Le Vif: A vintage shop like a regular shop

Monday, April 11th 2022
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Le Vif in Paris is one of the most curated vintage stores around. 

What do I mean by that? Well, it has a particular view on the clothes it offers - in terms of quality, style and origin. 

It sells Americana, normally American-made. There’s no British military or French workwear. That could be quite narrow, but the period covered is large, from the 1930s to early 2000s

It also sells clothing of a certain quality. Things are worn, but they’re never close to falling apart. There might be the odd paint splash, but nothing is stained. 

That’s in contrast to thrift stores, where the priority is price and the bar is often much lower. It’s also different to fashion vintage, where what’s in vogue is the priority. That’s the kind of store you see most of - around Brick Lane in London, or The Vintage Store further north.

Other vintage shops have different priorities still, I think. Some, for example, value rarity more, collector’s pieces. There clothing tends to be a lot older and, often, less wearable. A World War 2 shearling is a beautiful object, but if you wear it a lot, it will rip. 

I’m picking this apart because I think it shows why Le Vif is quite unusual, and why it’s one of my favourite vintage shops to visit.

“Curated is a good way to put it,” says Arthur Menguy, pictured above, co-founder of Le Vif alongside Gauthier Borsarello.

“Having only American-made clothing sets a baseline for quality, but it also sets a kind of boundary for us. It’s always tempting to buy different things, to broaden. But you can lose your identity that way.”

Another way to look at it, is that Le Vif is more like a regular shop.

A normal shop manager doesn’t pile up stacks of whatever they can get their hands on, like a thrift store. They buy according to a particular aesthetic, and also change every season. 

“I think that’s the thing that makes us most different,” says Arthur. “In a couple of weeks we’ll change a lot of this stock around - both to reflect the season and to keep things fresh.”

“We also bring in clothes when we find a trend or a particular style interesting. Carhartt double-knee pants are a good example, or those fleeces on the shelf - though I think we brought those in before the trend really started.

There have always been thrift stores and flea markets in Paris, but not many vintage shops. 

“I would often find great things in the flea markets,” says Arthur, “but it would be very random. You’d find this great pair of red-line Levi’s, right next to a three-year-old pair made in Turkey. That kind of searching can be fun, but it’s not how most people want to - or have time to - shop. We wanted Le Vif to be simpler.”

You can probably place most second-hand stores somewhere along this spectrum. Broadway & Sons in Gothenburg, for example, tends to have greater volume of clothes and is less tightly edited, I find. The vintage you sometimes find in a RRL store is the opposite: there’s very little of it, but it’s often the perfect age, size and style. 

Curation is then sometimes tied to price. You pay someone to do a lot of hunting, and because it’s a popular piece it's more valuable still. 

That doesn’t mean everything is very expensive - I picked up a pair of 1977 jeans for €200 at Le Vif, for example. It just means this isn’t thrift any more - you’re buying the clothes because you like them or because they’re unique, rather than to save money. 

“Second-hand clothing has gone through waves of popularity over the years,” says Arthur. “But often the reasons have been different.

“In the 1970s, for instance, vintage became popular as part of the hippy movement. The motivation there was to consume less, to re-use and to live a cheaper, simpler lifestyle.

“Bell bottoms became identified with that movement because they were readily available in thrift stores - naval trousers that had a wider bottom to make them easier to roll up. It was only later that they became a fashion, and later still that brands started making them.”

So why has vintage become popular now? “Price is still a factor for younger people, as is sustainability. There’s a fashion element, particularly with the nineties. But I think there’s also still an interest in heritage clothing - traditional pieces that feel more authentic or characterful.”

This range of motivations might be why there are so many different types of vintage store today, from a simple reseller to a fashion shop to a collector of militaria. 

Le Vif is one particular type, with a geographic focus, a certain style, and a desire to make buying vintage easier. 

All of them appeal to me, which iswhy I love visiting so much.

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt. I'll cover what I bought, and indeed have bought elsewhere, in a separate post.

www.levifparis.com

 

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Stephen

Hi Simon,
Another interesting and insightful article. I would really like to visit Le Vif one day.

One question, I am interested to know how shops like these source stock. In this case particularly I noticed a few what looked like a ranges rather than one – off, but that may be the quality of the presentation in store.

Arthur mentioned paying people (a lot) for sourced items, which I would think is quite labour intensive. I’m just generally curious (not thinking of starting a business!).

Also I had some experience from the the 70s (yes you read that correctly I’m that old ), in a part time job (whilst saving for my first mortgage) sorting garments for two vintage shops in the Kings Road and Covent Garden. These were mainly bulk – by weight- from the Salvation Army, my main memory is the not so pleasant smell. There was also some individual specialist sourcing of things like airman jumpsuit’s which were particularly sought after at the time and commanded a very high price.

That aside you have covered Marktt recently which is an interesting business model and I have found their customer experience (I have sold quite a few items with them) excellent. I hope to visit their newly opened York store at some point.
All the best

Peter Hall

Do you know if those are reverse weave Champion sweatshirts,Simon?

Peter Hall

Thanks. I have short arms and a prop forwards chest!

Amit

Hello Simon. I like what you’re holding in the third last image above. That reminds me of my RRL brushed jacquard overshirt made from brushed cotton jacquard. Pattern inspired by a camp blanket from the 1930’s. Here I’m wearing it over my https://shop.permanentstyle.com/collections/polo-shirts/products/ps-white-oxford-shirt?variant=31930928005219, https://thearmoury.com/collections/denim/products/the-armoury-by-nigel-cabourn-5-pocket-denim-jeans?variant=17728986415175 and my Red Wing Classic Moc 8819’s.

C614A215-ED4C-4092-934D-556B692B0D31.jpeg
Amit

Absolutely Simon I second that. With my PS everyday denim shirt (now discontinued). But as you have already explained this to me in an earlier post, this will look the nicest with my https://shop.permanentstyle.com/collections/frontpage/products/t-shirt-2?variant=39740608839779 and my https://therealmccoys.com/collections/tops/products/pocket-tee-white. Thank you Simon!

Rp

You should visit your homonym:
Simon’s 10 boulevard Arago 75013
It is lot less “curated” as you put it, but the owner is such a nice man that I sometime wonder if people come for the stories more than the clothes.
He source everything himself and you can find a cifonelli suit next to a giant Ralf Lauren padded jacket next to a pair of hand made rider boots. Come the next week, and all three items will be replaced by something else…
It is a well known address in the world of costume designer for French cinema.

Max Alexander

As an ex-pat American I can’t excited about that stuff. (Especially those dreadful fleeces!) Frankly it looks like the kind of clothing that every tradesman in America throws on in the dark in the morning, before heading out to build houses or fix roads. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard for me to get my brain around “curating” that look. That said, as a resident of Italy I am also aware of the fascination for Americana over here. Add this shop to the list I guess.

Max Alexander

As in Barbour jackets in the city? I do know what you mean…

S

Ouch, a punch towards Kirby? 🙂

S

I was thinking more about your comment about chalkstrip suits and homburgs, cf his latest London video..

J Crewless

A very interesting read. I like the direction this blog is heading. It’s becoming more accessible to those with smaller budgets with an increased focus on unique items of the past.

Adam Jones

Such relevant timing for me. I have been really looking at vintage items lately, and they do seem to fit the bill perfectly in terms of the aesthetic and time period I really like.

The brands many love on the vintage market – such as Levi’s, champion, Russell athletic were not aspirational or high end brands, but we still love them for the quality – quality that is only reserved for higher end makers these days. It makes me think what the vintage market will look like on the future, as I can’t imagine the quality of the “average man” brands of now holding up on say 20 years. Am I overthinking? Or I will stand corrected if I am wrong and be buying vintage superdry in 30 years?

Peter Hall

We don’t have the volume of milsurp or sportswear that was around in the 70s (so our artisans are filling the gap by copying, er, milsurp and American sportswear).

I suspect we will all be reminiscing about the glory days of Scandinavian clothing, PWVC, and hunting for PS raglan coats.

Ajbjasus

It all looks lovely, but I can’t help but think I’m in a strange parallel universe when Simon writes :
That doesn’t mean everything is very expensive – I picked up a pair of 1977 jeans for €200 at Le Vif,”

Does anyone remember Flip in Covent garden in the late 70s – 1980s? First real Americana store, but they ended up getting copies done.

Steve B

Yes I do, my wife bought a US military double breasted Mac there, turned around & her heritage knitted cardigan with knitted flowers wasn’t there presumably thought to be on sale. There was also Lawrence Corner for military Vietnam&Euro military wear.p

Pierre

Hello Simon
Nice shop for sure, but it looks like regular workwear clothing more than anything else.
What’s so special with a Champion or Russell sweat shirt and a pair of denim ?
They look fun, but it’s still mass production stuff and the quality of these was rather poor.
BTW, are you still going to cover tailoring ?
It kinda makes me sad, after 10y of high level sartorial reading on your blog, to end up with a second hand pair of denim and coton sweaters.
Greetings

Alan

Love the focus on vintage. What would you say are the best vintage shops in London?