Old bags don't come here to die, but to hang on

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Old bags don't come here to die, but to hang on

Before you throw out that canvas Christian Dior handbag from the '70s that has sat untouched in the back of the closet for ages, remember that the vintage look is in.

While many of the clients at the Myeongdong Star Shop (02-777-4203), across from the Lotte Department Store, are customers requiring emergency repair services for their bags and shoes, the latest fans of the tiny five-man shop with 49 years of history are fashion-conscious women who want to update the look of vintage bags.

"Our younger clients bring in old luxury bags that their mothers kept for years," said Kim Byung-yang, 67, the shop owner. "They usually want to change the length of the strap or clasp to make them look modern."

No reasonable request is turned down at this workshop, where the craftsmen labor to magically transform something old into something new and even trendy. On a wall next to Mr. Kim's station hangs a blue Epi-leather Louis Vuitton shoulder bag that was remade from a larger bag that looked as good as new. "The client had the bag stored next to a desiccant gel which ate up the moisture in the leather and shriveled the bag," said Mr. Kim. "The leather and canvas used in luxury brand bags can probably outlast the owners if taken care of."

A new convert to bag refashioning is Kim Hae-ri, 35, who recently had redone an old crocodile bag from the 1970s her mother-in-law gave her. Although it cost her more than 200,000 won ($165) to have the bag cleaned and the handle shortened, enough to buy a new bag, she is very happy with her "new" bag and looks forward to helping her mother clean house next spring. "I might get lucky and find an old Louis Vuitton or something," she said.

Apparently, getting a bag remade is almost as addictive as getting cosmetic surgery. "People who have risked it once come back with more bags," said Mr. Kim.

Reforming old clothes is no longer for the thrift-minded only. Jeong Cheol, owner of Antonio Clothing Hospital (3442-7442) in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, is seeing more customers in their 20s and 30s. One of the most popular requests at this time of year is to have winter coats reformed. Not just a mere shortening of the hemline or sleeves, reforming involves making a new design out of the old material. "Old double-breasted coats with wide collars can be transformed into the slim, body-fitting style that is currently in vogue," said Mr. Jeong, who has been a tailor for nearly 50 years. Although prices vary depending on the material used, a coat can be transformed for about 80,000-100,000 won.

As for removing oversized shoulder pads from the power suits of the '80s, just taking out the shoulder pads will not do. "It should be reworked completely. Otherwise it will be ill-fitting. Those suits have large armholes that need to be narrowed after the shoulder pads are removed." It normally costs about 50,000 won to have the shoulder pads removed and adjustments made.

Furs have been making a comeback lately, but not in the old roomy, full-length style. "Mink coats are shorter, more fitted at the waist with narrow shoulders," said Hong Seok-seong, owner of VIP Alteration Shop (02-548-1919) in Sinsa-dong. Updating the style of a mink coat and changing the lining to silk costs 300,000-500,000 won. When coats are cut to make shorter jackets, the leftover mink can be used to make a muffler.

However, Mr. Hong urges his customers to think twice before acting on a whim. "While it is possible to relengthen the coat by sewing on the cut-out piece, it will drastically devalue the coat," he said. "If they bring in a brand new coat to be cut, I tell them to wear it for a year and think about it more."

by Kim Hoo-ran

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