If you are in the Wish Book, you will likely get the perfect purse. This is Mark Deleon and Alan Stolz’s book of customers, who have all but given up finding what they want anywhere else, and so have come to the Southampton specialty boutique, The Perfect Purse, to put their order in and, sooner or later, have their wish come true.
“We have a lot of customers, from young girls to women of society to celebrities, who try to track down a certain bag they’ve been wanting, sometimes for years,” says vintage handbag authority Deleon, “and they can’t find it. There are certain bags, especially when it comes to Hermès, which you can’t expect to go to Hermès and find. I’ll call my sources and we’re actually able to find what the customer is looking for.”
“We had one customer two years ago,” Stolz says, “who came in looking for a certain size Kelly bag, 35-centimeter, in gold, with a shoulder strap. She knew exactly what she wanted. She had seen it in a picture. So, I wrote her down in the Wish Book, and about two months ago, the bag came to us from one of our sources.”
It usually doesn’t take that long and sometimes the perfect bag is right there in the boutique, waiting to be claimed.
“What our customer is looking for is the right bag in the right leather, in the right color, in the right size,” Deleon says.
The boutique moved to 27 Hampton Road this past summer, and has been deluged by customers ever since. It’s temperature controlled. Deleon warns against excessive heat and sunlight, “Vintage bags should be conditioned, stored at room temperature and in fabric dust covers.”
The Perfect Purse, “Handbag Heaven in the Hamptons,” as its owners call it, offers an abundant array of Hermès, Chanel, Gucci, Judith Leiber, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Bottega Veneta—the definitive status bags, plus a range of accessories. The boutique is perfectly laid out and proportioned for a customer to thread through the rich presentation of bags, some displayed museum-style behind glass, others flanking shelves and countertops, tempting the visitor to touch them. The scent of the leathers and the dazzle of the colors give a rich overall effect.
Deleon says it was a vintage Mark Cross alligator bag that first gave him the idea of selling vintage bags. Twenty years ago, while at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, working as the fragrance department manager, he was making alligator picture frames out of skins from old, damaged handbags he purchased at flea markets and thrift stores.
“After a couple of years, I was buying bags that were too beautiful to cut up,” says Deleon, who is from Los Angeles. “I still have the Mark Cross, which at that time, 20 years ago, I was told at their store, would sell for $5,000. I thought, ‘Wow!’ I knew about high-end luxury goods from working at Bergdorf’s.”
If they were to pick the two most timeless classic bags in their collection, Deleon and Stolz agree: “It would be the Chanel 2.55, created by Coco Chanel in February, 1955, originally in wool jersey,” says Deleon, “and the Kelly bag, that Hermès made for Grace Kelly, which she used to hide her baby bump while being photographed by the paparazzi.”
If they could pair the personality of a high-end handbag brand to a famous woman, they are in agreement here too: Chanel equals Catherine Deneuve, Bottega Veneta—Charlize Theron, Louis Vuitton—Sophia Coppola, Gucci—Catherine Zeta Jones, Judith Leiber—Barbara Walters, the Hermès Kelly—Grace Kelly, and the Hermès Birkin—Jane Birkin or Victoria Beckham.
“We met 17 years ago, at the Pier Show,” says Stolz, originally from Forest Hills, Queens. “I was in the furniture business. When it tanked, we started spending more time at our house in Southampton.”
Deleon had the eye for what would sell, but he did not enjoy the business part. Stolz’s background was accounting, and so he suggested combining their talents to open a shop in Southampton.
“Ninety per cent of the bags, we actually own,” Deleo says. “We do consignment, but we are not a consignment shop. If we are very interested in a bag we tend to buy it outright. We can control the quality. We don’t have to rely on what people bring in. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I have resources and dealers who I can call or they call me or email me pictures. And now that we have a store, women are actually cleaning out their closets and bringing the stuff they’re no longer using. It’s not that they need the money; it’s just that they need the space.”
The Perfect Purse is open all year round and has an online site, theperfectpursehamptons.com, which attracts a worldwide market.
“You have to be very careful buying on any of the online sites, because there are a lot of fakes,” Stolz says. “It’s big business.”
“I can go up and down Madison Avenue on any given day,” Deleon says, “and see a woman carrying a Birkin bag, and at a casual glance, it looks pretty good, but when I get close to the bag, I can usually spot a fake right away. It’s all in the details, the quality of the leather and the stitching and the form. In 1970 Hermès started dating their bags with a code. Chanel and Louis Vuitton followed, and the reason why is counterfeiting. There’s a big market.”
“Very unfortunately, there are stores that sell fake bags,” Stolz says. “We, on the other hand, guarantee authenticity. Authenticity is written all over the store. For us, that’s the biggest thing.”