Fashion fetish: Liberace's outfits

Why do we clamour to own clothes worn by the famous? As Gene Kelly's suit goes on sale, Alexander Fury (who's obsessed with buying one of Liberace's outfits) explains

What is the eternal fascination with frocks of the rich and famous? I ask myself that as I trawl auction house sales devoted to the stuff. Example: today, bids close on christies.com for a rhinestone-encrusted suit created for Liberace in 1978, identical to one worn for his first major television special, Leapin' Lizards, It's Liberace!

It's just one lot in a Christies' online-only auction devoted to "Pop Culture", juxtaposing Lee Liberace's suit with the oddest of ephemera: an Andy Warhol-signed Campbell's soup can (an actual can, not the artist's famed impressions of), a spoon bearing John Lennon and Yoko Ono's signature, and original Sex Pistols concert posters.

But fashion – or, rather, clothing – makes up a surprising number of the lots, from Tommy Cooper's fez to stage costumes worn by Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Freddie Mercury.

What is it that's so compelling about famous people's old clothes? Or famous people's old tat, generally?

Auctions of the accoutrements of Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor fetch astronomical amounts, as did the old clobber donated to a Kensington charity shop by David and Victoria Beckham, snapped up by unscrupulous customers and flogged for five or six times the original price on eBay. The estimate on the Liberace suit is a conservative couple of grand – Gene Kelly's grey wool suit, worn while whirling around a lamppost in 1952's Singin' in the Rain, will be auctioned in Dallas on Friday and is expected to rake in more than $20,000 (£12,190).

Those prices are presumably commanded by an abstract assumption that, by some kind of sartorial osmosis, the garments have been imbued with the essence of wearers past. It's kind of justified. After all, nothing gets closer to you than your clothing – at least, nothing you can legally sell.

The pull of the exhibition Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, currently on show at London's Somerset House, is that almost every garment was worn by the famed fashion editor herself. They're pock-marked with fag burns and food stains to prove it. The curators talked about the overpowering smell of Blow's signature fragrance, Robert Piguet's Fracas, that emanated from the garments as they handled them, like a manifestation of Blow's continual presence through cloth.

This is all very fetishistic – in the original, anthropological meaning of the word. That is, the attribution of "magical" powers to an inanimate object, like a tribal talisman, rather than any sexy stuff.

I would argue that there are two kinds of collectors that stalk these auction house sales. Both are motivated by fetishes. One kind is drawn by that aura of celebrity – the idea of living vicariously through another person's belongs, large or small. It's the association that matters, rather than the item itself.

One of Lee Liberace’s dazzling two-pieces (Getty) One of Lee Liberace’s dazzling two-pieces (Getty)
The other people – such as myself – couldn't really give a damn who wore it, nor when. The obsession (and yes, it is obsessive) is focused on the object itself. That ties back to fetish, the magical power of the object, although the power is derived from the physical object itself, rather than its past owners.

That's a hefty load of intellectual cant to justify my lust for a Liberace suit – a suit that, honestly, I would like to wear. I'm not sure where, or when, but I wouldn't be keeping it in the box. It's like the other "formerly owned by" item already hanging in my wardrobe, an outré, gilt and crystal-encrusted sweater formerly owned by Lyn Revson, the late wife of Revlon magnate Charles Revson, from Christian Lacroix's spring/summer 1992 haute couture. That's a great back-story, sure. But ultimately, it's the sweater itself that got me sweating. µ

Suggested Topics
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting

    £400 - £550 per day: Orgtel: Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting ...

    Lead Application Developer

    £80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

    Senior Networks Architect

    £65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

    SAP BW/BO Consultant

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices