ART MARKET: READY TO WEAR

If you're after a wearable investment, a new London gallery could be your first stop.

IF YOU had pounds 3,000 to spare, maybe you would choose to spend it on a fabulous holiday, or chic sports car, or hall to bedroom wooden flooring. Or a feather head-dress. The last might sound the least likely, but could turn into the better longterm investment. Twentieth-century fashion and its accessories are gaining value by the year.

In the auction houses, a lot of value of course comes from the provenance of pieces. Diana's black knee-length dress by Christina Stambolian fetched pounds 65,000 at Christie's New York auction of the Princess's dresses in 1997. Christina Stambolian? Who? Diana eclipsing her husband's television adultery confession by arriving ravishingly decolletee at a Serpentine Gallery reception? Now that does ring bells. "Buying these dresses is like buying a bit of the Berlin Wall, only they're a damn sight prettier than a clump of Stalinist rock," said a German buyer at the time.

A few months later, the property of Janet Street Porter limped its way out of a Christie's South Kensington Fashion and Textile sale. Despite many pieces having been specially made, and others having lots of fashion history credibility, a deep resistance to the cast offs of an 1980s media ego pervaded the sale room. A perfectly formed Vivienne Westwood Buffalo Girl suit - put firmly in its place by catalogue speak: "in brown and black herringbone effect wool, all labelled MCLAREN WESTWOOD WORLD'S END" - from the autumn winter 1982/3 only managed to slide beyond its estimated pounds 200 to pounds 400 by pounds 2.

"It did feel like people had a problem with her," says Judith Clark, who, as a fashion collector not averse to making the odd saleroom purchase herself, was also at Christie's. Clark's reasons for buying into fashion and costume, however, are rather different from your average auction goer. They are generally "struck by aesthetics," according to Kerry Taylor, head of costume and textiles at Sotheby's London. "It's the rarity, beauty and condition of pieces that matter first and foremost." Clark's concerns run a little deeper.

She hasn't just been collecting clothing for a while, but also studying it, albeit somewhat against the odds. As a student of architecture, she ended up at the Architectural Association in London - an institution not known for its traditionalism or conventionalism - but found that even there resistance to taking costume and fashion seriously as three-dimensional design and a subject for anthropological study was enormous. If she wasn't prepared to talk about buildings, no one was prepared to listen. She started a PhD, but gave up in despair.

Instead, in a corner of Notting Hill that has already about as much fashionableness as a street could ever need (supermodel addresses; Kate Moss and Johnny Depp giggling over their caffe macchiati in Coins cafe) Clark has channelled her passion into opening her own place: London's first private gallery of fashion. Far from being a smart way to sell currently hip second-hand couture to the locals, Clark's mission is to explore how the meaning of clothes can be explained and re-evaluated in a white wall space. As well, of course, as showcasing very beautiful pieces of design. "These things are worth looking at," she says. "Take some of the pieces at the latest couture shows. Those Dior outfits [by John Galliano] cost up to pounds 30,000 to produce. They are incredible. Why should they be seen once only?"

Clark's preoccupation isn't just with the contemporary. Among her own prized possessions is an original costume by Leon Bakst (the stage designer of Diaghlev's Ballet Russe in the 1910s and 20s), bought in the 1995 Castle Howard sale. A perfect example of how things are (and aren't) valued in a society that places the fine arts in prime place and design way down the line, the entire dancer's outfit (top, trousers, hat, accessories) cost pounds 5,000 - "nothing," she avers, "compared to the price that Bakst's drawings would fetch." A belle epoque show is being researched and Baroness Thyssen, a face of the 1950s, has promised to loan some of her collection of that decade's couture in support of Clark's project. (Clark, a 30-or- so-year-old Australian who grew up in Rome, is nothing if not well-connected, it seems. And presumably rather well-to-do.)

The gallery opened yesterday with a show of 12 new pieces by designer/maker Dai Rees that has already enabled its owner to prove one point: that the wearable can also be worth contemplation. It is hard to know what to call Rees's offerings - hats? head-dresses? - that blur the boundaries between headwear and jewellery. But at their best they are pure sculpture and it is the beauty and complexity of their construction and craft that is given a serious airing in the cool white space.

Made principally from bird quills and feathers - often flocked, sometimes spiked with sharp silver points, glittering with hundreds of diamante pieces, dyed, or feathered but always reinvented in some way - Rees's work draws from the natural world to create the strange and synthetic. A sheep's pelvis, found on a beach, is at the heart of one head-dress - encrusted with white diamante it has become sparkling jewellery. Like the plumage from which they are often created, they are attractive and repellent in equal measure. Their price tags (pounds 2,000 plus) reflect the work, skill and consideration that goes into each design.

On the catwalk (Alexander McQueen used Rees's work in his spring/summer 1997 show), it is the aggressive and unsettling nature of the headwear that comes into play. When worn, they are more likely to provoke a discussion about ideas of beauty, or at least to unsettle. Recently Clark wore a leather and quill piece that wraps around the face - one that had been seen at the McQueen show - to a private view and received offended reactions from other women there. "They seemed angry. They said things like, 'do you have to wear that?'," reported Rees later.

Clark is not the only person brave enough to have both invested in and worn Rees's work. Annabel Rothschild bought the three most extreme examples from the McQueen collection and has done exactly what Clark hopes will happen to most objects that are sold from her gallery. "I hope that things will be worn, and then displayed in people's homes. It's not like these things must be treated like art, must be revered. Surely they can be enjoyed in a more practical way, too." Which, of course, makes them sound like a better investment all the time.

Judith Clark, 112 Talbot Road, W11, 0171 727 2754

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum