Although RealReal has stocked vintage handbags since its inception in 2011, vintage clothing “requires a specialized expert with extensive knowledge and passion,” she added.
A passion for (vintage) fashion
At the Perth Amboy Authentication Center, clothes racks are arranged in rows that appear longer than city blocks. On a Monday earlier this month, Mr. Halás worked his way through parts of the shipment of 10 garbage bags that had arrived weeks earlier. Among the items of clothing, most of which dated from the late 1980s to early 2000s, was a double-breasted, black-and-white jacket by Jean Paul Gaultier that was fabric-lined and featured a masculine torso. The jacket was from the designer’s fall 1992 collection, which predates Mr. Halás was born.
Another piece plucked from the trash bags: “the iconic Margiela tattoo top” from the Spring 1994 collection, which Mr. Halás noted is a homage to an earlier piece introduced in 1989. “It’s translucent and tight, and the tattoo print resonates with audiences,” he said. “They look so fashion relevant now, which is why they retain their value.” Mister. Halás added that the top probably sold for “a few hundred dollars” when it debuted; RealReal listed it at $7,000.
Many factors determine RealReal’s pricing. Condition is taken into account and whether a piece has ever been worn by a celebrity or featured in a museum exhibition. Commissions paid to sellers vary based on factors such as the sale price and the type of item.
Mister. Halás said that there has been interest in Romeo Gigli clothes recently; particularly pieces from the early 1990s when a young Alexander McQueen worked at the brand before starting his own line. “It’s great work and people really pay 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, Mr. Halás moved to Montclair, NJ with his family in 1997 when he was 4 years old. “We were working class and opposed to spending money on unnecessary things,” he said, adding that his interest in fashion was sparked in part by a 2007 article by designer Helmut Lang in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
As a student at Montclair High School, he started a fashion club and became better acquainted with the vintage fashion business while working at Speakeasy Vintage, a boutique in Montclair that is now closed.
Mister. Halás began buying and reselling used clothing online as a teenager. “If I had $100 to invest, I would buy something on eBay in Japan and sell it on the US site for $300,” he said. After graduating from Brown University, where he studied art history and architecture, he worked in showrooms such as Goods and Services in New York and then advised Helmut Lang before joining RealReal.
On the road Mr. Halás created his own fashion archive, which now includes approximately 500 pieces that are preserved at his home in Jersey City, NJ, at his parents’ home in Montclair, and in his brother’s dormitory at Bard College. “A significant chunk of my net worth is in clothing, so I’m hoping it pays off,” he said of his collection, which includes men’s and women’s clothing from designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Helmut Lang. Hedi Slimane is another favorite, particularly his pieces for Dior Homme’s fall 2003 collection.
In addition to clothing, Mr. Halás also collects vintage lookbooks that he and other RealReal Authenticators use for research.
Sort out fakes
When asked how often he sees a fake, Mr. Halás looked visibly uncomfortable and threw out Ms. Viasman, his boss, before answering. “Several times a day I see pieces that could not be authenticated,” he said. “I’ve come across fakes that are now made to resemble clothes from the ’80s or ’90s.”
All items sent to the company are ranked from one to five for the likelihood that an item is counterfeit. At the lower end of the scale, Mr. Halás said, a pair would be contemporary designer jeans because the resale value would be no more than the cost of producing a counterfeit pair. At the top end: bags with Chanel, Gucci or Louis Vuitton tags, which are often counterfeit. At Taschen, authenticators get help from a proprietary, patent-pending software called Vision, which catalogs photos of authentic styles that can be used for reference.
“This is how we scale the Dominicans of the world,” Ms. Viasmann said.
The hardest items to judge are master authenticators like Mr. Hallás. Looking at a black Yohji Yamamoto coat, he paid particular attention to the tags, which noted the coat’s size with a number, a detail that meant the piece was introduced after the Spring 2000 collection (previously, he explained, were sizes noted). letters). The tags also used a serif font, a detail Halás said the coat was from a pre-2010 collection. The coat’s YKK zipper with two pull tabs is a common element in pieces from the label, he added.
“I know that fits the collection,” said Mr. Halás, who ultimately designed the coat, which was from the fall 2002 collection.
The suspect was a sweater with a Louis Vuitton tag. Like other pieces from the brand’s Fall ’18 collection, it featured a graphic that read ‘Peace and Love’. However, closer inspection revealed that the garment’s seams were not properly aligned and that the label felt thicker than other Vuitton pieces. The label also noted that it contained vicuña wool, which is very fine. Mister. Halás said he could tell by touching the sweater that it was too coarse to pick up the material and decided the garment was fake.
Most sellers are notified when RealReal is unable to authenticate an item. Unknowingly sent suspect pieces will be returned. “We have a three strike policy,” Ms. Viasmann said. “We will inform the sender why we cannot accept the shipment.” If authenticators suspect “apparent fraudulent intent, we will confiscate and destroy the item and cooperate with law enforcement,” she added.
If customers think something they buy from the company isn’t genuine, Ms. Viasman said, “We always take it back and have an expert look at it.”
Watching Mr. Halás in action suggested that his job isn’t exactly a science. Determining the authenticity of certain items of clothing – for example a Louis Vuitton sweater or a light blue nylon jacket with a Prada logo on it – can sometimes be an art.
“The quality of the material throws me off,” he said while touching the nylon jacket. “I feel authentic Prada ready-to-wear every day and the best I can say is that it doesn’t feel expensive enough.”