I worked for Sotheby’s for twenty-three years (I was their youngest ever auctioneer) before leaving to set up my own specialist vintage fashion and textile auction house in 2004. It felt like a bit of a gamble at the time – but in retrospect it was the best thing I ever did. Kerry Taylor Auctions is now one of the leading auction rooms specialising in vintage fashion and textile sales worldwide and we have handled super-stylish collections belonging to the honourable Daphne Guinness, Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, Leslie Caron, Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn to name but a few.
I sit in my saleroom in Bermondsey surrounded by 18th century brocaded silk gowns, 1920s flapper dresses, Dior New Look haute couture, cutting edge Alexander McQueen couture creations, Hermes bags, Chanel jewellery, Vuitton luggage and think to myself ‘Well it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it’.
Nothing beats being your own boss and I love the job I do. There is no such thing as a typical day for me. Each week brings an array of new clients, new challenges and new discoveries. The clients who visit seeking a valuation can range from Princesses with unwanted haute couture to aging unemployed rockers with a bit of Westwood – but all are welcome. During the day I can be found buried knee deep in a lace collection or forensically examining the insides of a 1930s haute couture satin evening gown by Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel.
My clients interest me almost as much as the textiles. This week I had a lovely Japanese client who had been one of the first couture clients in Tokyo in the 1960s. She brought in an array of colourful mini-dresses as well as beautiful Hermes bags and accessories from the 1970s. Each piece evoked a memory for her – including three Pucci ties, which had belonged to a fiancée she told me she had jilted! Next through the door was a very stylish young woman who had brought some top-end designer evening-wear to sell. She became upset as she explained that her boyfriend had told her to clear some of her wardrobe and she was very sad to lose the clothes. I advised her to keep the dresses and jettison the boyfriend! She kept the clothes.
A lady from an aristocratic family from North Wales filled her car to the top with the contents of an attic of the old family pile, which turned up some very rare Edwardian Redfern creations, lavish bridal wear and court presentation gowns complete with photographs of the beauties who had originally owned them. I love these old family collections as they can often include historically important treasures – and for me it is important to keep the provenance with the objects for future reference.
We also receive parcels sent from across the world– as the fame of our sales spreads globally. First of all people email me pictures to get a rough valuation and if we think the pieces are suitable for the auction they simple parcel them up and send them to me. Every day is like Christmas as the postman delivers packages to our door. Opening them to see what lies inside still thrills me after all these years. Our buyers are also international and about 50% of everything we sell we export.
When we have a sale on view – the room is filled with dealers, private collectors, women in search of a unique evening gown, bridal gown, snappy little Chanel suit to wear etc, fashion designers in search of inspiration, students and museum curators. Some are real regulars and there is very much a sense of being part of a KTA club as people swap stories and advice in the days leading up to the auction.
Our next auction is on October 14th, which also coincides with the launch of my book ‘Vintage Fashion and Couture: From Poiret to McQueen’. The book was a labour of love (working on it any spare moment snatched when I wasn’t working doing the day job) and is filled with illustrations of some of the beautiful garments I have sold over the years and some of the stylish women who encapsulated the look of each decade. When I look through the pages I think what a privileged person I am to have handled so many interesting and important things. It’s going to be an action-packed week!
Vintage Fashion & Couture by Kerry Taylor published by Mitchell Beazley, £25