LONDON - As Amal Clooney stuns the red carpet at the Berlin film festival in one of his dresses, William Banks-Blaney, founder of vintage fashion company William Vintage, talks about the art of fashion and his forthcoming collaboration with Sotheby’s to coincide with The Masters of Design exhibition.
1981 YVES SAINT LAURENT DRESS WORN BY AMAL CLOONEY LAST NIGHT.
How did you come to vintage fashion?
I had previously worked in interior design and as an art dealer, so I had always viewed fashion – and particularly vintage fashion – as being part of that world. Fashion represented so much of an era or of a movement, yet was treated completely separately. I had always loved vintage clothing myself, yet most women I knew were perhaps scared of it. I found there was a gap in the market and started with a few pop-up sales in 2009. It blossomed from there.
STUDY FOR A NECKLACE AND EAR PENDANTS (1935–41) BY VAN CLEEF & ARPELS (ATTRIBUTED TO RENÉ-SIM LACAZE).
Are particular designers more sought after?
There are iconic moments – Chanel from the 1920s or the 1960s, Dior from the 1950s, Courrèges from the 1960s. There are key designers who reference their age, and everybody wants them. Most of our pieces come from between 1920 and 1980, but our earliest piece at the moment is from about 1770 while our most recent are early pieces by Alexander McQueen from 1993.
Have you made some discoveries over the years?
There is a dress by Balmain, which I found in a 15th century cellar underneath the streets of Paris. It doesn’t get much better than that! I saw something catching the overhead light, and it turned out to be that dress. It was made for the spring/summer of 1954 and then put away and never touched again. It is such a great example of the couturier’s art – from a great couture house, embroidered with jewels by Maison Lesage, the greatest embroiders in Paris. It’s got solid silver thread, pearls, Swarovski hand-cut crystals – a sea of detail.
STUDY FOR AN IMPORTANT NECKLACE BY RENE-SIM LACAZE FOR VAN CLEEF & ARPELS (1939).
How did this collaboration with Sotheby’s come about?
I met a Sotheby’s jewellery specialist at a dinner, who told me stories of discovering these amazing pieces of jewellery and sketches. We go through a similar process with couture – there’s this same, quite nebulous, magic about that sense of discovery.
How much do jewellery and fashion cross over?
The interesting thing about jewellery is that it crosses over with everything. It’s difficult to look at the design of an Art Deco Cartier clip and not see the context of a Manhattan skyscraper or a Chanel flapper dress or a car radiator grill from the same period. There’s an echo – when somebody creates something that works it reverberates for decades.
Do you know which couture you will pair with the jewellery from our auction and the exhibition of jewellery designs?
It is still early, but already there are dresses that I know will work. We want to give the jewellery context and bring it alive – but also to create interesting pairings, for instance, a great 1980s dress from Thierry Mugler would look fantastic with a 1930s Cartier brooch.
(LEFT) HELENA BONHAM CARTER IN 1958 BALMAIN. (MIDDLE) GILLIAN ANDERSON IN 1948 BALMAIN. (RIGHT) SINGER LILY ALLEN WEARING 1965 NORMAN NORELL.
Are certain people drawn to vintage fashion?
Our youngest client is 18, our oldest 74. They come from all walks of life, and we’ve worked with everybody from Helena Bonham-Carter and Tilda Swinton, to Lily Allen, Rihanna and Jessie J, to Amal Clooney. People are increasingly attracted to vintage haute couture. It’s exquisitely made, unique and rare, rather like art. As a collector you might hotly pursue a unique painting, but then buy a dress of which 15,000 were made. Vintage allows a woman to feel like herself and to be the only one who has that dress.
Can you sense which designers might be collectible in the future?
While I can be quite the fashion nerd about how a modern collection might have a bias cut cuff that echoes one from the 1920s, I also work closely with American Express as their style ambassador. Part of that is identifying excellence in fashion today and, of course, there are designers who stand out – Erdem is superb, Mary Katrantzou, Roksanda Ilincic, Gareth Pugh, Giles Deacon. From a purely British perspective our pool of fashion design hasn’t been this exciting since the 1960s.