A vintage Chanel jacket for £220? Who needs the high street?

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Vintage fashion auctions can be fascinating events, highlighting current and new trends and always delivering surprises. Much can be explained by the participants and dynamics in the auction room itself and I’d be willing to bet that last week’s Kerry Taylor action of Antique and Vintage Fashion and Textiles was conducted in a room packed with vintage dealers, collectors, enthusiasts and period drama costumers.  On this occasion though, the ordinary consumer would have been the winner too with some highly desirable items going for extremely competitive prices – the vintage Chanel jacket in the title being a case in point.

There was a lot of “true” vintage in this sale with clothing and accessories from the early to mid-twentieth century. These lots all seemed to sell steadily, despite some being challenging to work into a modern wardrobe. There was also a strong contingent of pieces by Japanese designers – Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto – most of which fetched prices at the upper end of their estimates, suggesting buyers that appreciated them as important elements of fashion history. By contrast, an array of dresses by Bill Gibb and Ossie Clark fetched lower prices or even failed to sell, suggesting that the recent hot trending of these designers may be fading.

The driver for many of the sales seemed to be a desire to acquire important or landmark pieces. So if you had gone along, attracted by the pre-sale estimate of £400-600 for an original McQueen dress from the controversial AW 2006 Widows of Culloden collection, you might have been disappointed to see it sell for £1,300 (though still, to my mind, a bargain for an original McQueen). Similarly a number of Dior gowns from the 60s fetched four-figure prices. Though not landmarks, they were still beautiful and highly wearable.

Some of the biggest surprises in the sale were more modern pieces from Chanel, Hermes and YSL. If you were a bargain-hunter there were some incredible buys here. A beautiful ice blue and black Chanel jacket sold for £220; a YSL gold lame evening column for £380; an Hermes collier de chien belt in white ostrich for £200 and a printed silk shirt for £150. At these prices, why buy a mass manufactured high street item of inferior quality and design?

It was not only a sale to please the collector and the bargain-hunter. There were also some wonderful pieces for prospective brides or those looking for interesting eveningwear. Wonderful 1920s flapper dresses and slinky 1930s columns sold for prices comparable with the high street. These were exceptional, unique works of artisanship but surprisingly accessible prices.

So what would I have chosen? Pre-sale, I would have gone for the spectacular YSL gold lame evening column – an absolute classic of the designer’s style and a perennial stunner. It exceeded its £200-300 estimate to go for £380 but was still a great buy at that price. In retrospect, I would definitely have tried to acquire a marvellous Margiela deconstructued tuxedo trouser suit that failed to sell, or perhaps one of the very beautiful 1920s flapper dresses.

So if you are tempted to try your luck next time, the next sale will be a “Passion for Fashion” on 14 June. Look out for updates and early catalogue viewing on the Kerry Taylor website.

And if, like me, you are perpetually enchanted by 1920s flapper elegance, you’ll be delighted to learn that this Autumn’s big exhibition at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum will be dedicated to this particular period of fashion history. I’m already dusting off my cloche hat in expectation of a treat.

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