As the world’s fashion capitals celebrate their busiest times of the year, Paul Smith, Karina Duebner, Wolfgang Ruf, Martin Kamer and Iris Apfel present their most wearable treasures
‘This is a tiny fraction of what I have, but I’ve never bought
a cycling jersey, and I never thought to myself: I am going
to collect these. People know I’m an enthusiast, so they
give them to me — fans and professional riders. If someone
like Bradley Wiggins is coming by, he might tuck one in his
bag for me. Often the riders sign them, which I like.
‘I am fond of the traditional woollen ones, there in the top
row. I used to wear jerseys like that when I raced in my
teens, and they have been an enormous inspiration for my
knitwear: the broad bands of colour, the high zip at the
neck. I’ve designed a few myself, including the pink Giro
d’Italia leader’s jersey that you see. They are all gaudy,
because that’s the best way to stand out in a pack. It was
different before colour TV: back then, a white jersey made
‘In my office I have a photograph of the British rider Tom Simpson wearing a Peugeot jersey with a black-and- white
check. I don’t own that one — but I’d love it if one turned
up. Presumably there are websites, but I’ve never bothered.
I’m not a collector, you see, just a person with lots of
the same stuff.’
‘My collection consists of Central Asian cloaks, kaftans, hats
and headdresses, mostly from before the Russian Revolution.
Maybe this is some memory that I carry in my DNA. My mother
is Kazakh. (She fell in love with my East German father when
they were students at Moscow University.)
‘At the back you see a suzani, a wall-hanging made
for a dowry, from the Piskent region of Uzbekistan. On the
right is a traditional ikat robe. Ikat is a technique whereby
the design is dyed into the silken threads before they are
woven; on the loom, everything shifts a little, creating
a wonderful watercolour effect. The kaftan with chevrons
is a similar cut — but a later date. My guess is that some
designer, in the 1930s, was inspired by Malevich. How else
would you get such an idea, except in a dream?
‘The other robes are chyrpy, ceremonial cloaks from
Turkmenistan. Women of marriageable age would wear blue ones,
like the one on the left. To wear a yellow chyrpy you
had to be old and wise; there are very few of those around.
One step up from yellow is white. I’ve never come across
a white chyrpy, but that would be the ultimate.’
‘We started collecting textiles at about the same time, but
we didn’t know each other then. We first met at an auction,
and for many years we were not all that pleased to see each
other, because we were after the same things. About 20 years
ago, we realised that it no longer made sense for us to be
competitors. We said: why don’t we work together? And it
turned out that we could do that quite amicably.
‘The white dress in the centre is Empire style, about 1800.
It’s not a wedding dress: a fashion for white came in when
they started digging up marble statuary at Pompeii, and people
assumed Roman ladies always wore white. That red object,
like a ribcage, is a bustle called a “Langtry”; others were
known as “lobsterpots”. The blue dress is made of gold and
silver brocade, a very rich fabric dating from about 1745.
It started life as a formal robe, but was later remodelled:
many of these clothes have had two or three lives.
‘Our costume collection is by far the largest in private hands
— and there will never be another, because there is nothing
more to be bought. We still look, but it has become almost
impossible to find anything new.’
‘I buy all my clothes to wear, not as exhibits in a collection. Dressing is an art form, no question. It takes time and work and attention. You really have to train your eye to see things such as rhythm and balance. I love putting things together, and I think that dressing should be fun. The world is so grey and sad and dull that we have to perk things up.
‘I mix high and low all the time. You see the Mongolian lamb jacket in blue? I found it in a flea market, and the pants by Missoni are a perfect match. The red dress on the left is a runway piece that I fell in love with in Barcelona in the 1970s. Colour is very important. I always say that colour can raise the dead. In the proper tonality, I never met a colour I didn’t like.
‘Many of the accessories that you see are in the form of animals. Since I can’t have a real animal in New York, I buy effigies. I like the shapes, and the fact that they are organic and full of life. Then there are my spectacles. When I was young, I would buy empty frames for fun because I thought: what a lovely fashion accessory! Eventually, when I needed glasses, I went back to the box and chose the largest pair. If you are going to wear glasses you might as well wear big ones. People now see them as my trademark, but that was never my idea.
‘About a year ago Mattel called and said they wanted to make a doll of me. I thought they were joking: who the hell would want a 95-year-old Barbie? But they were quite serious, so I designed the clothes specially. Now we are making those exact outfits full-size for mothers and grandmothers.’
A version of this article appears in the September/October edition of Christie’s Magazine. Find out more about taking out a subscription