PARIS — As the world’s wealthiest women flock to Paris Couture Week to order made-to-measure gowns with stratospheric price tags, hundreds more will be heading to auction houses for a chance to snag a pre-worn haute couture creation for a fraction of the cost.
The spring couture shows, which kick off on Monday and run until Thursday, coincide with several physical and online viewings and sales of important collections of haute couture and rare designer accessories.
Christie’s is set to host a cocktail on Monday for the viewing of items from the wardrobe of a leading couture client, known by the initials V.W.S., alongside the collection of famed fashion editor André Leon Talley. The event will feature a set design by Aline Asmar d’Amman, who previously worked with Karl Lagerfeld on the design of several luxury suites at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris.
Camille de Foresta, auctioneer at Christie’s, said V.W.S. knew many of the great designers of the 20th century, including Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy. “What you see is only the tip of the iceberg, since it represents a lifetime of clothes. There were between 500 and 600 pieces, and we selected 115,” she said.
Two items from the socialite’s collection were sold in November as part of “The Exceptional Sale,” with a 1996 Chanel coat with coromandel embroidery fetching 277,200 euros.
The online sale, titled “From Chanel to Saint Laurent, an Haute Couture Collection,” which started on Jan. 11 and ends on Wednesday, includes another Chanel gem: a Tudor-themed embroidered purple velvet gown from fall 1988 with an estimate of 4,000 euros to 6,000 euros.
Prices are designed to draw in first-time buyers. Estimates start at 400 euros for a 1993 gray Saint Laurent trouser suit and there are several designs from Christian Lacroix, who is trending at auction, de Foresta said. They include a coral satin jacket with lace appliqué that was worn by Carla Bruni on the runway and is valued at 600 euros to 800 euros.
The auctioneer said interest in couture has been fueled by efforts by leading luxury houses to spotlight their archives. In addition to partnering with museums on major fashion retrospectives, some brands are opening their own exhibition spaces, such as La Galerie de Dior, located in the same building as the French luxury brand’s historic flagship in Paris.
Five percent of the amount raised by the Christie’s sale will be donated to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs to fund its future acquisitions.
“Museums and couture houses have done so much to educate people about haute couture and fashion as an art form that more and more people are interested in it. I think those people also want to stand out and wearing vintage clothes is one way to do that,” de Foresta said. “Online sales have connected us with buyers that we had no idea were out there.”
The Talley collection will be on show ahead of a series of live and online auctions starting on Friday and ending on Feb. 17, with proceeds going toward the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City and the Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. Items on offer include customized Louis Vuitton luggage, as well as several of the late fashion editor’s signature robes and caftans.
“André Leon Talley’s fashion sensibility was singular and timeless. He was categorically chic, and the collection that he amassed throughout his life was unlike any other. We are beyond thrilled to steward this group of objects from his homes, a selection that showcases Talley’s endless love for all things beautiful,” said Elizabeth Seigel, head of private and iconic collections at Christie’s.
The auction house is also partnering with Artcurial on “My Secret Fashion Show,” a live auction of 150 items from the collection of vintage specialist Didier Ludot, scheduled for Thursday. An online sale of another 150 pieces runs until Jan. 31, with estimates ranging from 120 euros to 12,000 euros.
The star piece is a saffron-colored Yves Saint Laurent jacket from 1989, featuring ornate embroideries by Lesage, which has an initial estimate of 12,000 euros to 16,000 euros. Also going under the hammer is a coatdress from Saint Laurent’s debut collection for Christian Dior in 1958, which is enjoying a revival courtesy of Kim Jones, who said the lineup inspired his Dior fall 2023 menswear collection.
With skirts and kilts trending on men’s runways, male buyers might want to snag a long kilt designed by Hedi Slimane for Dior Homme in 2004, valued at 800 euros to 1,200 euros. Meanwhile, a lilac Versace dress, similar to one worn by Madonna in a 1995 advertising campaign for the brand, has a starting price of 1,800 euros.
Lastly, Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr is hosting a viewing on behalf of Bukowskis, part of the Bonhams network, as a teaser for its spring online auction of bags, accessories and rare runway pieces from “A Life — a Private Collection,” featuring around 1,500 items from brands such as Chanel, Hermès, Valentino and Dior.
The preview in Paris, which runs until Wednesday, will feature 50 of the most extraordinary pieces, such as a white Chanel camellia jacket from 2019. It is believed only 10 of the jackets were ever made, Bukowskis said, justifying its estimate of 22,400 euros.
Also on show will be novelty accessories such as Chanel’s pre-fall 2020 Bird Cage bag designed by creative director Virginie Viard and the shopping basket created by Lagerfeld in 2014, both offered with an estimate of 10,800 euros.
“Everything has been carefully taken care of in their original boxes and bags, dust bags and ribbons resulting in the collection being in excellent condition, something of high importance for both clients and collectors worldwide,” said Marcus Nilsson, specialist fashion at Stockholm-based Bukowskis.
Interest in Lagerfeld’s creations should be stoked by the Costume Institute’s upcoming exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York dedicated to the late German designer, de Foresta noted.
She cautioned that final prices were impossible to predict, since passionate individuals — some with deep pockets — will compete with brand archives and museums to acquire the finest pieces.
“Our target audience is people who will wear the clothes, but also collectors, museums and institutions, since almost all haute couture houses have a heritage department today,” she said. “They’re particularly interested in this [V.W.S.] collection because the pieces are in perfect condition. She wore them only once or twice, and the more exceptional and sumptuous the pieces, the less she wore them.”