Updated on 6 December 2021
❚ A FAMOUS OWNER can certainly bestow prestige on a work of art. Indeed when Bowie’s own contemporary art collection went for auction at Sotheby’s in 2016 there was an online frenzy to snap up most of the 147 items – at prices which were mostly two to four times greater than the auctioneer’s top estimates. Some artists managed to attract TEN TIMES their top asking price, specifically Picasso, Kokoschka, Gill, Alexander Mckenzie, David Jones, Stephen Finer, Clive Shepherd, Eric Heckel, Johann Garber, Ivon Hitchens, Maurice Cockrill.
You could call those sizeably inflated extra costs a “Bowie premium” and a lot of people were prepared to pay hair-raising prices depending on their determination to own a piece of Bowie’s legacy.
Step forward Steve Strange, or rather since Steve is sadly no longer with us, step forward fashion designer Judi Frankland, one of the wildest of clubland’s Blitz Kids, best known for some of her fab 1980 degree collection immortalised in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video. There, Steve Strange sports more than one hat, most famously the ornate veiled head-dress made of stiffened lace on a metal frame by Stephen Jones, worn with Judi’s black wedding dress in long shots. But he also sports another smaller, snugger hat in certain chorus close-ups on the beach and later in the studio.
This titfer had initially been thought to be the one described today by a London auctioneer as a “wide pleated chiffon band and large taffeta bow to rear”, which is being offered for sale on 7th December for £200-£300. Designed by Judi to coordinate with her degree-show collection, the hat was, she says, made by Fiona Dealey and Richard Ostell together in the days when student pals helped out on each other’s major collections. Both of them boast significant reputations today.
An initial description and provenance had been provided by the seller, who is not known to Judi. Since first posting, however, the auctioneer initiated a long phone conversation on Monday with Judi, from which it turns out that the hat for sale was worn by Judi herself in the video as the bow arrangement at rear had originally stood high in the air, whereas today it is folded flat. So two or even three price premiums come into play here to determine the market value of this chic little titfer 40 years after Judi designed it. For making it famous, a Bowie premium of two to four times the estimated price, would bump its worth up to, say, £900; plus a Steve Strange premium for sporting Judi’s collection in the Ashes video shoots. And now perhaps a Frankland premium too!
So what is a Steve Strange premium worth? Remember that other auction last March when Auction Antiques in Exeter sold an Issey Miyake suit belonging to David Bowie, which he supposedly discarded in the Blitz Club after burning it with a cigarette (yet the date cited, 1982, was long after the Blitz had closed!)? Steve Strange took it home and following his death in 2015 it was inherited by his long-time friend Jayce Lewis who subsequently offered it for sale via Auction Antiques who reckoned it could fetch an estimated £10,000-£15,000. Trouble was, in this sale there were so few bids that it yielded only £8,000, which you could interpret as the “Strange premium” proving to be more like a forfeit of 36%. Apply that to Judi’s hat and its possible worth comes down to around £576. Which is better than nothing, obvs. Now we hear that absent-minded Judi herself sported the hat in Ashes to Ashes, so we really ought to sprinkle some Frankland stardust on the price so let’s say it’s worth £700 to a buyer!
Kerry Taylor Auctions in London sells vintage fashion worn by such celebs as Princess Di and Amy Winehouse. And next week they’re selling Judi’s long-lost hat as Lot 155A in their Passion for Fashion sale. The website tells a tale of its current owner Roz Corrigan wearing it on the eve she met her future husband. Aw, sweet.
Dear old Judi can’t even remember how the hat vanished from her Cranley Gardens flat way back when. “I have no doubt it’s my hat,” she tells me, having seen the photos online. “It was possibly crushed in my wardrobe as I was as bad as Steve was with my frocks.” She recalls how her sensational black wedding dress had returned from the seaside video location covered in mud and make-up and vanished into the recess Steve Strange called his wardrobe, never to be seen again. She adds however: “That hat would never have stood a chance of surviving if it had stayed with me and not been given away.”
UNCANNILY AS PREDICTED HERE,
JUDI’S HAT GOES FOR £700
Updated on 7 December 2021
❏ The hat-trick of hot names Bowie/Strange/Frankland meant that during a speedy round of intense bidding at today’s international online auction, Judi’s chiffon-taffeta number hit exactly the hammer price of £700 which we predicted yesterday. So well done Ms Frankland for beating the auctioneer’s mid-point estimate by 280% !!! In real money the hammer price grosses up to £1,050 after premium and VAT are added.
Coincidentally, in this Kerry Taylor auction of 265 fashion items from many nations and periods, among the household names selling either side of Judi’s 1980 hat, about 30 items performed remarkably well. Four garments bearing the 1970s Biba label sold for about four times their top estimates, as did an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell chiffon dress. Half a dozen Vivienne Westwood outfits (Pirates/Punkature) went for at least twice their estimates amid fiercely competitive bidding, while a sensational Issey Miyake moulded breastplate from 1980 clocked £32,000. What proved shockingly disappointing was to see a string of striking John Galliano skirts and jackets from around 1986-88 only just hit their estimates, while one delicious woollen pouch dress from his Forgotten Innocents collection on offer for £10,000 failed to reach its reserve with a bid of “only” £7,500, so remains unsold!
AND THE WINNER IS
MICHAEL IN MELBOURNE
Updated on 9 December 2021
❏ So now we know who won Judi Frankland’s chiffon-taffeta titfer in Tuesday’s auction. Michael Reason posted his comment (below) glowing with pride at now owning a talisman from Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, “which has meant so much to me since I first saw it as a gay teenager in the 1980s”. We’ve been hearing more about him…
Michael grew up in Tasmania, moved to Melbourne to study and is today the Curator of Leisure and Social Spaces at Melbourne Museum. Because Australia’s time difference placed the auction in the early hours, he says, “I almost didn’t bother staying up, as I had this feeling that such an iconic piece of fashion/music history would command a four-figure sum. I mean, what else is ever going to turn up from the Ashes to Ashes video? The ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition came to Melbourne in 2015, just before he died, and the Pierrot suit was featured, but I’ve never seen anything else.
“I was actually more excited that the hat was worn by Judith in the video, rather than Steve Strange, as I’ve always admired her work. I’m sure it will end up in an appropriate gallery one day, but I will certainly enjoy it until then.”
As a lover of fashion and design, Michael adds: “Our sister organisation, the National Gallery of Victoria, collects more internationally, and with a narrower definition of fashion. I recently donated two items to them, a Vivienne Westwood toile dress and a Twiggy Boutique mini-dress.” He also acquired through Kerry Taylor Auctions a floral print D&G jacket worn by Patsy in three episodes of Ab Fab, Patsy’s D&G shoes and fishnet stockings from another, plus Anne’s costume from Little Britain.
Recently he has been working with Australian fashion designer Jenny Bannister, “known for her interest in upcycling and trashion”, he says, with much of her clothing now part of his Museum’s collection.
Best news of all, Michael adds: “I was thinking that I’d look at having Judith’s bow unstitched, to try and restore its original silhouette. I’m sure it could be done without causing damage.” It’s a proposal Judi greets with delight: “I hope Michael does put the bow right. Why on earth anyone stitched it flat, I don’t know. The silhouette is what made it so fabulous.”
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: The Blitz Kids WATN? No 37, Judith Frankland
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: Judith Frankland as queen
of the Bowie girls
➢ Previously at Shapers of the 80s: 2011, A swelle hello from upstart Judith