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What makes some fashion iconic?

As Kanye West’s infamous Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototypes go under the hammer, two auctioneers explain the fuss

After their partnership with English Sole last month, Sotheby’s auctioneers have now turned their attention to an even rarer sole. The shoe that started an empire- Kanye West’s signature Nike Air Yeezy 1 prototypes. The shoe, which was designed in 2008, was West’s debut signature trainer with Nike and he famously showcased the shoe at the 50th annual Grammy awards. The sneaker made history, being one of the first sneakers to be designed and created for an artist.

Being sold off by sneaker collector Ryan Chang, they are expected to fetch more than US$1 million- making them the highest valued pair of shoes ever. But why and who are buying these eye-wateringly expensive pieces? To find out why _shift spoke to specialist Lucy Bishop from Kerry Taylor Auctions and Costume and Textiles Sales specialist Sarah White of Tennants auctioneers about the subject.

Firstly, why do you think there is a market for famous fashion/iconic pieces?

Lucy Bishop: Because fashion is wonderful and much more interesting than other art forms.

Sarah White: I think there is a market for these pieces, as people, whether collectors, or private buyers want a little piece of a celebrity, or the latest Hermes bag as worn by Victoria Beckham, to prove they are as good as the celebrities. Although they do buy at a much more affordable price at auction. It’s snob value.

Why do you think people are interested in famous and iconic fashion pieces?

Lucy Bishop: People buy fashion at auction for many reasons. In terms of iconic or famous pieces, buyers may be serious private collectors, or they may be a fan of say, Audrey Hepburn, and wish to own something worn by her.

Sarah White: I think the hype for iconic fashion items at auction only began in the 20th century. This was created through the emergence of stars and celebrities from the 1920s of screen, royalty, and wealthy families. Initially through the newspapers, then tv and later on, social media. As for why, people want to own a little piece of a celebrity and/or for escapism.

What factors affect the value of an item?

Lucy Bishop: There are many different factors which affect the value of an item. These include date, who it was made by, who it was worn by, and the condition.

Sarah White: Items affecting value are: provenance, damage and condition, quality of the item.

Why do you think most customers/consumers buy famous fashion/iconic pieces?

Lucy Bishop: People buy fashion at auction for many different reasons, the main ones being to wear, to add to their collection, or as an investment.

Sarah White: Investment and again having a piece of something iconic. Snob value, proving they can afford to have these big-ticket items.

Do you have regular customers and collectors? Or is it more one-off purchases?

Lucy Bishop: Yes, we have many regular clients. With every auction we are discovered by new clients, many of whom may have not bid at auction before. Everyone is welcome at our sales.

Sarah White: We have four Costume and Textiles Specialist Sales a year, and as one of the only auction houses doing this in the UK, we have an enormous amount of buyers, mainly comprising three types: dealers and trade; private buyers; and collectors of specific items, so when cataloguing and grouping the items I try and keep this in mind, to get as many lots as possible that would suit all three. As auctioneers we want to encourage as much repeat business as possible, hopefully with the experience they receive at Tennants they will do that. Many private buyers come in following a purchase to tell us about it. We have a client in Suffolk who used to come and buy outfits to wear in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot races. I love hearing about it!

What adds value to a piece? 

Lucy Bishop: There are many different factors that affect the value of a piece. For example, a modern RTW dress by Dior is absolutely not the same as a 1954 couture gown by the master himself. With fashion specifically, if the garment has been worn by somebody of historic importance, then this greatly increases the value. For example, a 1980s evening gown by British designer Victor Edelstein might struggle to achieve £200 at auction, but if that same gown was worn by Princess Diana, then it could achieve closer to £200,000.

Sarah White: One of the only things to add real value to an item is good provenance. People love a story and to be able to read a background on maybe where the item came from or who owned it.

It is said that there is a “romance” to vintage fashion, would you agree? What attracts you to it personally?

Lucy Bishop: I think modern fashion simply cannot compare to vintage in terms of quality and design. The majority of contemporary fashion is mass produced and destined for landfill, whereas true vintage pieces are beautifully made, and have been treasured by previous owners for decades, sometimes centuries. When you hold a piece of vintage fashion and examine it up close, you are holding a piece of history, a moment in time. Often in vintage evening gowns from the 1930s you will find a lipstick mark to the inside, or a tear to the hem from a high-heel caught when dancing…when I find those small imperfections I think to myself, ‘what a wonderful night she must have had… all those years ago’. So, in that sense, yes, there is a romance to vintage fashion. For me personally, I view couture as works of art. And I think there is no other art form which better illustrates social history, than fashion. You can stand and look at painting and get an impression of what life must have been like, but when you examine a pair shoes or a garment, you really understand how that person lived, at that particular time in history.

Sarah White: Personally, I love a story rather than an iconic item, in 2019 we had a lady desperate to buy a Chanel quilted handbag, bidding furiously at the back of the room, with a stricken look on her face. She was successful with this, and then went onto buy a Chanel No 5 dummy factice that was approximately 27cm high for £800 as well.  She was so overjoyed with her purchases, so for me to see happy clients and vendors means as much as anything.

What has been the most iconic piece that you have sold?

Lucy Bishop: We have sold too many to mention. But one of the most internationally famous dresses we have sold is Princess Diana’s midnight blue evening gown by Victor Edelstein, which she wore to attend the state dinner at the White House in 1985 and danced in with John Travolta. It achieved £220,000 hammer in 2019.

 

What has been your personal favourite piece that you have come across or sold?

Lucy Bishop: My more recent personal favourite is the ‘Floral Alien’ ensemble by artist Karina Akopyan, worn by Lady Gaga for her ‘911’ music video in 2020. It achieved £10,000. Lady Gaga is already an icon for my generation, and I’m sure she will remain one for decades to come.

‘Floral Alien’ image from @_gastt on Twitter

Check out Kerry Taylor auctions @kerrytaylorauctions on Instagram and at www.kerrytaylorauctions.com and Tennants auctioneers @tennantsauction on Instagram and at www.tennants.co.uk

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