Take a shine to vintage: uncovering the appeal of historic fashion and jewellery

To mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the house of Dior, Sotheby’s France is auctioning off a private collection of Christian Dior jewellery

Christian Dior by Marc Bohan, brass silver plated and crystals necklace. Courtesy Sotheby's
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Sotheby's France is auctioning off a private collection of Christian Dior jewellery, starting September 20until October 4, to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the house of Dior. This is also the first-ever online sale for the French arm of the auction house. Gabriella Mantegani, jewellery specialist at Sotheby's Paris, discusses the appeal of vintage fashion and jewels, designers she admires and attributes to look out for before you invest.

What are some of the items that will come up for sale in the Christian Dior: Bijoux de Mode auction?

AThe auction is dedicated to Dior's costume jewellery, most of it originating from the [John] Galliano period, which lends itself to expression and eccentricity, as well as to unrestricted opulence. The inspiration for these pieces transports us to the lives of people from Victorian England to Africa by way of the maharajas of India. Many of the pieces, such as the Handcuff Necklace and Maasai Choker from the late 1990s, were designed to accompany Dior's haute couture creations, and have been designed in the tradition of high jewellery. 

How does an item qualify as worth investing in?

Essentially it is the avant-gardism of these pieces, the endless creativity and daring innovation in style from fashion and jewellery designers that are now being rewarded by the market. For instance, costume jewellery requires a great love for unbridled imagination. Items that require great skill and dozens of hours to be made would be most valuable. A piece that has been worn by renowned people, known for their refined taste, also has an impact on the value. Above all, you should buy works that you fall in love with. And seek the help of specialists to learn more about fabrics, stones, designers and provenance, so you can appreciate the inherent quality of the piece you have invested in.

Christian Dior By John Galliano, Rare Massai Necklace Of Metal, Imitation Pearls And Satine Ribbon. Courtesy Sotheby's

Where do you think the appeal of vintage fashion lies?

As with any other collecting categories, collectors are looking for unique works with a great prove-nance. When you purchase vintage items, you also buy a part of history. Then there is also the designer or artist who made them. The pieces of major artists display a long-time savoir faire, which can remind us of an era of glamour and elegance.

What are some of the most expensive vintage fashion items sold over the years?

Sotheby's Paris organised a fashion auction in 2015, of haute couture from the Didier Ludot collection. It included many exceptional gowns by Paul Poiret, Madame Grès, Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Azzedine Alaïa, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, John Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent. The top lot of the sale was a wonderful dress by Balenciaga, covered in pink ostrich feathers, which sold for €56,250 [Dh245,800] against a pre-sale estimate of €5,000 to €8,000 [up to Dh35,000].

Are there any brands, designers and famous wearers whose items are particularly popular with collectors?

Balenciaga is, without a doubt, considered the most important fashion designer. Christian Dior items are also much sought after by collectors, especially Galliano's theatrical designs. The early works by Japanese designers attract much interest as well. Among contemporary designers, I would recommend British designer Gareth Pugh, whose geometrical and abstract creations are amazing. 

A Christian Dior hair ornament with Swarovski crystals, hand-painted Sèvres porcelain medallions and brass from the brand’s autumn/winter 1999 collection. Courtesy Sotheby's

Do you see references to the Middle East in some of the vintage pieces you come across?

The Middle East, in general, has always been a great source of inspiration for designers. In the 19th century, Europeans already owned homewear inspired by comfortable clothes worn by Arabic and Turkish people. But it was during the 1970s that fashion became most fascinated by the Middle East: the kaftans and keffiyehs [ghutrahs] have been reinterpreted by famous designers like Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. In a vintage fashion auction at Sotheby's, we sold a wonderful evening ensemble designed by Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, composed of a tunic and trousers with orientalist embroidery. We will also offer, at the Didier Ludot collection auction on October 3, a sublime pair of Roger Vivier evening shoes inspired by babouche slippers, entirely embroidered by Rebé.  


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