Vintage Couture auction at Christie’s goes to show just how valuable so-called second hand fashion can actually be. Haute couture pieces from bygone eras are becoming rarer and rarer, and collectors are increasingly starting to treat exceptional garments like works of visual art.
Christie’s wasn’t prepared for the results. The vintage clothing auction, which included pieces from fashion goddess Elsa Schiaparelli and Jeanne Lanvin brought in more than 700,000 euro. A special black jacket from Schiaparelli made in 1939 sold for nearly 130,000 euro – far more than the initial estimated price of 10,000 euro.
First Lady vintage
Some of the value of the items sold comes from the fact that they are often not just rare, but actually unique one-off pieces. Additionally, the number of enthusiastic vintage collectors is growing rapidly, driving prices for desirable finds continually higher. Exquisite vintage robes have become the ultimate ‘in’ accessory for today’s red carpet celebrities, and even First Lady Michello Obama has been spotted in a choice 1950s black dress made by fashion mogul Normal Norell.
The fine vintage trend is however far from a new idea. Even in the 1970s, famous faces were often spotted in 1920s gowns made for the British upper class. What’s interesting however is how demand for the same items has only grown over the years, and the way costs have followed accordingly.
Christie’s Vintage Couture auction
Amongst last week’s top ten highest-selling items were seven Hermès bags – six Birkin bags, and one Picnic Kelly Bag. A crocodile leather Birkin bag brought in 48,000 euro by itself.
When a piece actually becomes ‘vintage’, is a question that remains undefined. Whereas in the 1970s, pieces from the 1920s were hot topic vintage fashion pieces, today’s collectors are also after garments from the 1980s and even from the early 1990s. As a general rule however, the exceptionally desirable pieces are those made by golden age masters such as Christóbal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel and Hubert de Givenchy.
More than just costume party fun for retro fans, some of these items are true high-dollar finds. With a little luck, a piece from your grandmother’s closet might turn out to be worth a small fortune.
AN ELSA SCHIAPARELLI BLACK VELVET EVENING JACKET
Embroidered with mirror-work baroque panels to the front and trimmed with twisted gold foil foliate scrolling embroidery
Labelled in side seam on white grosgrain, Printemps 1939, 21 place Vendome, Paris, indistinctly inscribed ‘Mrs Ward'(?) and tagged ‘65887’
A STAGE COSTUME BY JEANNE LANVIN
1922-3, IN THE STYLE OF THE 1850S
The olive green taffeta trimmed with a tiered cape collar, the skirts trimmed with black ribbon; and a further green silk skirt from the same production, similarly trimmed
Labelled JEANNE LANVIN, dated Hiver 1922-1923, inscribed ‘39251’
LE DIAMANT NOIR, A JEANNE LANVIN COCKTAIL GOWN
The sheer black chiffon ground is embroidered with a myriad of silver paste ribbons, all gradually decreasing into a trompe l’oeil vortex at the solar plexus
A JEANNE LANVIN PINK TABARD AND GOLD LAMÉ DRESS
The robe a simple shift dress with gold lace sleeves and yoke, the tabard of pink flock, trimmed with a gold lamé embroidered border, tying at the neck with embroidered scarves
The dress labelled JEANNE LANVIN in side seam and inscribed ‘21058’ to the reverse, dated Eté 1929; the tabard labelled JEANNE LANVIN in yellow on white and indestinctly inscribed to reverse ‘22484?’
A CHRISTIAN DIOR BLACK WOOL DAY DRESS
LATE 1940S, EARLY 1950S
The jacket with mother of pearl buttons and with peplum waist, the sleeves turned up and gathered, constructed with skirt attached at waist on the left side, gathered and flared at the back
Labelled CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS in black to white silk, with couture number ‘4137’ to linen tag (2)
A BLACK LIZARD SAC MALLETTE
HERMÈS, CIRCA 1950
Gold tone metal hardware, with integral lock and keyfob, lined in burgundy leather, the jewellery case lined in burgundy velvet, with velvet cushion
Stamped ‘HERMÈS, PARIS’
A JEAN PAUL GAULTIER BLACK EVENING GOWN
The wide, round neck and wide sleeves wired in the manner of Paul Poiret with velvet rouleaux
Labelled JOHN PAUL GAULTIER FEMME, with BERGDORF GOODMAN label
A KARL LAGERFELD FOR CHLOÉ ROYAL BLUE SATIN DRESS
UNLABELLED, AUTUMN/WINTER 1983
The low V-neck bodice embroidered with tap motifs in beads and silver sequins, with diamanté button fastening to the back, the sleeves long, embellished with diamanté buttons at the wrists
Christie’s Images Limited 2012