Vintage couture collectors get wrapped up in the history of great design.
Written by Ted Loos
Produced by Doris Athineos
Collecting fashion wasn’t always in fashion—seeking out the best-designed gowns, bags, and shoes of the past was once an eccentric byway for lovers of fine things. But over the past few years, it has gained traction bit by bit, fueled by fascination with Oscar red carpet recaps, the emergence of the designer as rock star, and suddenly serious treatment in museums. (Witness the public’s gaga response to the 2011 Alexander McQueen show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.)
But the most serious fashion collectors don’t do it because it’s trendy. They bond intimately with their finds, picturing them coming to life in a way that’s impossible to imagine with a drawing or a piece of silver. "You can touch people’s silver, or their paintings," points out New York-based collector Tiffany Dubin, but when you start touching people’s clothes, they start to squirm. Dubin founded and ran the fashion department at Sotheby’s in the 1990s, right at the moment when the modern era of interest in fashion took off. "There’s something so personal about clothing," she says.
Fashion collectors generally fall into one of two camps: those who wear what they buy, and those who don’t. Dubin, like many others, came to the field simply because she wanted to look good.
"I was in a consignment store, and I found a Norman Norell dress," says Dubin, referring to the American postwar designer famous for tapered lines. "My body looked leaner, longer, and my waist looked smaller. I had no idea it was ‘vintage’—it was just good body armor for me."