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The Chic Geek Comment What the 1978 Christie’s Chanel auction tells us about the changing attitudes in collecting vintage fashion

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The final look in the V&A museum’s new Chanel exhibition features a very austere and catholic looking black buttoned dress with white dog collar. It was the star item – featuring on the cover of the catalogue – at the 1978 sale at Christie’s of Coco Chanel’s possessions.

It was bought by the V&A museum at the ‘Sale of the Personal Collection of Chanel’ to add to its extensive fashion collection. 

While I don’t know how much the museum paid for it, I am certain it wouldn’t be able to buy it today. Fashion wasn’t looked at the same then. It was something that came and went and wearing second clothes had more of a stigma than sartorial statement. It had a value, but it was a niche market to fill a gap in a museum collection.

Many brands didn’t have archives until the 1990s. Chanel herself didn’t keep anything, but this urge to buy back history is what has driven the luxury vintage market. 

The same auction today would no doubt see Chanel bidding for its own products to put back into its archive – Direction du Patrimoine de CHANEL, the fashion house’s heritage department – or up against a vintage dealer or collector willing to push the price into the stratosphere. 

When you consider that Princess Diana’s sheep sweater recently sold for over £1 million, tells you everything you need to know about the craziness of the prices top pieces are commanding.

The V&A museum today relies on gifts and requests to brands because it is without the acquisition budgets to compete. This one item sums up the changes in the attitudes to vintage fashion, and more recently, the investment potential of clothes.  An item with this pedigree is a dead cert for investment potential with the provenance of the owner, even if there isn’t a picture of her wearing it. For Chanel fans it is a link to an icon. For luxury antique dealers it is a category that has become as important as any in the antique and collectables market.

People now appreciate and value such items and vintage clothes and accessorises are firmly recognised with the prices to match.

Bought by the V&A museum at the 1978 sale at Christie’s of Coco Chanel’s possessions

Auction, Chanel, Chanel Archive, Christie's, Exhibition, Princess Diana, Victoria Albert Museum, Vintage Fashion