Vintage Fashion at Auction


Vintage Fashion at Auction

June 29, 2007

Fashion doesn't have to be new to be fashionable; some of the most up-to-date looks are inspired by the past. "Fashion is a continual reinterpretation," says independent London fashion auctioneer Kerry Taylor, whose sales of vintage attire offer a chance to find unusual clothing you aren't likely to see someone else wearing at a party.

Savvy shoppers aren't the only ones likely to be at coming London sales. Designers often show up looking for new ideas from old sources, says Christie's fashion expert Pat Frost. Collectors, who see fashion items as works of art, frequent the auctions, as do museums looking for items with historical significance.

[1970s Pucci dress (estimate 500-800)]
1970s Pucci dress (estimate £500-£800)

Vintage auctions can also offer good value for money -- as not everyone likes the idea of second-hand clothes. This means haute-couture evening dresses or handmade accessories can be snapped up at prices far below those found in trendy boutiques. For example, in Christie's coming "The Wardrobe Sale" on July 25, estimates begin at £150 (

Here's what to look for in coming sales:

Designer Greats

The auctions typically feature all the fashion hall-of-famers, including Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Chanel, Pucci, Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, Missoni, Versace, Miyake and Vivienne Westwood.

Among the items at Christie's on July 25 will be a totally up-to-date, perky evening dress with a flower design by Pucci from the 1970s, estimated at £500 to £800; an elegant, iridescent, black silk evening coat by Miyake from the 1980s (£1,000 to £1,500); a seductive, long, red evening skirt with a transparent polo neck top from the 1970s by Courrèges (£800 to £1,500); a fun Missoni suit of gold lurex from 1982 (£500 to £1,000); a Versace two-piece cocktail ensemble with wrap-around skirt from the 1980s (£600 to £1,000); and a black silk crepe evening dress with fluorescent yellow tubular-mesh shoulder straps from the 1980s by Japan's technically versatile designer Yohji Yamamoto (£600 to £1,000).

Kerry Taylor's sale in association with Sotheby's on July 10 will feature dresses by Charles James, an English-born, American designer who is one of the great names of 20th-century fashion, famous for his glamorous evening gowns. A copper taffeta bias-cut gown from the 1940s with plunging neckline is estimated at £2,500 to £3,500 (

Another early 20th-century fashion legend featured in the sale is France's Madeleine Vionnet, whose flowing Grecian-style dresses were favored by film divas Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo. A Vionnet cocktail dress from circa 1921 in shimmering silver is estimated at £6,000 to £10,000.


Ms. Taylor's July sale will include a fuchsia pink swathed chiffon sari-style evening gown worn by Princess Diana on her official visit to Thailand in 1988 (£25,000 to £35,000). The costume was designed by French-born, U.K.-based Catherine Walker, founder of the Chelsea Design Company, London, which made most of the princess's evening dresses.

Says Ms. Taylor, "As an auction house, I sell to anyone; but, in my heart, I hope this dress is bought by a museum."


At vintage sales, shoes and bags are particularly popular, says Ms. Frost, whose sale results on June 7 were headed by a cherry-red Hermès crocodile bag that fetched £36,000, more than tripling its estimate of £8,000 to £10,000. Ms. Taylor's July sale includes a rare green leather clutch Hermès bag from the 1930s decorated with a horse and jockey, estimated at £3,000 to £5,000.

Just for Men

Specialists agree that finding interesting 20th-century men's fashion at the sales isn't easy. Says Ms. Frost, "Men tend to wear their clothes until they fall apart, so pieces are hard to get in good condition." Still, Christie's has a collection in its sale of colorful Westwood items including men's shirts and accessories. Westwood's famous "destroy" T-shirts from the early 1980s are featured with one declaring "I am an anarchist" estimated at £400 to £600.

Write to Margaret Studer at