Who knows where the phenomenon of the "wardrobe auction" comes from? Blame vintage, blame eBay, or blame the basic, voyeuristic urge to paw through someone else's belongings – not necessarily coveting them, but certainly admiring the effort. Following the Christie's sales of the collections of the British aristocrat Daphne Guinness and Hollywood doyenne Elizabeth Taylor, the latest lot to fall under the hammer belongs to Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune and an acknowledged authority on fashion.
Eighty pieces from Menkes's wardrobe – from 1966, when she came down from Cambridge, through to the mid-1990s – will be offered in an online-only auction from Thursday until 22 July.
"I was quite shy about approaching Christie's," Menkes says, in a rare break after the Paris couture shows ended last week. "These are my clothes. Could they qualify as decorative art? Well, why not?"
Why not, indeed: Menkes's eye was already well formed in the 1960s, investing as she did in key pieces by the epoch-defining London designer Ossie Clark. "Two of my large collection of Ossie's pieces really are iconic," she says. "Celia Birtwell was painted in these dresses by David Hockney. It is the fashion marker, from the slide of the linear 1960s style into the languorous 1970s."
It's Menkes's status as one of the most respected fashion journalists of the past 30 years that gives her collection its undeniable cachet. "It's not a wardrobe of gifts – these are pieces Suzy bought herself," says Pat Frost, director of Christie's Fashion Department. As Menkes has been dubbed "Fashion's Authority" ("I think really 'authority' is a polite way of saying 'she's been around for so long, I can't believe it'!" Menkes says), the garments have been hand-picked by one of fashion's most attuned eyes as the best of the best.
Or at least, the best of Menkes's own taste. The auction's title is "In My Fashion", and this is a distinctly personal take on three decades of international style. "I always have separated myself from my critiques of collections. My judgement is not about whether I would wear it – but how the collection stands in the lexicon of an established designer," Menkes says. "As I am a maximalist, not a minimalist, I don't wear Armani or Céline – but I so appreciate what they have achieved."
Indeed, this sale veers towards the lavish, the decorative, and the fun. There's plenty of Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent, including the embroidered satin jacket Menkes sported to her first show as the International Herald Tribune's fashion editor.
"I realise, looking back, that I am a hopeless image of a fashion editor, because I never really went for black is beautiful," Menkes says today. "When I look at my clothes, I think of them as an expression of the joy and fun of fashion – with a bit of English eccentricity thrown in."
Although the garments are available for viewing at Christie's in South Kensington, London, the auction is being conducted entirely online.
"It's a new way of looking at fashion," Ms Frost says. "There's a whole world of looking at fashion online – but I think if you have a wardrobe like this, which is a personality with a particular view and particular designers, it works." It also prompts the question: who would Menkes like to see wearing her archive pieces? "I am happy for anyone who loves fashion to buy my clothes," she reasons democratically. Then she adds: "I know that Naomi Campbell is on alert for an Ossie dress of mine she has always coveted!"
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