How Johnny Valencia Of Pechuga Vintage Is Redefining The Power Of Pre-Loved Luxury For Today
The influential Los Angeles-based designer vintage aficionado is on speed dial for some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities
Whether it's Gucci launching its digital concept store the Gucci Vault in 2021, offering choice vintage pieces sourced from across the Websphere; or Jean Paul Gaultier launching a resale and vintage rental service of its famous archives as part of its website re-launch, designer vintage fashion has evolved into something much more potent and mass appealing during the pandemic.
No longer the domain of fashion purists and self-confessed fashion nerds, the provenance of hard to find (and for lack of a better term 'iconic') fashion items has seen a spike in interest from a wider community of people looking for qualities not available in mainstream fashion — designed and crafted garments unique to an individual, the beauty of nostalgia and in many cases a chance to escape — finding these ideas in the comfort of archival treasures.
As Los Angeles-based vintage seller Johnny Valencia of the wildly popular Pechuga Vintage attests, the pandemic has given people time to reflect on what personal style means to them when it comes to their relationship with fashion, and the thrill of finding something embued with layers of history and craftsmanship.
"The pandemic has given people the time to do their research and to truly hone in what they really want," says Valencia on the phone from Los Angeles.
What started as a serious hobby during his final year in college in 2010, followed by a year in Paris where the city-of-lights fuelled his passion for sourcing and collecting vintage gems, Valencia has garnered a reputation as something of a vintage fashion historian, combining his deep appreciation for his collection with the opportunity to educate new fans and introduce a younger generation to designers who have re-shaped fashion over the last century from Yves Saint Laurent to Vivienne Westwood — the latter experiencing a renaissance for its archival corsets thanks to its popularity with Pechuga Vintage clients over the years (Valencia also worked at Vivienne Westwood post-graduation).
"Customers have become savvier. There's a certain artistry to what this business is, to what Pechuga is. I want people to know that you can consume slowly and that you don't need something new every single day."
Launched in 2018, Pechuga Vintage has grown over the past few years into the go-to store for highly sought-after archival vintage finds including Gucci, Chanel, Dior, Versace, Margiela, and Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld ("the man was a marketing genius") — all designers that have left a significant imprint on fashion and culture.
What sets Valencia's edit apart from the rest, is his eye for rare and hard-to-find pieces. When it comes to the specifics of particular cult items — Pechuga is the place to go; whether it's a Tom Ford era Gucci G-string or Jean Paul Gaultier's most iconic prints including the body morphing print from his spring/summer 1996 'Cyberbaba' collection; or it's the Dior Rasta Saddle bag from autumn/winter 2004 by John Galliano, the designer's unique ready-to-wear vision capturing the camp 2000s aesthetic that's finding a resurgence in the wardrobes of a new generation of collectors.
"Vintage right now is just the overall trend, but it has almost become a term that gets thrown around," says Valencia. "Anything that's vintage is technically considered 20 years or older. So if people don't check their facts they will just call it vintage. It's become a great selling tool to get people in a store. I don't think the terminology will go away anytime soon."
The conversations pre-pandemic around sustainably made clothing are still integral to addressing the overwhelming environmental impact the global fashion industry has on the planet, so it's no surprise that with evolving consumer habits, a focus on local makers, vintage and resale economies will continue to rise over the next decade.
"What's happening now with vintage almost correlates to the break down of the financial system in 2008. We saw Barneys crumble and fast fashion being tested. Consumers became savvier and so gradually that mindset changes and we're open to educating and being educated about the provenance of clothing."
In recent months, particular pieces have had their own renaissance - more notably, Vivienne Westwood's famous collection of reimagined corsets built with zippers. Unlike corsets from the past made to constrict women's bodies, Westwood's corsets emulated the corsets of the 18th century but were designed to wear on the outside, subverting their purpose and reclaiming it as a symbol of liberation and empowerment.
"I love dressing women," says Valencia. "It's such a joy seeing women feel great in what they put on, and the corsets we've sold have become a symbol of transformation. In a way, it's about reclamation. It's saying fuck you to the patriarchy. I respect women so much to the point now I'm looking out for their comfort too. This I learned from Law (Roach). Any time you dress someone for the red carpet pay attention to the shoes. They need to be comfortable."
Located in Los Angeles means Valencia is well-positioned to access celebrity stylists and their clients, providing special PR moments for Pechuga along the way.
At the 2021 Met Gala, singer Grimes was seen sporting a pair of lavender Marc Jacobs boots from Valencia's archive, along with Jamaican-born fashion designer Edvin Thompson of Brooklyn-based fashion label Theophilio, who was sporting a pair of rare Marc Jacobs spring/summer 2017 Julie Verhoeven 'Dripping Lemons' platform boots. It's moments like these that are not lost on Valencia, who understands the power of finding the right home for his special vintage finds.
"I am so blessed to have the backing of the press and friends over the years. I'm truly grateful for these connections because it helps us all celebrate the power and confidence you find when you find something special. Can you believe I have Megan Thee Stallion's stylist on speed dial!?"
Valencia is also on speed dial for the likes of celebrity stylists Law Roach and Kollin Carter, and was recently commissioned by The Wall Street Journal’s luxury magazine WSJ to create a custom ostrich feather hat for cover star Lil Nas X — "I got the commission and we are up against Pier Paolo Piccioli of Valentino and Stephen Jones. When Valentino couldn't meet the shipping deadlines, we came through. What motivated me was as a small business owner, we have to represent not only for ourselves, but because it's Lil Nas X, we also need to represent our communities. To create moments that allow our people to shine is what continues to inspire me."
Responsible for introducing these rare vintage and custom gems to pop music misfits and drag artists including Cardi B, Doja Cat and Violet Chackhi, Salvadoran-born Valencia says he’s grateful to be part of a cultural shift toward the value of vintage fashion, especially when it celebrates people of colour who are historically underrepresented in the rarefied, Euro-centric world of haute couture.
"I think that I'm doing this from a very genuine perspective in giving to my people things that we rarely have access to. I’ve always just wanted to dress my friends and people who look like me, a Salvadorian immigrant. Collecting has allowed me to also realise my entrepreneurial dreams."
"I remember walking into a Dolce and Gabbana boutique when I was 11. I asked the sales associate the price of a bag. He said it was $800. I thought ‘Oh my God it’s like a month’s worth of rent!’. From then on I’ve never been afraid to ask for the price of things. To feel like it's ok to be part of this world because I deserve this — we all deserve this."
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