Last year, I attended my first vente privée in Paris, and it was such an adrenaline rush. Usually, a huge line forms before the sale begins, and depending on the brand's popularity, it could continue throughout the day. Most sales are held in spaces or warehouses specifically designed and purposed for such, which means they are professionally staffed with people who run these kinds of private sales for a living. Nothing but wallets and cell phones are permitted on the selling floor, so a mandatory coat and purse check is the first place to visit after showing your invitation and ID to the security guard at the door (once you've finally made it there). Then, you grab a massive plastic bag and fill it with as many shoes, purses, wallets, and clothes your heart desires before finally sorting it out into "keep" and "sadly leave behind" piles.
There are no dressing rooms to try your clothes on, so oftentimes, you'll catch a glimpse at someone's undies or see people posing with their hangered treasures in front of the few mirrors available. Most bags, shoes and haute couture items are placed on shelved walls guarded by staff members who stand in front of the shelves and behind a table of display bags. You can usually grab what you want from the table, but if you notice something sparkling on the shelf, you can simply ask for it from the staff member.
As much as it all sounds like such a privileged and organized event, it can get pretty ugly. I went to a sale a few weeks ago on its third day of opening (vente privées can last anywhere from one to five or more days), and could not believe the chaos that normally respectable ladies were causing ... for fabric bags, no less! The staff can only stock so much on display, so the rest is left hidden "backstage" in cardboard boxes that don't give any indication as to what's in them. For deal-desperate shoppers, this means that as the day goes on, there will be more stock with possibly newer items available for sale, so, someone's dream bag could be trapped in a cardboard box and not come out until the end of the sale. And, that's what these "ladies" were hoping would happen for them if they waited and pushed long enough. Despite there being limits on how many bags and shoes can be purchased, these women had gobs of handbags well over the limit and had invited every friend, neighbor and cousin to come with them so they could amass the most stock possible. I could barely stand the insanity, so I left empty-handed from that sale and swore to never again wait to come when the invitation is extended beyond the employees of the company (it's usually open to anyone with an invite after the first day).
There are a few "big" brands that everyone looks forward to but are really strict on the amounts of items you can buy and whether or not you can bring a guest (you usually can't for the popular brands). And, as for the prices, well, they're quite good considering the brand that's being sold and the retail prices that the items would normally sell for. But, these are expensive goods we're talking about here, so it's kind of just relative.
My job has definitely fed my desire for fancy purses and logoed shoes that I never really had so much before. Women at my office are often dressed head to toe in recognizable designer threads, so walking around in my Zara dress, H&M heels and Gap handbag doesn't turn many heads for the right reason. And, mostly I'm OK with that. I never buy everything I want, but I often rationalize my rare vente privée splurges by reminding myself that every Parisienne needs a nice handbag (or four) and that I won't have access to the sales once my work contract is up. Now, rationalizing my need for three more handbags to Gui, well that's another story, and obviously, he's no longer sensitive to my so-called "need" to fit in.
My latest splurge.
My latest sacrifice. (So sad.)