Coco Chanel's personal collection of clothes, costume jewelry and other accessories was auctioned here Saturday night for more than $113,000.
After a champagne reception, a stylish audience filled three rooms at Christie's for what may be the last fashion show for many of the creations by the designer who died in Paris in 1971, at the age of 87. There were Chanel originals in the audience as well as on the models in the gangway.
The Smithsonian Institution snatched a handbag for $780; the navy-blue jersey bag with a gilt chain handle was one of eight to be sold. The only other known American buyer was Jupiter Corp. of San Francisco, whose last bid of $3,510 took a brown-printed velvet suit and a matching wide-brimmed hat that Chanel designed in 1961.
Christie's said the sale total was $133,877. However, this figure includes $20,280 of final bids on items that were "bought in" because they did not reach the reserve prices set by the auction firm. More than one-quarter of the suits and dresses in the collection were not sold.
But the jewelry prices exceeded expectations, even after the auctioneer emphasized that there wasn't a real gem or pearl in the bunch. The jewelry fectched $41,769. Eighteen of the 43 pieces, worth more than half of the total, were bought on behalf of Xoilan, a Geneva jewelry dealer.
Among these was the most expensive item of jewelry, a brooch that included a square simulated emerald and three simulated baroque pearls. This sold for $3,120.
The single most expensive item in the auction was a brown-tweed suit bordered with braid and bright pink silk. The Oslo Museum bought it for $4,680.
Perhaps the most famous dress in the sale was the "little black dress" from Chanel's winter 1960 collection. This short silk chiffon dress with "spaghetti straps" was bought for $2,925 by the Baroness David de Rothschild, who may have wanted something basic and black to go with the three pieces of jewelry she had bought for $2,242.
With the exception of a bodice Chanel designed for herself about 1930, all of the clothes in the auction dated from her post-war fashion comeback, beginning in 1954. Among the dresses that were "bought in" were the last two suits that she made for herself and another suit that she wore when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor dined with her.
These and other unsold items will remain the property of Lilian Grumbach, Chanel's colleague during the last 14 years of her life. Grumbach played a crucial, behind-the-scenes role Saturday night, supervising the dressing of the models.
One spectator found himself in the auction neophyte's nightmare -- discovering too late that he'd unintentionally cast a bid. The man used his pen to direct his wife's attention to some aspect of the item up for bids, a brooch shaped like a four-leaf clover. He didn't notice that the auctioneer interpreted his gesture -- equivalent to a shout in auction-room palaver, conducted for the most part with almost imperceptible nods and shakes of the head -- as a bid, the final bid -- for $878.
When the mistake was discovered, the auctioneer generously let him escape with nothing more than a considerably reddened face. The brooch was knocked down to the previous highest bidder.
Intentional bidders included a private British buyer, identified by Christie's only by the surname "Collins," who spent $10,725 on three coats and two dresses.
Two of the white cotton smocks that Chanel wore while working were bought by British museums for $1,170 and $741.
Lord Kenilworth, British interior designer John Sidderley, bought two tunics at $975 and $682 for his wife's collection.
He said afterward: "If you went to Chanel now, you'd pay 2,000 pounds (almost $4,000) for a suit, so the prices weren't extraordinary."