Fashion-forward for fall: Caring for collectible style

Image: Courtesy of Garde Robe LLC.

Is a sweater knitted out of plastic bags art or fashion? In the case of an eco-conscious wearable statement by the fashion duo Eckhaus Latta, it’s both. You can even try on and purchase the $7,200 sweater as part of a retail installation currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Some fashion designers push aesthetic boundaries—and traditional notions of what is wearable—to the delight of fashion followers. Why not? Only some of us may have art on the walls, but all of us have textiles on our backs, so we are instinctively able to relate to clothing.

The relatability of fashion has caught the attention of museums. While the Whitney exhibition explores the intersection of creativity and commerce with its alluring invitation to try on and purchase the items displayed, other museums favor the more traditional “retrospective.” The Metropolitan Museum’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” (2011) broke attendance records.1 The Denver Museum of Art is also hoping its “Dior” retrospective will bring in new visitors.

While many museums collect and display clothing and accessories of historic worth and/or innovative design, today, private collectors now have more resources than ever to participate in the collecting—and wearing—of fashion.


From trendy to timeless


Collectible fashion ranges from vintage fashion (more than thirty years old) to unique items (Eckaus Latta’s plastic sweater) to collectible articles from a designer’s oeuvre. Collectible fashion items,  including jewelry, can be both worn and collected.

Historically, fashion innovation can be viewed through the lens of social and historical values and breakthroughs. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel freed women of corsets and “body conscious” clothing in the 1920s. In the 1950s Christian Dior heralded the “New Look” with a return to more traditional femininity: fitted bust, tapered waist, and a flared full skirt. Two decades later, Yves St. Laurent shocked many with his “Le Smoking” suit—adapting a man’s suit to a woman’s contours.

Subsequent decades celebrated punk and grunge. The theatricality of designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen in the 1990s and early aughts were tempered by the minimalism and conceptualism of designers like Martin Margiela, and Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. For all these designers and fashion houses, creativity becomes wearable, underscoring fashion’s unique ability to bridge art and commerce.


The market for collectible fashion


This summer, an Alexander McQueen ready-to wear dress from the spring 1996 “Hunger” collection was listed for $32,000 on Cameron Silver’s eponymous website.2 Specialized shops like Silver’s infamous Melrose Drive store Decades elevated “vintage” to collectible fashion.

If you recently found a 22-year-old dress by a well-known fashion designer in your closet, how do you know if it is collectible? Research into a clothing’s history can offer rich rewards.

Danielle Morrin, an Archivist and Fashion Historian at Garde Robe, a luxury wardrobe management and valet service, elaborates, “Some clients request I research their garment to verify whether it may have been a limited edition or runway sample, which would increase its valuable as a collectible if from a significant designer’s collection.  Even if that piece was not in the actual fashion show, it may have been a piece from the collection that was never translated into a retail-ready piece, which also adds value due to its rarity.”

What if, instead of researching a garment you own, you are looking to purchase your own piece of collectible fashion? In addition to curated vintage boutiques stores, some auction houses—such as Kerry Taylor, Christies, Augusta, and Drouot—offer occasional sales of collectible fashion. In addition, the proliferation on online luxury fashion sales platforms like the RealReal and Vestiare offers access to fashion lovers regardless of location.


Caring for fashion


Whether your intention is to wear an amazing ensemble to an upcoming event, or preserve your piece to loan to a future museum exhibition, condition is key.

Caring for your fashion collectibles requires an understanding of not only the materials they are made out of (natural fibers such as wool and silk, or synthetics such as rayon and plastics), but also the construction of the garment.

Image: Courtesy of Garde Robe LLC.

Both factors will impact storage. “Often, heavy garments need to be stored horizontally in a box rather than vertically on a hanger. Many vintage dresses have thin straps relative to the weight of the skirt, and this can stress the seams by the straps and the shoulder of the garment,” Morrin cautions.

Contemporary garments can also present storage challenges if they include elements such as brocade, sequins or other heavy decorative features. Notes Morrin, “We recently boxed biker jackets decorated with heavy spikes and safety pins that were too heavy to hang.”

Horizontal vs. vertical storage is one factor to consider. Another is the keeping the terrible triumvirate of temperature, humidity and vermin at bay.

What are the ideal storage conditions for long-term preservation of textiles and fabrics? Doug Greenberg, a Director at Garde Robe, lists a few:

  • Steady temperature. Frequent changes in temperature can affect the integrity of fabrics
  • Low relative humidity to prevent moisture and mold
  • Low light to prevent light fading
  • Filtered air to remove impurities that would be trapped in fabric
  • Movement of air to prevent culture growth
  • Breathability of garment bags
  • Wrapping of items individually in acid free tissue and/or muslin

If you have run out of space for your sweaters (whether cashmere or of the plastic bag variety), designer wedding gown, or other collectible fashion, off-site storage at a professional textile and clothing storage company is a wise option.

A sizable collection of unique and valuable fashion collectibles can also be insured. Look for a specialized provider who understands the nature of insuring these items and is qualified to advise you in their care.

It’s time to consider your closet, and let a fresh breeze in. Whether you are looking for a new item of collectible fashion or simply want to ensure you are thoughtfully caring for and insuring the items you own, fall is the perfect time to make a fashion statement.

To learn more about Berkley One’s collectibles coverage, visit us here.

Katja Zigerlig is Vice President, Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).