How to invest in celebrity dresses

The sweeping Victor Edelstein gown Princess Diana wore in 1985 - the momentous and memorable night she danced with John Travolta at the White House - auctioned for $362,500 in March.

"It sold to a British gentleman as a surprise to cheer up his wife," auctioneer Kerry Taylor declared following the sale. "Lucky woman!"

The "Travolta dress" was the finest of 10 Diana-worn designer gowns to grace the block at Kerry Taylor Auctions in London, with prices ranging from an impressive $36,500 upwards.

The successful sale confirms what many women have known for years: investing in clothing can be as profitable as it is enjoyable. While a vintage Dior dress will retain its value if it is properly looked after, the very same dress, if worn by a star, will be worth substantially more than its civilian counterpart - such is the power of celebrity.

In searching for the finest items for my clients, I attend several international auctions each year, investing my own money in collectibles which I believe will turn a profit, not just for my company, but for their future owners also.

When asked which celebrity's clothing to buy for investment purposes, I return time and again to a select handful of names.

My company, Paul Fraser Collectibles, has recently sold Marilyn Monroe's bra and Michael Jackson's jacket; we were under bidders at the auction of Kate Middleton's see-through dress as well as Monroe's infamous full-skirted "subway scene" frock.

Madonna's clothing is enormously popular among investors, while Diana-worn items never seem to go out of fashion (or stay in our inventory for long).

The thought of owning items adored by stars of the silver screen, or commissioned for royalty, gets collectors' pulses racing. Can you imagine the parties these outfits have been to, the compliments they would have inspired?

If legend is to be believed, had Kate not chosen to model fellow student Charlotte Todd's diaphanous creation, we might have witnessed a very different royal wedding, starring a very different bride. 

Here are my top five names in the celebrity dresses sector to consider today:

1) Princess Diana

Just before the recent Diana dress auction, Kerry Taylor told me that she believed the enduring appeal of Diana's clothing among collectors was down to "the James Dean/Marilyn Monroe factor" - her irrepressible star quality combined with the tragedy of her untimely death.

"Princess Diana was a bit of a fashion icon really, everything she wore was constantly copied or scrutinised by press," Taylor said.

"I think the tragedy of her early death, of such a young beautiful woman, has added to her appeal."

Sixteen years on, Diana shows no sign of fading from the public's affections. Her memorabilia goes from strength to strength.

2) Kate Middleton

Roundly recognised as Britain's most sartorially sensible royal, the Duchess of Cambridge has proved a hit among collectors, while news of her pregnancy could provide a huge surge in the value of her memorabilia.

Two hats, worn by Catherine before her marriage to Prince William, sold for a combined $10,500 in December 2012, while the infamous see-through dress that reportedly first attracted William to his wife brought $125,500 in March 2011.

I have personally pursued items previously owned by the Duchess of Cambridge, as I anticipate that there are substantial gains to be made in the future.

3) Lady Gaga

Pop performer Lady Gaga is known for her eccentric and often outre on and off stage attire. As with Diana and Kate, when a person is famous, in part, for the way they dress, the market for their clothing will naturally be that much larger.

Gaga herself is aware of the investment and enjoyment potential of collecting celebrity attire, having snapped up a large number of Michael Jackson's stage-worn costumes in December 2012.

With items of Gaga's clothing rarely offered at auction, collectors are willing to pay a premium for those iconic pieces that do appear. A typically stunning, angular photo-shoot worn dress sold for $31,250 in 2010, while a lipstick-marked teacup and saucer she used at a Tokyo press conference made $75,250 last year.

4) Queen Victoria

A complete mourning outfit worn by Queen Victoria following the death of her beloved husband, Albert, sold for $9,000 last year, while a pair of her bloomers was snapped up by an anonymous collector for $15,000 in 2011.

Philip Gregory, a spokesperson for Lyon and Turnbull, the auctioneer overseeing the bloomers sale, commented: "People who collect royal memorabilia from the Victorian era see underwear as the crowning glory of their collection."

The appeal of owning a unique piece of history that you, and others, feel passionate about is a compelling proposition, while a large collector base ensures liquidity should you choose to part with your collection down the line.

5) Marilyn Monroe

Monroe is undoubtedly the world's most recognisable woman.

Department store Macy's recently called her the "greatest icon of the 20th century".

It's no surprise that items worn by Marilyn Monroe represent the Holy Grail in terms of collectible clothing.

In my experience, selling Monroe-worn items is easy. It's getting hold of investment-grade examples at auction that's the tricky part, as you are inevitably competing against so many other potential buyers.

Monroe's "subway-scene" dress from The Seven Year Itch brought a movie memorabilia record of $5.6m in 2011. The signature red-sequinned dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes sold for $1.2m in the same year.

Purchased for $6,000 in 1999, Monroe's dressing gown realised a 35% per annum increase in value when it sold at auction in 2009 for $120,000.

With values continuing to rise, the finest Monroe items remain an enticing area to place your cash.

Happy hunting.

Paul Fraser.

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