Investment fashion special: From Mulberry to Prada, Dolce to Louis Vuitton, the style heroes under the hammer

Buying at auction means you can snap up designer clothes and accessories for a fraction of their original price. Stephanie Smith finds out what's coming up at Tennants. Pictures by Simon Hulme.

1960s mini dress with gold snake, estimate £20-£30, part of a lot at Tennants Auctioneers, Leyburn, which is having a sale next saturday, November 24. Picture by Simon Hulme

Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Prada… these prestige designer names are out of reach for most of us. We might stretch to their perfumes but, as for their gowns and handbags, sadly these are only for window shopping.

However, for those who do have the yearning, but not the earning, to own high-end and one-off designer fashion, there is an alternative way of buying that brings with it a thrill and an opportunity to make a canny investment.

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“Nine times out of 10, it is better value to buy something from an auction than to buy something brand new from a shop. And it’s usually better quality,” says Sarah White, fine arts valuer and costume & textiles specialist at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn, North Yorkshire.

A circa 1950s dress, part of a larger lot at £100-200, at Tennants Auctioneers, Leyburn. Picture by Simon Hulme

Sarah is preparing for the Costume, Textiles and Fashion Sale which takes place there next Saturday. A Hermes Birkin bag, with an estimate of £3,000-£5,000, is a star lot. “That would probably have cost maybe £10,000 in a retail shop. You’re going to make money on it if you look after it,” she says. “It’s a better investment to buy a high-ticket item, like a designer label, at auction because it’s like buying a car – as soon as you drive out of the showroom, the price has plummeted, and it’s exactly the same with these. If you buy the right thing, they can be an investment.”

There will be Gucci and Louis Vuitton suitcases, pieces of Prada and Mulberry handbags among the items under the hammer, and everything can be viewed first at the auction rooms on Thursday and Friday. There will also be pieces of vintage, designer and theatrical costume clothing and accessories from costumiers Academy of London. Founded in 1984 by Adrian Gwillym, Academy specialises in collecting vintage fashion and making reproduction costume for film, TV, theatre and the music industry, supplying the Harry Potter franchise, Casino Royale, Les Miserables, Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

This sale will feature designs from the 1960s to the 1980s, including pieces by Yves Saint Laurent and Zandra Rhodes, grouped into lots, with estimates starting at £60-£100 plus buyer’s premium. Sarah visited Academy earlier this year and picked out more than 1,000 items, some of which were sold at a sale at Tennants in August, while the rest can still be snapped up next week.

“We have three types of buyer,” she says. “There are private buyers who buy to wear. We have collectors who are trying to fill in pieces of their collection or change over pieces. And then you have your dealers, who are obviously buying to sell on.”

Hermes Birkin handbag, estimate £3,000-£5,000, up for auction on November 24.

All ages of fashion lover come to the viewings. “They can try things on, it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. A lot of the privates obviously like the handbags and we do try to lot some of the things together, sympathetically, aimed at private buyers. It depends on the value. If a dress is only worth £10-£15, we have to put 12 or 13 items in one lot to make it worthwhile for the vendor.”

Sarah has worked at Tennants for 24 years ago, since graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic with a degree in History of Modern Art, Design and Film. “All my colleagues were boys, so it was rather, ‘you’re a girl, you can do the dolls and teddy bears’.

The costume and fashion market has grown since those early days and Sarah sees finds from across the centuries. “This year we had some late 17th century purses in and 18th century costume. We go up to quite modern, but the modern pieces have to be a designer label. You can go up to about the Seventies without it being a designer label, because a lot of things were still being made at home,” she says.

Ossie Clark and Mary Quant are highly sought after, as are any pieces from the emerging fast fashion shops of the period. “If anyone has any of the mini dresses or accessories that were produced as a cheap alternative, as long as they are still wearable, that’s fine,” says Sarah. “But there is always something for everybody. We cover so many periods and we have a little bit of everything.”

Patricia Lester silk hand-pleated and hand-dyed skirt and top, about 20 years old, estimate £200-300, atTennants Auctioneers, Leyburn. Picture by Simon Hulme

Sarah is North Yorkshire born and raised and lives not far from Tennants. As with all the auctioneer’s experts and valuers, she is visited daily by those who want to show her costume, textiles and fashion pieces they hope to sell. Many come in with bin bags of clothes. “It’s always a surprise when I unpack it,” she says. “A lot of it is from deceased estates, or people who have a collection and want to move it on, or private people who want to make a little money to buy something else.”

Once she opened a black bin bag to find a beautiful 1920s flapper dress. “It was gorgeous, and it was dress after dress after dress, a real joy,” she says. “In fashion, a lot of it is looking back to past times. There’s a lot of 1940s influences in fashion at the moment, and also recycling and upcycling – people love that.”

Sarah usually clerks the sales while her colleague Jane Tennant conducts the selling. The online bids are displayed on large screens in the salesroom. Sarah says: “Each time a bid comes in, it tells you which country it’s from. It’s incredible how you can go all around the world in five minutes.”

The Antique and Vintage Costume and Textiles sale takes place on November 24 at Tennants Auctioneers, The Auction Centre, Leyburn, North Yorkshire. See details and illustrated catalogue at

Baccarat mini dress, 1960s, £30-50 but part of a lot with three other items at Tennants Auctioneers, Leyburn. Picture by Simon Hulme

SHOOT CREDITS: Photography: Simon Hulme / Location: Tennants Auctioneers at Leyburn, North Yorkshire / Styling: Belinda Alexander and Stephanie Smith / Hair: Lexi Davie-Lee and Izzy Ireland at Baroque Ripon, / Make-up: Tempany Balmer at Blush Beauty in Richmond, Facebook – @BlushBeautyRichmond / Models: Emily Naylor and Suzannah Stelling.

Three Louis Vuitton cases, estimate £400-600 each, up for auction on November 24.
Black and white check suit by Ted Lapidus, £30-50, in lot with three other suit at Tennants Auctioneers, Leyburn. Picture by Simon Hulme
Selection of modern handbags included in the sale, including Mulberry, Prada and Dior, prices range from £80, up for auction on November 24.
Sarah White, Costume and Arts specialist at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn.