'Eight couture' of a dedicated follower of fashion on sale

Let's talk about Mrs Heard de Osborne. A petite, bird-like beauty with a Lollobrigida-esque penchant for heavy eyeliner, Mrs Heard de Osborne was a shop-a-holic. Not just any old shop-a-holic. Mrs Heard de Osborne had a serious thing about clothes.

Not just any clothes, in the vulgar manner of Mrs Marcos and the Duchess of York. No, Mrs Heard de Osborne collected the finest haute couture money could buy.

Luckily, Mrs Heard de Osborne was also loaded. Daddy was a Texan oil baron (he would be) and hubby was from a leading sherry family in Spain. And when life got a tad dreary - as life must - Mrs Heard de Osborne would nip out and order a new frock.

Fortunately, she didn't just have money (and looks) but taste. She made frequent calls on the studios of Balenciaga, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and Lacroix for an 'infanta dress or a 'bal de sortie to wear after the opera.

So obssessed was she with clothes, that even on her deathbed (in her 80s) she had Lacroix make her a coquettish little black cocktail dress with beaded tassled sleeves (pounds 500-pounds 1,000). It has never been worn.

Today her entire wardrobe is being auctioned, mainly because most of the clothes are a size 8 and are, therefore, more likely to attract serious collectors than enough small women to shift the entire collection.

The collection consists mainly of extravagant evening wear and formal day wear; every dress or suit comes with matching, immaculately preserved, haute couture accessories.

'The last entire single collection of the same standard to be auctioned here was Olivia de Havilland's two years ago, and before that Coco Chanels in 1979, says Christie's.

Evening wear includes Bond girl OTT Gucci, some flagship bead-encrusted ballgowns (one with fur sleeves) which can stand up on their own, as well as some true eyecatchers. Like the YSL massive balloon-sleeved silk dress (lot 66, pounds 200-pounds 400) and a slinky black Givenchy sheath with yards of satin bustle (lot 136, pounds 200-pounds 400).

The collection of coats and capes are equally dramatic. Big pink flowered satin dustcoats, vast, sweeping black Victorian capes and a red Balenciaga puffball coat (lot 108, pounds 1,000-pounds 2,000) which, when donned, looks like you've stepped into a child's Hallowe'en pumpkin suit. Alluring, oui?

The day wear is not only more wearable, but affordable. Racks of 50s Hermes dresses and other perky designer suits, all with matching hats, bags and shoes are being sold in lots for about pounds 100-pounds 150.

Thin, chintzy, floor-length nighties, pure Barbara Cartland, are being flogged off in fours and fives, along with some of her husband's suits and silk Lanvin dressing gowns.

Regulars to these designer auctions range from museums to serious collectors and fashion designers. Fashion-luvvie Hamish Bowles apparently has a fine collection of vintage haute couture. Also trawling for treasures are fashion students after new ideas and, of course, the general public.

Whether it's that birthday money you don't know how to spend, or you're simply curious about past fashion statements, this auction is well worth a visit. But don't let it become a habit, otherwise you could end up wasting your last breath bitching about stitching.

Dress for excess

The auction of the wardrobe of Mrs Heard de Osborne is at Christie's, 85 Old Brompton Rd SW7 (071-581 7611) at 10.30am today.

Beachbags

Blackout II, 51 Endell St WC2 (071 240 5006) Mon-Fri 11am-7pm/Sat 11am-6pm.

Silver dungarees, leather catsuits for men and lime green sequinned evening dresses are the kind of vintage 'pieces' you'll find here. Hire charges are a third of the item's cost price per night with a desposit of its cost price. Prices are from pounds 1 for a top to pounds 40 for jackets.

Cornucopia, 12 Tachbrook St SW1 (071-828 5752) Mon-Sat 11am-6pm/Weds 11am-7pm

Whether it's a mint condition 60s Bill Gibb buttermilk evening dress or a 'Dusty Springfield number swarthed in silver disc 'paillete', this is where you'll find that fantasy dress. They do not hire out, but prices are reasonable. Dresses start at pounds 25 for a short black 20s sequinned evening dress and range to pounds 200 for an immaculate crepe dream in pale blue.

The Designer Sale and Exchange Shop, 61d Lancaster Rd W11 (071-243 2396) Mon-Sat 10am-6pm.

The idea is people bring in designer boo-boo buys or simply clothes they no longer wear, a price is set and the shop adds 40 per cent. At present a Worker's For Freedom silk dress is selling at pounds 70 and Flyte-Ostell dresses are going for pounds 100.

Hang Ups, 366 Fulham Rd SW10 (071-351 0047)

Mon-Fri 11.45am-6pm/Sat 10.30am-6pm.

Designer labels are brought in; they are kept for six weeks before being returned if unsold. A price is agreed and the shop takes 50 per cent. While stock is seasonal, a bargain is always waiting to be snapped up - some Ghost shorts for pounds 18, for instance, or a pair of Pied A Terre shoes (pounds 17).

The Merchant of Europe, 232 Portobello Rd W11 (071-221 4203) Mon-Sat 10.30am-6pm.

Their 70s gear is particularly fine. Merchant also hires out a unique collection of lavish vintage outfits from a three-piece orange fur-trimmed, bead-encrusted maxi-skirt and cape ensemble to a full-length cherry coloured evening dress. Cost is pounds 25-pounds 40 for an item over a weekend, plus a deposit of the item's cost.

(Photograph omitted)

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