Vintage Fashion on the Auction Block

LONDON — Suppose your mother reached into the depths of her closet, pulled out an old dress, wrapped it in fancy paper and presented it to you for the holidays.

Not much of a gift, huh?

But if your best friend bought the same outfit at an auction as a “vintage” piece, that could be seen as a generous example of gift-giving.

Fashion collectibles are moving fast forward from 20th-century legends like Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel to designers who are still living and working.

If the shoe fits, why not buy a pair of apricot mules on a pimento red platform from Jean Paul Gaultier, boudoir pink shoes by Vivienne Westwood or wildly psychedelic boots by Thierry Mugler?

“Fashion,” the sale of designer clothing and accessories to be held at Christie’s South Kensington on Thursday, is a watershed moment for fashion collectibles, showing that an outfit no longer has to be Art Deco or from the golden era of haute couture to have value.

Patricia Frost, Christie’s director of costumes and textiles, said she believed that museums would bid for most of the iconic pieces, like Yves Saint Laurent’s graphic “Mondrian” dress (which the auction house has estimated at £25,000 to £30,000, or about $39,000 to $46,000).

“A major lot is something that ties the object into popular culture and historical movements,” said Ms. Frost, pointing out that the YSL piece has links to both a modernist fashion movement and to art.

Ms. Frost has also found that, when it comes to vintage buys, the 1980s have become the new 1930s.

Those earlier outfits are still highly desirable, as in the filmy chiffon ’30s dresses worn by the actress Rebecca Hall in the November couture supplement to Vanity Fair magazine.

But more recent collectibles in the sale include a wild orange coat and banana yellow dress from Pierre Cardin in the 1960s; a plastic fantastic poncho from Paco Rabanne in the 1970s; Azzedine Alaïa stretch Lycra knit dresses from the 1980s; and even a Valentino chiffon gown from the 1990s.

While prices for exceptional pieces may soar, many of the estimates are around £1,000, or even lower for costume jewelry and shoes.

Which is not to suggest that accessories are always cheaper. A sale of handbags this month at Christie’s brought in huge sums, including £38,000 apiece for two Hermès crocodile bags.

With so many museums and foundations across the world seeing fashion exhibitions as crowd pleasers, almost anything well designed and typical of its era is likely to be snapped up.

Christie’s has some beautiful works from the legendary couture collector BillyBoy* (the asterisk is legally a part of his name). The sale from his collection includes some early Christian Dior dresses, so evocative of postwar movie stars; and outfits from the days when a young Yves Saint Laurent took over at Dior — and then developed into a modernizing force.

There are also historic treasures, such as a classic Mariano Fortuny “Delphos” dress from around 1900, modestly estimated at £1,000 to £2,000.

The 18th-century gowns and numerous corsets are destined for museums, and Ms. Frost does not expect many of the older pieces to be bought to wear. (Although a Hermès bathing suit with a Zodiac pattern from the 1930s might tempt a daring Christmas shopper.)

Costume jewelry, from designers including Chanel, Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent, could also make a stylish gift — not to mention cutie-pie children’s party dresses from the Shirley Temple brand.

The wily present giver could rifle through personal drawers and closets for forgotten pieces that have grown into collectible items. Or perhaps wait for Christie’s sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe and jewels in New York in December for the ultimate vintage gifts.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/fashion/29iht-fsale29.html?_r=1

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