It was all over the news. A mystery buyer, known only as "Nick from Jersey", had bought a dress worn by England's future Queen Catherine, Kate Middleton, for £78,000.
And it was no ordinary dress, but the garment worn by Kate when she captured the heart of Prince William at that fateful St Andrews university fashion show back in 2002; a love story whose latest chapter will be viewed by millions at the Royal Wedding when it's held at Westminster Abbey this Friday (April 29).
The dress that started it all: Kate
Paul Fraser Collectibles attended the sale last month, and immediately afterwards our phones were ringing off the hook. Britain's tabloids in particular wanted to know who this mysterious "Nick from Jersey" was...
Newspapers like the Daily Mirror hoped that we could shed light on the buyer. After all, only the previous week, we'd published an exclusive interview with another eminent Jersey-based dress collector: David Gainsborough Roberts.
David's renowned collection includes iconic gowns worn by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, along with various rare Royal memorabilia items. This sale seemed right up David's street. Yet, even though we had our suspicions as to who "Nick from Jersey" might be, we couldn't say for sure.
But one person who did know was Kerry Taylor, the auctioneer and expert behind the sale of the Kate Middleton dress. In the end, it turned out that "Nick" was actually Nicky Gainsborough Roberts, David's nephew.
And that wasn't the only exclusive piece of knowledge about famous dresses that Kerry has to share...
When it comes to historic female icons, few things contribute to their iconography more than their garments. And, from Audrey Hepburn to Princess Diana, Kerry Taylor has seen more famous dresses than most during her distinguished career.
So, following yet another success for London's Kerry Taylor Auctions with the £78,000 Kate Middleton dress, we got in touch with Kerry herself for the inside story on the wonderful and glamorous world of celebrity garments...
PFC: How did your background lead you to becoming a top auctioneer of dresses, costumes and textile collectibles?
Kerry Taylor: I was always interested in antique and vintage fashion, and bought a 1930s sequinned cape with my pocket money when I was about 10. This passion for the subject remained with me.
And, when I began at Sotheby's at the age of 19, I was able to see and handle this material that I had before just seen in museums or in the pages of books.
After joining Sotheby's in 1979, you went on to become one of its youngest auctioneers ever aged 21. What's the secret behind your success?
I suppose I got noticed because I was so enthusiastic and keen to learn. I was also willing to work long, hard days - taking work home with me most nights and weekends.
Kerry says she has 'a few tricks'
You once described (in a BBC interview) the sale of Lady Diana's dress from 1981 for £192,000 as "probably the most exciting auction of my 30 year career." Is that still the case?
The Diana sale will always be special for me, because she was such an interesting and controversial figure with whom so many people identified. I will always have a soft spot for her.
The dress was also bought by one of my favourites: the Fashion Museum of Santiago, Chile. The owner, Jorge Yarur, has very kindly agreed to bequeath his collection of Diana pieces to Kensington Palace. So a happy result all around.
All of my auctions are exciting. The last one included the Kate Middleton see-through dress which cost £30 to make and sold for a staggering £60,000, plus Buyer's Premium.
Our next sale is November and I already have a few tricks up my sleeve...
Other than the Princess Diana dress, what are the most remarkable items that you've come across?
Highlights would have to include: the King James II wedding suit of 1673; the Duke of Windsor's wardrobe (including his wedding suit): Princess Lilian of Belgium's couture wardrobe from the '50s and '60s (divine Diors and Balenciagas!); Audrey Hepburn's little black dresses by Givenchy.
So many great things I have been privileged to handle!
According to your website, Costume and Textiles are your first loves. What is it about these kinds of collectibles that stirs your passion and enthusiasm?
It's hard to say why I have this fascination with couture and historic dresses.
Fashion tells us so much about the style or design of any given period. But in addition it tells us of the personal taste and preferences of an individual who may have lived centuries, or even a few decades, ago.
Colour, fabrics, adornments, as well as the shapes, change radically with time - and this fascinates me. From a humble WWII printed cotton day dress to a fine embroidered silk 18th century man's suit...
Enthusiastic bidders gather for a chance to own Kate Middleton's historic dress in London, in March 2011
Diana's dress sold for £192,000, Kate Middleton's for £78,000... In your opinion, why are people paying so much for these dresses?
It is partly to do with the cult of celebrity. And partly because people buying pieces with a celebrity or Royal provenance see them as good investments for the future.
Are there any particular dresses worn - or that are going to be worn - by today's celebrities that you can see becoming very valuable in the future?
Difficult one. The garment in question has to be sold when the celebrity is at the peak of their career or after their sad demise.
E.g. Robbie Williams' tiger underpants and Geri Halliwell's Union Jack dress (famously worn during the Spice Girls' 1997 BRIT Awards performance) would be more difficult to sell now that they have moved out of the limelight somewhat.
Diana on her first public outing with
Of course, Kate Middleton is the current flavour of the month. I would love to get my hands on the blue Issa dress she wore for the engagement announcement. But that would never happen.
Would you recommend celebrity dresses as an investment?
Yes I would. Icons such as Marilyn Monroe or The Beatles will always be of huge interest. Choose your celebrity carefully though, as some may not stand the test of time.
Doomed romantic figures who died too young are usually a good bet! If possible combine the star name with that of a great couture house. That way you double the interest in it...
What advice would you give to collectors who are just starting out in dress, costume or textile collecting?
Try not to amass quantity. Go for a smaller collection of more expensive, high end pieces as these are more likely to hold and increase in value than the lower end.
Condition is all-important too.
Is there anything that collectors should be wary of when looking to buy famous dresses or costume and textile items?
Condition and alterations will seriously devalue a garment. Make sure the designer label is original, and not later added. Make sure the provenance is rock solid.
David Gainsborough Roberts told us that he'd most like to own Monroe's famous white dress from The Seven Year Itch. Do you collect yourself? If so, which item would you most love to own or be involved in selling?
No, I don't seriously collect anything. Handling them, researching them and presenting them in the correct historical context is enough for me.
I would love to find the Schiaparelli lobster print organza dress worn by the Duchess of Windsor and photographed by Cecil Beaton. A wonderful dress worn by the infamous Wallis Simpson, one of the greatest style icons of our time.
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