High fashion furs fetch wild prices

'SURELY that won't fetch much,' whispered one awestruck spectator in the auction room at Christie's. A wicked little sable coat, bristlingly real, was dangled in front of the bidders. The catalogue guide price read pounds 150- pounds 250.

Over the next few minutes the auctioneer swiftly worked the rows of face-lifts, Chanel handbags, pinstripes and perma-tans, reaching the giddy price of pounds 15,000. The buyer was Isabelle Goldsmith, daughter of Sir James Goldsmith, the billionaire businessman, ecologist and - since the European elections earlier this month - French MEP.

Evening dresses trimmed with mink, jackets made from silver fox, broadtails and sheepskins all reached well in excess of their estimates. 'Frankly I'm surprised,' said Patricia Frost, of Christie's. 'Normally we never sell real furs but these were an intrinsic part of this collection.'

Coming under the hammer was the haute couture wardrobe of the late Mrs Heard de Osborne, which raised pounds 134,667, three times the expected amount. Her lineage was plainly apparent, a Texan oil heiress married to a Spanish sherry merchant, a veritable remix of the original conquistadors.

She epitomised bravura, reflected in her penchant for matador jackets and by the size of her wardrobe, spanning four decades from the 1950s to the year of her death in 1987.

There were many esoteric and strange little outfits, ranging from a restrained bell-shaped evening coat designed by Balenciaga, under the label Eisa in the mid- 1950s, to a plethora of understated day dresses and snappy cocktail wear by Givenchy.

But it was the high velocity, unashamedly glamorous pieces which were endlessly fought over. In keeping with the current return to glamour, it was the hedonistically velvety and sexily spikey Yves Saint Laurents which sold for thousands. A crimson velvet evening dress and matching jacket, encrusted with jet beading, from one of YSL's most memorable collections, The Russian Collection of 1976-77, reached pounds 3,600 (estimate pounds 400- pounds 600).

Apart from a high turn-out of private collectors, there were many dealers from New York and representatives from the Kyoto Museum in Japan. Ironically, the House of Givenchy, creator of many hundreds of outfits for Mrs Heard de Osborne, made telephone bids, buying back for its own Paris archives.

(Photograph omitted)