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article imageFashion Collectors Prefer Dior In The Wardrobe To Picasso On The Wall

By Caro Maurer     Jan 23, 2002 in Lifestyle
LONDON (dpa) - The dark-coloured two-piece suit has a classic cut and the fabric is unmarked. When Kerry Taylor raises her arm everyone can see this garment is a perfect fit. Not bad for piece of clothing more than 50 years old.

The suit was a creation of the late Cristóbal Balenciaga, one of the most masterful 20th fashion designers who died in 1972. It was an in-house bargain for Taylor whose job it is to auction off used designer clothing at Sotheby's in London. Business is booming at the moment now it has suddenly become fashionable to collect fashion.

Several times a year Sotheby's turns into a kind of bumper secondhand boutique. Under the banner "Passion for Fashion" there's couture from decades past, prît-à-porter from yesterday and the eras before.

For a short while this is probably the most upmarket old clothes store in the world and when it comes under the hammer a select band of aficianados gathers to bid. Collectors, representatives of museums along with fashion experts and fans.

Prominent figures have been spotted here too. Actress Julia Roberts picked up the trophy for her leading role in the film "Erin Brokovich" while wearing a black-and-white Valentino gown from 1982.

Naomi Campbell has been known to slip into an elderly piece from Alaia before a tour of the New York night spots. "Vintage Look" is the name given to the trend. It seems old things have their own allure.

The big auction houses like Sotheby's or Christie's are not the only ones to sell designer label old clothes. The Internet provides some valuable sources too. Fans check out the specialist websites such as or

auction haute-couture items are real bargains," said Kerry Taylor. A genuine Balenciaga can be had at Sotheby's for 600 pounds (968,51 euro) and prices for fab frocks from the best-known names start at around 5,100 euros. Clearly this is territory for those with plenty of disposable income.

Not all pre-worn items are "cheap" to buy. Fashion houses keen to expand their collections along with museums and individual collectors have pushed up prices. An evening dress from Yves Saint Laurent from his legendary Russian Collection of 1976/77 changed hands at Sotheby's in 1999. When the hammer fell the price had reached 47,700 pounds.

An evening ensemble from Laurent's African-inspired spring collection of 1967 went for a staggering 91,750 pounds in 2000. It used to hang in the wardrobe of Dame Margot Fonteyn. Indeed anything once worn by a celebrity will be sold at a premium.

A bra used by Madonna on stage during her "Who's that girl" sold for 11,248 euros at Sotheby's.

Those unwilling to go to such giddy price heights could keep a lookout for classic "street fashion".

Suzette Shields of Christie's recommends Vivienne Westwood - especially items from her early punk era when she ran the outrageous boutique "Sex" along with her friend Malcolm McLaren. A box of jumble containing a complete set of her T-shirts from the 1970s would be a real treasure trove, said Shields.

Kerry Taylor of Sotheby's believes investors cannot go far wrong with Yves Saint Laurent. Dior is another good buy too. "But only work from the 1940s and '50s, the period after that when Marc Bohan was the designer is not worth it," she said.

From the 1960s designers worth looking into are Givenchy, Balmain, Courrèges and Paca Rabanne, from the '70s Biba, Ossie Clark and Couture from Valentino, from the 1980s Westwood and from the '90s above all Versace.

Kerry Taylor believes it would be madness to discard anything from Issey Miyake and Stella McCartney. Both could be the next big things for collectors along with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen.

Tracy Tolkien, co-owner of the well-known vintage fashion shopSteinberg and Tolkien in the Kings Road in London has a few other favourites too. "Chanel, especially the stuff from the 1920s and 1930s."

At the same time she urges caution. Collectors should not be tempted to pay money for items with the label "Chanel Creations". This period marked the nadir of the house of Chanel after Coco had left and before Karl Lagerfeld put the legendary firm back on its feet.

Tolkien recommends the Studio 54-Look, Diane von Fuerstenberg from the '70s, Halston, Norma Kamali and Pucci.
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