The dream Christmas present: Givenchy haute couture coat owned by Audrey Hepburn

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What would you pay to own a piece of Givenchy haute couture once owned by Audrey Hepburn?  This was a question facing attendees at specialist auctioneer, Kerry Taylor’s Passion for Fashion sale on 8 December in London.  Amongst the stellar items on sale was a black silk evening coat made for Hepburn and looking as stylish and classic today as it did in 1960.

You would think it would be hard to find items more sought-after than that, but in fact it was not the top-seller of the sale.  The top prices were an interesting mixture.  Highest of all was a stunning Balenciaga haute couture bridal gown, sold for £60,000, far exceeding its £15-20,000 estimate.  It came from one of Cristobal Balenciaga’s last collections, from SS 1968 and similar models have been featured repeatedly in shows and fashion literature over the years.  A historic item, the price set a new world record for a Balenciaga piece.

Comme des Garcons items also achieved world records: £26,000 for a black knitted ensemble from the AW 1983 collection that had been photographed by Peter Lindberg.  This was quite extraordinary, especially compared with other pieces from the same era designed by Yamamoto, Miyake and Vivienne Westwood that fetched prices in the high hundreds or low thousands.  There was also a suit from the SS 1997 ‘Bump’ collection, its exaggerated bumps and lumps built into the clothing causing much controversy and comment at the time.  The suit, in pink and blue nylon gingham, sold for £22,000 and was similar to those shown on the catwalk and photographed by Inez & Vinoodh for Visionaire.  Just like Yves Saint Laurent’s controversial 1940s-inspired collection of 1971, perhaps this is telling us that collections that may be reviled the day they are presented should be judged on a longer timeframe.

On a similar historical note, there was a Schiaparelli jacket from her AW 37/38 collection, embroidered with a daisy motif encrusted with sequins and pearls.  It was a truly beautiful piece and fetched £24,000, far above its £5-9,000 estimate.  Not all the Schiap pieces in the sale performed so well perhaps because this designer, with her ground-breaking surrealist style, holds a very specific appeal.

There was also McQueen: one of the dresses featured on the catwalk in his SS 2010 ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ collection – his last. The python print/photo collage corseted dress fetched £16,000, far in excess of other, earlier McQueen pieces in the sale, mostly from AW 2004/5 ‘Pantheon ad Lecum’ collection depicting an ethereal, otherworldly glamour.

It was also interesting to see how individual designers performed across the whole sale.  Haute couture pieces by Chanel and Balenciaga dependably exceeded estimates, especially a black beaded silk capelet from 1924 one of Gabrielle Chanel’s earlier pieces fetching £7,500 (estimate £2-3,000).  Original Jeanne Lanvin dresses and Alexander McQueen also sold beyond their estimates, perhaps boosted by the recent prominent public exhibitions each has enjoyed at the Musee Galliera and Victoria and Albert Museum respectively. Yet this did not hold true for Yves Saint Laurent – despite two big exhibitions of his work this year, some of his classic pieces in the sale stubbornly stayed within their estimate.  Finally, it was interesting to see an original Martin Margiela piece far outstrip its £1,500-2,000 estimate.  The linen tunic from his AW 1997/8 collection, made to look like a hessian dressmaker’s mannequin is one of his classic designs and fetched an impressive £8,000.

There was also a reminder of how important provenance can be.  Why would anyone pay £2,200 for a second hand nightshirt?  Or the same price for a single glove?  Perhaps if the former had been owned by Winston Churchill and the latter by King Charles I you might.

What would I have bought?  Without doubt my first choice would have been the Audrey Hepburn coat.  A shimmering pink pleated silk Fortuny dress would also have been on my list – that was snapped up by a lucky buyer for £1,600.  I also had my eye on an ensemble from Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Russian’ collection of AW 1976 that included his classic peasant blouse, a tiered gypsy skirt and a black velvet waistcoat that sold for £650.  At that price, I’m starting to regret that I was not there to bid.

Kerry Taylor’s next auction of antique and vintage fashion and textiles will be on 23 February 2016 and her next ‘Passion for Fashion’ auction on 21 June.  You can see more online, including the sale catalogue and full results for the 8 December ‘Passion for Fashion’ sale here.

By the way, if you are wondering what a lucky buyer paid for Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy haute couture coat, it fetched £17,000, which at least to me, seemed surprisingly moderate for a piece of fashion and movie history associated with such a well-loved star.  I hope it went to a loving home.

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