You have probably never heard of Hannelore Smart. But when you learn that she saw and bought into the original fabulousness of a "Pharrell" Vivienne Westwood hat, wore the same dress to meet the Queen as to jump on a trampoline and managed to accumulate a joyfully eclectic and vast collection of fashion spanning three decades, then the news that her enormous 1,500 piece wardrobe is on sale at Designer Jumble in London is cause for excitement.
"Her collection is like the most brilliant archive of 1970s, '80s and '90s fashion. It spans from Krizia and Kenzo to Hussein Chalayan," enthuses Abigail Chisman, owner of Designer Jumble, as she delves into the rails and rails of dresses, coats, ballgowns, skirts, accessories and even onesies belonging to Hannelore. Abi's pop-up shop (Designer Jumble is a roving vintage fashion store currently at Westfield Stratford, in east London) will be filled with Hannelore's astounding collection for as long as it takes for each piece to find a loving new home.
If you ever see a fantastical catwalk look, love it but then wonder how on earth you would wear it, then let Hannelore, widow of circus impresario Billy Smart Jr, be an inspiring example. She met Billy when she was working as a Pan-Am air hostess andsoon fell in with his life of acrobats and celebrity. Billy Smart's Circus was founded by Billy Jr's father in 1945 and toured Britain and Europe until the 1970s. Appropriately, Abi has called the auction of Hannelore's clothes Fashion is a Circus.
Poring over the pictures of Hannelore having a ball in her favourite clothes flanked by Shirley Bassey, maybe, or Jayne Mansfield, rather than fastidiously storing them away under dust covers in a warehouse, really makes you think that her living, breathing and having-a-great-time attitude is exactly the way to show off the clothes. How often do you hear of people climbing trees in an exquisitely constructed designer dress?
Hannelore now suffers from Alzheimer's, and proceeds from the sale will go to the Alzheimer's Society.
Her family knew she had a lot of clothes but had perhaps never quite had the chance to appreciate the historical fashion relevance which so many of her pieces hold.
An eyecatching corset, for example, is one of the star attractions for tomorrow's auction. "I came upon it purely by chance," says Abi, editor-in-chief of Vogue.com for 12 years. "I was visiting the house one day when we were talking about doing the sale and they offered to show me all her circus gear. I spotted this sculpted bodice and instantly knew it was much more than a show costume."
At first, Abi suspected it might be by Thierry Mugler but one tweet later, a regular client had identified it as an early Eighties Issey Miyake design. It turns out it is part of a very limited edition of 20 or so, and formed part of the designer's Body Works exhibition. It has now been authenticated by Miyake's team.
"I completely appreciated the value of the collection because it's not just precious designer pieces but they have so much joy woven through them," says Abi, pointing out just how rare it is to come across landmark designs which are invested with love and worn as much as Hannelore's.
What's more, it quickly becomes apparent that Hannelore was no snob. If she loved it, she bought it. As evidenced by a few super-kitsch, super-fake Louis Vuitton suitcases.
There's no particular overwhelming dedication to one designer, but a far-reaching, seemingly accidental, homage to the highlights of later 20th-century fashion: a few early Nineties nylon Prada dresses bear a strong resemblance to Miuccia Prada's most recent Miu Miu collection.
"When her family talk about Hannelore, they bring to life what an incredibly fun person she was, always having a ball," says Abi. And what a perfect legacy, that every garment will now be appreciated anew.