It’s two days after Christmas, and instead of lazing away what’s left of the holidays, I’m at my local Value Village trolling the men’s section for Yeezy dupes. “Can I see the picture again?” asks my husband, whom I’ve dragged out of bed. I pull out the photo and hold it up. He stares, frowns. “So basically you want the ugliest, dingiest, too-big-for-you dirt-grey T-shirt in here?” I glance at the photo. “Yes.” “Found it.” He holds up an XXL tee in the exact depressing shade of concrete I’m looking for. I grab it and check the tag: $1.99. Into the cart it goes.
This gem brings me one step closer to completing the most unlikely fashion mission I’ve ever attempted. The challenge: recreate three spring runway looks using vintage and pre-owned pieces. If this sounds like a cruel joke dreamt up by my FLARE cohorts, it’s actually not as mean (or random) as it seems. The worlds of designer fantasy and thrifted threads may seem as incompatible as Ye and Wiz, but if the spring shows were any indication, they might not be so distant after all. From Gucci’s magpie muse to Yeezy’s ragtag military inspo, the season’s biggest and buzziest collections looked a lot like they came straight off the secondhand rack.
A first glance at Kanye’s lineup of sweatshirts, tees and tights might make you wonder: where’s the design here? It’s a valid question. And it would be easy to dismiss the “I Am a God” rapper as yet another celebrity designer fake designing, except that his lack of invention might legitimately be tapping into a larger fashion moment. “There is a movement toward real, ordinary clothes going on,” Sarah Mower wrote in her vogue.com review of Saint Laurent’s spring ’16 collection, which featured vintage store staples like scruffy furs, lacy slips, distressed denim and beat-up leather jackets, which, as Mower put it, “looked as if they could have been trawled from racks at the cheap end of Portobello Market.” Alexander Wang, meanwhile, did away with theme and narrative altogether. “There’s no big concept,” he told reporters after his show. “The everyday and the mundane is what’s most inspiring.”
Which brings us back to Value Village and my fake Yeezy. Originally, I’d worried that I wouldn’t be able to find tees and sweats in similarly unflattering flesh tones as the $500 versions, but they were surprisingly abundant at the Vill. The trick, it turned out, wasn’t matching colours so much as finding a plain, un-logoed sweatshirt amid the deluge of frosh week shirts, marathon shirts, souvenir shirts, corporate shirts and disproportionately high number of Hollister shirts. I nearly cried when I saw an unadorned peachy pullover for $9.99.
Next up: Saint Laurent. All the looks were so classically vintage-cool-girl I knew I would find everything in Toronto’s secondhand style mecca, Kensington Market. My first stop was Exile—it’s been around since 1975, and it’s one of the biggest shops in the area. As expected, it’s packed with enough denim, leather, lace, fur and sequins to recreate Hedi Slimane’s entire run of show three times over. Perfectly faded camo jacket for $20, check. Sparkly party dress for $40, check. And because this place doubles as a costume shop (many vintage stores do), tiara…also check! Prices are higher compared to thrift—I like to think of it as a finder’s fee for the poor sucker wading through those logo tees.
Finally, Gucci. If I couldn’t make this one happen, the entire mission would be a #fail. Creative director Alessandro Michele single-handedly made hand-me-down geek-chic the coolest thing in fashion, and while there’s no mistaking the design in every piece (digital florals, lurex knits, trompe l’oeil ruffles and bows), the overall effect is unmistakably Grey Gardens. “There are things here that look vintage, but don’t really exist as vintage,” Michele told journalists backstage. “It’s the illusion of it.” My Gucci strategy: avoid complicated separates (too many variables) and go for a printed dress (one score would equal 90 percent of the outfit). I zeroed in on a bordering-on-marmy (probably five-figure) floral runway frock in a prairie-appropriate palette of mauve, black and white. This was not going to be at a vintage store (no way it would make a buyer’s cut), so I booked it across town to another Value Village. There, I looked at probably 100 bad florals before I found the right bad floral. After that, accessories—red scarf, thick-rimmed glasses, green pumps, jewels—were a breeze.
The big test was shoot day, when all the looks would come together in their full thrifted glory—on me. I was feeling good as I pulled on my version of Yeezy, but when I clocked myself in the mirror I felt a mild panic attack coming on: Does this outfit look as cheap as it actually was? Do these flesh tones make me look suburban? Was the Yeezy too easy? I stepped out of the change room and faced the crew. “I can’t believe this whole thing’s thrifted!” someone said. “It looks like you just bought this at the OVO store.” I smile, relieved. Wrong rapper, but I’ll take it.