In My Fashion: Suzy Menkes discusses her upcoming Christie’s Sale
The Independent on Sunday – and on Monday, actually – features a piece by me on the forthcoming Christie’s auction titled “In My Fashion,” which could easily be subtitled “Gems from the Wardrobe of Fashion’s Authority”.
Fashion’s Authority is Suzy Menkes, although I know she’s not massively keen on the title. “Sounds a bit like a headmistress, I don’t think I like that at all,” she said when I interviewed her back in September 2011. But its her authority that makes this sale so compelling, garments selected by her honed eye over three decades from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties. She not only selected them, but paid for them too – Menkes refuses to accept gifts. These are literally examples of her putting her money where he mouth is, and wearing her opinions on her back.
The sale is fashion in microcosm, taking us from print-heavy sixties silk jerseys, through billowing seventies chiffons, to the strong-shouldered suiting of the eighties, as handled by talents like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. Lagerfeld was the hand behind the shot of Suzy that graces the exhibition’s catalogue – he also created one of the most striking pieces for sale: a classic Chanel 2.55 handbag, where the Chanel CC’s have been replaced by a bold-face ‘SUZY’ across quilted satin. A highlight amongst highlights, given the fabulous and esoteric eighty-or-so pieces offered to eager bidders.
In a rare gap between the Paris haute couture shows and Rome’s alta moda presentations, Ms Menkes found time to respond to a few questions about the forthcoming sale, her highlight lots, and the one that got away (thanks to Bianca Jagger).
Why have you decided to auction these pieces?
Suzy Menkes: My clothes are fabulous – colourful, fun and by some very special designers. They deserve a better life than being sleeping beauties in a bed of tissue inside a trunk.
Did you always plan to auction them through Christie’s? How did that come about?
I admire the historical knowledge, fashion intelligence and rigor of Pat Frost. I don’t think you find on eBay someone who can date a Saint Laurent jacket to the year and season! I was quite shy in approaching Christie’s. These are my clothes. Could they qualify as decorative art? Well, why not!
This sale is a tribute to designers who have become iconic or deserve to. I am particularly pleased to offer witty pieces from Jean Muir, who has been labeled a Miss Jean Brodie. But I don’t think that Muriel Spark’s Scottish teacher would have worn a leather pinafore dress with cow enameled buttons and two cows grazing on the belt! (LOT 17 Christie’s estimate £150-250)
Was it very difficult to select the items? How did you go about doing this?
I am not a hoarder, but my wardrobe is the antithesis of fast fashion. I buy clothes – beautiful in looks and make – to last. I originally stored away things like Ossie Clark because I could not bear to part with such treasures. I have pieces from Zandra Rhodes that aren’t on sale because I love them still. I wore one tasseled Zandra tunic to the Metropolitan punk gala in New York this year. One of my daughter in laws discovered my wardrobe when she was having a 1970’s party and quite a few have gone to her.
But the truth is that I did not make the selection – Christie’s did. I just dumped the trunks on them. And I was quite surprised about some of the things they found important and irresistible – compared to my own amateur views.
What is the timespan of the pieces? Are they from a particular period?
My collection dates from 1966 – the year I came down from Cambridge – to the middle of the 1990’s. The rest of my wardrobe – especially all the Japanese designer clothes, from Comme and Yohji and especially Issey Miyake – I am still wearing!
In the early 1960s, I had already bought some Pucci outfits, because I was friends with Idanna Pucci, Emilio Pucci’s niece and she took me to Florence where I bought model samples (those were my thin days!) direct from the Palazzo Pucci.
In the 1960s I bought mostly from Biba (although all those fell apart) and from Ossie Clark. Two of my large collection of Ossie’s really are iconic pieces. Celia Birtwell was painted in these dresses by David Hockney. I have a drawing of Celia in my dress on my wall – framed from the programme that Hockney did for Ossie. It is the fashion marker from the slide of the linear 1960’s style into the languorous 1970s.
My Yves Saint Laurent collection is not a total overview of his style, because there are no glam evening gowns. I couldn’t afford them! But there are a couple of little black dresses, one in velvet with a racy, lacy back. (LOT 51 Estimate £150 -£250). I wore it for the launch of my book ‘’The Windsor Style’’ about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Mostly my YSL collection is of trouser suits – the best outfits I ever found for being a working mother. Yes, the shoulders might be a bit 1980’s. But that is all coming back!
My Christian Lacroix clothes are colourful and fun. But I have a wide selection of madcap and (relatively) simple styles. The most fun piece? The houndstooth check jacket and matching bag (LOT 21 Estimate £300-£500.) I remember going through the Paris suburbs to a warehouse and fighting for that one.
How do you feel your personal style has evolved over the years? Has it affected your work as a journalist?
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. I realise, looking back, that I am a hopeless image of a fashion editor because I never really went for ‘Black is Beautiful’ – except for my Comme and Yohji pieces which I still have.
I am an addict of print, which is why I think this collection has examples of fantastic patterns, from Pucci palazzo pyjamas, through Hermes scarves (from a rich boyfriend – I wasn’t really a horsey headscarf person!), to Ossie, a bit of Versace and Lacroix.
There is also a Paul Smith geometric coat in vivid colours which shows that my taste has never really changed.
You won’t find anything beige in the catalogue, or in my wardrobe!
But I always have separated myself from my critiques of collections. My judgment is not about whether I would wear it – but how the collection stands in the lexicon of an established designer. As I am a maximalist, not a minimalist, I don’t wear Armani or Céline – but I so appreciate what they have achieved.
Is there anyone you would especially like to see wearing them – any dream bidders in mind?
I am happy for anyone who loves fashion to buy my clothes. And I know that Naomi Campbell is on alert for an Ossie dress of mine she has always coveted!
Are there any particular pieces you are sorry to be selling? Any with a special story or significance for you?
No-one will believe this, but the pieces that make me most nostalgic are right outside fashion: the Tuffin and Foale cotton dresses in colourful prints (of course!). They remind me of my early married life, when my husband David Spanier and I bought a house (my brother-in-law called it a ‘’ruinous ruin’’) in the Ardeche area of France. As we scooped up the children to go and swim in the river, I would pull on those easy dresses. Fashion was so much less complicated then.
And, conversely, is there any special piece you didn’t buy for your wardrobe that you wish you did?
Ah – the one that got away! I admire so much Bianca Jagger and her support of causes and issues in her birth country. But can I EVER forgive her for that Ossie Clark dress in canary yellow chiffon? There I was, Ossie lying on a couch in his little place off the King’s Road Chelsea, and I was clutching the dress when Bianca walked over, so gorgeous with her sinuous figure and sumptuous olive skin, saying silkily: “That yellow just doesn’t suit your colouring,” as she plucked it from my hands. When she sells up her wardrobe – that is the piece that will get my bid!
The online auction “In My Fashion: The Suzy Menkes Collection” runs from Thursday, 11 July 2013 at 7:00pm GMT – Monday, 22 July 2013 at 3:00pm GMT on christies.com. Garments can be viewed at Christie’s, South Kensington, and more information found now on Christies.com
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