Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Tiffany Dubin could hardly unzip the garment bag fast enough. As head of Sotheby’s new fashion department, which is staging its first couture auction next Wednesday, Dubin was anxious to show off the three-dimensional embroidery on a 1980s Chanel evening dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld, one of 131 lots.
“I can’t get enough of this,” she said as she dove into the bag, sans protective white gloves, to flash not only all that astonishing Lesage beadwork, but a hem that took probably 20 hours to sew. “You could wear this dress inside out, it’s made so well.”
Dubin is hoping others share her enthusiasm for recent couture.
“We’re starting from scratch,” she said, confessing to sleepless nights at the prospect of the sale, for which there are few precedents. Sotheby’s is just now developing a client list for fashion auctions, and Dubin is quick to admit that the market for couture from the second half of the century has been largely untested.
Besides serious collectors and museum buyers, who will no doubt compete for historically significant Diors and Chanels, Dubin hopes young women who have long dreamed of wearing couture, but could never afford it, will be among those bidding.
“Big couture collectors don’t think of wearing these things, but I think there’s a new market out there,” Dubin said. “I hope people will buy to wear.”
At the very least, Dubin is hoping for some phone bids from celebrities with a reputation for wearing contemporary couture — people like Winona Ryder, Lauren Hutton, Madonna and Courtney Love.
In total, 12,500 glossy, magazine-style catalogs were produced for the sale, which is called “Paris a la Mode.” About half were distributed to the auction house’s list of jewelry customers. Model agencies, editors, gallery owners and other known fashion fanatics were also alerted.
The catalog documents each dress and suit meticulously, down to a description of the label, known editorial credits and precise measurements. When Dubin hands out her business card, it comes attached to a pink measuring tape so potential customers, like so many Cinderellas, can find out what might fit.
Based on telephone inquiries and Dubin’s intuitions, following are some of the items expected to be among the most hotly contested:
A herringbone Givenchy day suit worn by Audrey Hepburn in the 1966 film “How to Steal a Million.”
A black taffeta Christian Dior cocktail ensemble from 1958 that was part of Yves Saint Laurent’s first collection for the house.
A navy “New Look” two-piece Dior dress from 1948.
A telephone-dial compact designed by Salvador Dali for Elsa Schiaparelli’s fall 1935 collection.
Dubin said she has no idea how high bidding could run. Estimates for most dresses in the catalog range from about $1,000 to $3,000.

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