When you step inside the latest glossy, light-filled boutique off of Los Angeles’s Melrose Boulevard, you might not know that you are standing in, what is in essence, a consignment store. And that is exactly what the Silicon Valley juggernauts behind the RealReal are aiming for. The 12,000-square-foot space—the first of the brand’s outposts to offer menswear—is not only an expertly curated selection of what made the e-commerce platform take off seven years ago (think shelves stocked with those Balenciaga sneakers that sold out immediately last season, a coveted piece of the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration, or ultra-rare Birkin bags), but it’s also a striking vision of what the future of retail could look like.
For the uninitiated, the RealReal is a luxury consignment website that has taken the brick-and-mortar model pioneered by the likes of Cameron Silver at Decades and used modern technology to amplify it exponentially. The process is relatively simple: Those looking to pass on unwanted luxury goods can send pieces in (or bring them into the New York or LA boutique or one of the brand’s 12 offices across the country), and the RealReal’s team of expert authenticators, gemologists, and horologists will assess each piece to ensure it is the real deal—hence the name—and provide a valuation. From there, it will get posted to the website and sent out to stores (where iPad-wielding associates will place pieces on hold for you to try on, or search the company’s stock for anything you can’t find in-store). Once a shopper snaps it up—according to chief authenticator Graham Wetzbarger, nearly 40 percent of items available on the RealReal are bought within four days—sellers take a cut of the profits.
And while pieces like Louis Vuitton duffels and Prada camp-collar shirts are certainly offered at often steeply discounted prices—this is secondhand after all—that’s not entirely the point. “Our clients aren’t shopping with us because they have to,” explains Rati Levesque, the company’s chief merchant. “They know it is smart.” And smart it is. Not only can it save money, but shopping (and consigning) on the secondary market also helps minimize fashion’s impact on the environment. Wetzbarger points to an abstract Tiffany & Co. sculpture on display in the LA boutique that a client was going to melt down for scrap metal before the RealReal’s team convinced him to consign it as a particularly poignant example.
Watching pieces sell, and coming in for valuation appointments with the RealReal’s team of experts (consultations for everything from Hermès ties to one-off watches are offered complimentary at the Melrose outpost, with no pressure to consign), is also pushing men to shop smarter from the get-go. “More and more, our clients are thinking about what will hold its value,” Levesque says. “We get people calling in while they are shopping directly from brands like Hermès and Gucci and asking what they should buy,” she goes on, “and we are more than happy to advise.”
Looking around the sprawling store—which includes a café, a whisky bar in the tailoring section, and plenty of places to lounge on high-design furniture (which, of course, can also be bought)—it’s clear that the RealReal is injecting secondhand shopping with that same kind of luxury experience you’d get on Rodeo Drive. Investment pieces never looked smarter.