Thursday, December 05, 2013

Coco Chanel's Personal Wardrobe Auction in 1978

On December 2, 1978, Christie's in London auctioned the personal wardrobe of Coco Chanel which had been bequeathed to Lilian Grumbach (center above) upon Chanel's death in 1971.  At the time, auctioning of "used clothing" or "personal wardrobes" was not the norm, in fact far from it.  There was a lot of speculation prior to the auction about who would want to buy the "out-of-date" clothing and jewelry from an auction house that normally specialized in fine art and antiques.  The House of Chanel itself was floundering in the late 70s and would not become a sensation again until 1983, when Karl Lagerfeld was hired.

Lilian Grumbach was press representative and closest personal associate to Chanel during the last 14 years of her life.  She was also heir to Chanel's personal effects.  The auction consisted of about 40 suits and dresses, either worn personally by Chanel herself or designed by her and kept as part of her personal collection.  There were also 44 pieces of jewelry and 36 other accessories (presumably handbags and such.) 

The auction was attended by museums, department stores, private collectors and women who were wise enough to realize the value of a piece of couture designed by Chanel.  A beige tweed suit with bright pink silk braid brought the highest price of the evening, about $4,800 (about $17,200 today.)  The total proceeds for the evening were $138,000 (about $494,000 today.)

Think about that.  Less than $500,000 for 120 items owned and designed by Coco Chanel herself.  If the same auction were held today, I am sure there would have been single items that sold for that price.  What a difference 35 years makes!

This link will take you to a French news report about the auction on Youtube.  In it, you can see some of the clothing and jewelry that was auctioned being worn by models.  You'll also see some of the bidders.  Enjoy!