DAZED - "The LA vintage dealer facilitating full-blown 90s Westwood fantasies"

Just how much would you like to get your hands on one of Vivienne Westwood’s iconic Portrait corsetsChanel’s uber-tiny, double C-emblazoned bikini, or that Tom Ford-era Gucci G-string? If you’re anything like us, the answer is a LOT. For Johnny Valencia, the fantasy became a reality two years ago when he launched Pechuga Vintage: the online archive store helping fashion obsessives around the world locate some of the rarest, most sought-after items in the industry.  

A career in fashion wasn’t always on the cards for LA-based Valencia. Having set his sights on becoming a vet, the vintage dealer went to school on a Californian farm before heading to Paris aged 17 to study political and economical science. The rest, as they say, is history: while walking through the vibrant Marais district one afternoon, he had his first encounter with what he calls ‘the most beautiful coat I’d ever seen’. “I was a student, and I was totally broke, but I remember going into one store and asking the sales guy to try this incredible thing on,” he recalls. “I had no clue what it was, like none. The sales guy explained it was Vivienne Westwood and I just fell in love. I was just hooked immediately.”

Eventually, he finished school and began working in fashion, for a time as a buyer for Westwood, and later in PR and retail. Having spent much of the last decade picking up rare items here and there, it wasn’t until recently that the idea to start Pechuga came about. “I’d be finding all these things like Valentino skirts for $20 and 90s Gucci looks for $100, but obviously I couldn’t wear them, so they’d be hanging up on my walls like art pieces. Eventually I was like, I should really do something about this, and that’s when I set up my Instagram.”

Now, Valencia is the go-to when it comes to private collectors, fashion editors, and stylists. Most recently, he sourced OTT, Medusa-emblazoned Versace jewellery for Rosalia’s latest video “Con Altura”, and dressed both Kim and Kourtney Kardashian in iconic corsets from Vivienne Westwood’s archives, calling in pieces from international dealers the world over.

“I know where specific pieces are most of the time,” he explains. “The other day, my friend called me and told me she needed a look for a trip to Paris, she wanted that Westwood SEX choker, and I was like ‘yo dude, I know exactly where that is’. So I called up another client and asked her if she was willing to sell it. She was like ‘Johnny, I’m 80 years old, I’m never going to wear that again – take it!’ It turned out she also had the SEX earrings, the bracelet, the belt… My friend was pretty happy, obviously.”

Valencia is quick to point out the merits of buying vintage designer pieces (though notes he himself might be slightly biased). At a time when collections are full of reissues, and nostalgia has infiltrated just about every major runway, why buy into a reconstruction when you could have the original – often for a better price. “People think that archive pieces are going cost crazy money, but actually, since designer fashion prices have skyrocketed in the last few years, often you can get these beautiful pieces of history for a lot less than you might think,” he confirms. “And you’re saving the planet! If people start buying secondhand, the less new stuff will be produced. You’re doing your bit by buying that Boucher-inspired corset!”

“I called up another client and asked her if she was willing to sell (a Westwood SEX choker). She was like ‘Johnny, I’m 80 years old, I’m never going to wear that again – take it!’”

While Valencia is currently displaying pieces from the recent Burberry and Vivienne Westwood collaboration to his studio walls – at least, until someone comes along and snaps them up – and working out how to get his hands on Alessandro Michele’s brutal-looking Gucci masks from the label’s AW19 collection, there are still pieces that have managed to elude him since he founded Pechuga back in 2017. Namely one stand-out coat by Maison Margiela, of which only around five were made. “Oh God – that blonde Margiela hair coat from SS09, I would love to get my hands on it,” he admits. “I’ve only seen it once, and it was going for $11,000. In the end, I think the Met bought it back. Next time...”