PARIS - Paris fashion antiquaire Didier Ludot has long reigned as the go-to source for the best vintage haute couture. Knowledgeable collector-clients, like Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, credit the dealer with practically inventing the taste for and collectability of haute vintage in the 1970s. His boutique in the patrician Palais Royal gardens, just steps from the Louvre, is filled with meticulously chosen, ultra-luxurious designs by such legendary names as Madame Grès, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dior, Saint Laurent, Chanel and Schiaparelli. Ludot has a red-carpet clientele that includes Julia Roberts, Demi Moore and Reese Witherspoon, who accepted her 2006 Best Actress Oscar wearing Christian Dior’s 1955 white and silver gown from Ludot’s boutique.
ACTOR REESE WITHERSPOON WEARING A LUDOT-SOURCED VINTAGE DIOR GOWN AT
THE ACADEMY AWARDS IN 2006. PHOTO BY SGRANITZ/WIREIMAGE.
“Couture clothes are an important cultural heritage, a testimony to the fashion of those periods and an extraordinary savoir-faire,” says the charismatic Ludot. “I made it a point of honour to have only the most luxurious clothes in recognition of the artisans of couture.” As he has been revolutionising the vintage market over the past 40 years, Ludot has also stashed away his most extraordinary discoveries for his personal collection. Now he is offering 160 pieces chosen from his archives at Sotheby’s Paris on 8 July during haute couture week. The sale is co-organised with Kerry Taylor, whose eponymous London auction house specialises in fashion.
The designers are legends at the peak of their careers; their creations are not only beautiful, but also technically remarkable and represent memorable moments in fashion history. Ludot is presenting them like fine art. “What makes the sale unique is Didier’s consummate good taste, interest in historical fashion and his personal style,” says Taylor. “His choices are highly collectible and, unusually, also highly wearable. He has had the pick of some of the most elegant Parisienne wardrobes.”
Elegant women are the leitmotif of Ludot’s love of haute couture, beginning with his mother. Never mind that they lived in provincial Brittany. “She had her dressmaker copy the models of Lanvin, Balmain and Chanel,” he notes. “From the age of three or four, I used to accompany her to the fittings.” In 1971, now in Paris, he was influenced by Yves Saint Laurent’s scandalous Liberation or Forties collection. “I started to walk around the Puces and bought 1940s crêpe de Chine dresses, which I sold to my friends,” Ludot says. He also began scouring antique shops for Art Deco jewellery; on a stroll in the Palais Royal gardens, he spotted a tiny shop that was available, bought it and began to sell the pieces there. When he added a vintage handbag to his window display, it marked a turning point.
“The smart crowd that passed by remarked, ‘There’s a mad person selling old handbags,’ ” Ludot recounts with a laugh. “They came back with their own bags to sell, then their furs and finally their dresses.” A larger boutique was acquired to display Hermès Kelly bags, evening purses and couture. Audaciously pairing these then “very démodé grandmother clothes with an eccentric pair of shoes,” sparked the revival.
PIERRE BALMAIN’S BLACK VELVET COCKTAIL DRESS WITH CHIFFON ROSES EMBROIDERED
BY FRANÇOIS LESAGE, WINTER 1953 (€3,000–5,000).
The Sotheby’s sale defines what makes a Ludot fashion masterpiece. “Each one is a strong testimony of a certain period and the style of a designer, from the ivory damask gown Paul Poiret made for his wife Denise in 1924 to Marc Jacobs’s Downton Abbey-inspired 2012 collection for Louis Vuitton, very important in his career,” he considers.
THE DUCHESS OF WINDSOR. PHOTO BY BACHRACH/GETTY IMAGES.
The sale is a celebration of the masters of fashion, but also a tribute to the women who wore the dresses. There is Charlotte Aillaud’s salmon-hued YSL panne de velour dress with blue motifs; Countess Mona von Bismarck’s black wool Balenciaga coat with a white mink collar; a Pucci-esque 1960s silk jersey dress printed in orange with swirling designs that belonged to the Duchess of Windsor; and Countess Hélène de Mortemart’s stunning evening gown with bouffant-sleeves and an extravagantly full multihued striped skirt created for her by Christian Lacroix when she directed his couture salon. “The women represent an elegance that no longer exists,” Ludot asserts.
A 1965 BALENCIAGA EVENING DRESS IN POINT D’ESPRIT TULLE BY BRIVET, COVERED
WITH APPLIQUÉ PINK FEATHERS BY ALBERT (€8,000–12,000).
Styles rocket from Jacques Fath and Hubert de Givenchy to Azzedine Alaïa’s sculptural evening outfit in black cotton satin and white broderie anglaise for his muse Bettina Graziani to Balenciaga’s astonishing point d’esprit tulle cocktail dress covered in appliquéd pale pink ostrich feathers worn by socialite Francine Weisweiller. What might have looked like a Big Bird costume on a larger frame perfectly suited the slim, petite muse of Jean Cocteau.
Every piece has a story: Barbara Hutton’s travelling jewel case by Cartier with its spot for a tiara and the violet Balenciaga suit that the Woolworth heiress gave to a nurse so she would be properly dressed to accompany her to the American Hospital in Paris.
Ludot explains the impetus behind his decision to sell. Not long ago, an older but still chic Parisienne brought in pieces from her wardrobe to consign with him. When he asked if she would miss some of her lovely dresses, she replied, “I was beautiful in them; my husband gave me compliments. What sense is there to keep them in a cupboard? I keep them in my memories.”
Her analysis clicked. “I’ve been collecting for 40 years, but haven’t taken some pieces out of their boxes for 20 or 30 years,” says Ludot. “Now I want to share these treasures with collectors and museums.” Ludot promises, “I’m not retiring. It’s too amusing. I meet such interesting people. I will buy new things.”
Paris-based Jean Bond Rafferty writes about design, style and real estate for T Magazine and the International New York Times and is a Contributing Editor of Town & Country.
Couture from the Didier Ludot Collection, Galerie Charpentier, Paris. Exhibition: 3–7 July. Auction: 8 July. Enquiries: +33 1 53 05 52 18.
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