Concerning New York’s fashion week, well, someday, these new clothes might really be worth something. At least, that is the message calling all fashionistas from Sotheby’s. Responding to the rather remarkable salability lately of someone else’s clothes and other stylish curiosities, the venerable auction house is planning its second-ever fashion auction on April 8.
“I didn’t even know if I’d have a job after the first sale in October,” said Tiffany Dubin during a recent chat in her office. The first sale outprofited its estimated return by $100,000. Ms. Dubin, director of the Sotheby’s New York fashion department, is credited with coming up with the idea for these fashion sales as a popular, cross-marketing event for the auction house.
The sale on April 8–which includes clothing, accessories, photographs, books such as La vilaine Lulu , a limited-edition amusement written and illustrated by designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1970, and even a pair of handcuffs, made in the style of Hermès by artist Tom Sachs–is called “Nothing to Wear.” The title comes from a book for sale in the auction. Published in 1857, Nothing to Wear , according to the Sotheby’s catalogue, follows the trials and tribulations of Miss Flora M’Flimsy, a young woman who, after filling her trunks with the latest Parisian couture, still has “nothing to wear.”
Not Ms. Dubin’s problem, judging by her outfit today–stretch tweed pants and black heels bought at Barneys’ seventh-floor department of young designers–or any day for that matter. On her wrist is a large plastic watch by Emersion, about $150. These colorful, clunky watches were the chic thing in St. Tropez last summer, Ms. Dubin discovered. All the hostesses were wearing them.
“A huge status symbol for five seconds,” she said, “now available at Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s department.”
The black cashmere sweater she is wearing with an easy sash at the neck, a 1960′s Sonia Rykiel confection, once belonged to her mother, Judy Taubman, the wife of A. Alfred Taubman, chairman of Sotheby’s.
“I love the auction business, but I couldn’t really go to Christie’s–they’d think I was a spy. I’m constantly trying to prove myself,” volunteered Ms. Dubin, anticipating the inevitable question about how she got her job. Ms. Dubin’s first job at Sotheby’s was as an intern when she was a teenager. She is 32 now and married to real estate financier Louis Dubin, whom she met when she was a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The Dubins have a 2-year-old daughter, Tatiana.
“Tatiana likes clothes, too,” Ms. Dubin said. “She’s always putting on my shoes and grabbing a bag. ‘Tatiana going to office,’ she says. What are you going to do at office? I ask. ‘Eat lollipop,’ she answers.”
The phrase “fashion victim” flashes on the computer screen. Her office walls are lined with framed vintage Vogue covers. Had Audrey Hepburn ever played all-American in film roles reserved a decade later for Ali MacGraw, that would describe Ms. Dubin’s style and spirit. Having just lunched on a Balance protein bar and diet raspberry Snapple, she suggests a tour of a closet with some of the items for sale on April 8.
She introduces a visitor to Marianna Klaiman, a specialist in nothing less than 17th-century ecclesiastic gowns. Today, however, Ms. Klaiman is stabilizing the lace on a gold cloth 1870 Worth gown for sale in the auction (estimate: $7,000 to $10,000). They’ve almost pinned down the identity of the American woman for whom Worth made the gown. “For many collectors of fancy dress, it will matter a lot if we can certify the first owner of the gown,” Ms. Dubin explained.
So far, it seems the dress was worn to a ball given in England by a Vanderbilt. In determining these things, there usually is a gap to consider between when an American lady acquired the dress compared to when she actually wore it for the first time. “A lady waited a few seasons,” Ms. Klaiman said. “It was considered déclassé to be too au courant . The au courant were, how to say this, well, they were the horizontals . That is who wore the newest fashion immediately.”
One of the highlights of the sale would have been a collection of letters from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, written over the years to her milliner, Miss Marita at Bergdorf Goodman, but the letters were recently withdrawn. According to a spokesman in the Sotheby’s press office, there was dissension among Miss Marita’s heirs about whether to auction the letters or not. Until their dispute could be resolved, the family decided not to sell. According to Ms. Dubin, this had nothing to do with protests from Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and John Kennedy, whose approval was gotten by Sotheby’s prior to the sale.
“I’m disappointed, but I take these things in stride,” Ms. Dubin said. “There are plenty more wonderful things in this auction.”
“This is one of my favorites,” she said, unzipping a garment bag. Revealed inside was a full-length dress made of interlinked plastic rings, black at the bodice and the rest bumblebee yellow. “Wouldn’t it be perfect with the new Gucci thong?” Ms. Dubin said of the Pop art frock from the 1960′s.
Selling fashion at auction at Sotheby’s certainly endorses consumerism, but is fashion art? “I think it’s both,” suggested Ms. Dubin. “I think clothes can be incredibly well crafted, but they shouldn’t ever be something too serious. I think clothes were made to be worn with a sense of humor.” As for her own personal style, Ms. Dubin said she “likes to mix things. Something new, with something old. Actually, I would much rather buy an old Norell or Courrèges dress than anything else.” She defined 1990′s style as “Comfort. Simplicity. Quality. Individuality, epitomized by how Carolyn Bessette Kennedy dresses.”
Raised in New York City, Ms. Dubin attended the Sacred Heart School before going to the Ethel Walker School, a boarding school in Connecticut. “I almost got kicked out,” she said. “Why? I was from New York,” she laughed. “I wore makeup. I shopped at Fiorucci. I went to discos, then suddenly I was in this preppie school with people with long blonde braids playing field hockey. It was a culture shock for them, not just for me.”
As is her way, Ms. Dubin eventually succeeded. She even became president of her class. Not inclined to loll around, during school holidays she made silver necklaces and sold them in front of the United Nations. During college, just to make certain she could “stand on her own two feet” if she ever needed to without parental support, she learned to type at the Washington School for Secretaries and waitressed at a local restaurant.
Yes, Ms. Dubin has something to wear to the fashion auction on April 8. “I don’t see myself in this job because I’m such a great trend-setter,” she said. “I’ll probably wear a 10-year-old Gaultier jumpsuit. All my favorite things are at least a decade