"Fashion" Passion

9/29/2011 - New York Post




Welcome to the high-stakes world of low-cost fashion.

For the obsessed, never-wear-it-twice women of New York, cost suddenly matters. Fashion, however, remains non-negotiable.

Enter the high-end consignment store, where socialites, under cloak of strictest secrecy, may sell back a $1,000 Chanel dress.

An enterprising fashionista can, in turn, buy it like-new for $299.

Therein lies the drama. Or at least, that's what Bravo is hoping, with a new half-hour reality show, "Fashion Hunters," following the twists, turns and travails of the NoLIta outpost of Second Time Around, a chain of consignment stores specializing in mint-condition, pre-worn fashion. The show debuts Oct. 4.

"In this economy, I think a lot of wealthy men who have given their wives their credit cards for years are saying, 'Why don't you go and get a little money back?'" said Ambria Miscia, the store's assistant manager, who appears on the show.

"Do they have a gold or black American Express card? Absolutely. But they're starting to look at their investments -- of which clothes are one -- and say 'What's the return?'"

The return, according to the store's fairly strict formula, is 40 percent of resale. The resale price -- generally a third to a fourth of what an item might cost new -- is determined by the appeal of the designer, the condition of the piece, or, sometimes, simply the finely honed gut instincts of someone on the sales staff.

Call it "Pawn Stars" for girls: the four employees featured on "Fashion Hunters" may swoon over Stella McCartney stilettos, but they're not too proud to check the crotch of a pair of pants for wear, or worse. They may salivate over a could-be Valentino gown, but if they can't authenticate it? Better luck with the Salvation Army.

Tempers do flare if a consignee doesn't think the staff is valuing her clothes highly enough, or if the staff won't take a seller's word about the item's origins.

"They'll try to guilt you into taking it," Miscia said. "But, at the end of the day, we're the buyers, we're the curators, we have to say 'no.'"

Meanwhile, Miscia and her fellow cast members -- store manager Tara Muscarella and sales associates Karina Lepiner and Wilson Payamps -- scour the city for brands they can resell at eye-popping prices.

In reality, the consignees nearly always remain anonymous; but on reality television, several consented to be identified and filmed.

The store doesn't have a whiff of thrift store odor, maybe because the staff requires sellers to dry clean their items first.

Customers are often stunned to learn the clothing for sale isn't new, asking sometimes for an item in a different color or size.

"People come in and they're like, 'There's no large sizes in here -- are you prejudiced against large sizes?'" Lepiner said.

Hardly, they say. In fact, if anyone does consign a large designer piece, they beg her to go home and look for more. But most of their sellers are petite.

"Every woman in New York who's buying high-end labels has a personal trainer," Miscia said.

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