GADCO Press Coverage
Featuring the famous third of a page article in the New York Times Styles Section!!
AN EXTRAORDINARY STORY,
Please read on for our amazing story about bidding at Christie's Dress Auction.
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The Princess Diana Dress
The Great American Doll Company went to the famous Christie's auction of Princess Diana's gowns. Under tight security (and protection) from the prying eyes of its competitors, Michael and Fredericka Lam, the founders of the company, successfully bid on Lot # 18 at the auction paying $36,800 for the prize. This was on June 24, 1997. Because of the high interest in all things associated with the late Princess, there were a tremendous number of people wanting a chance to have something of hers. With only about 1,000 people qualified to join in the bidding, the chances of becoming one of them was exceedingly slim.
We had an idea to use one of the dresses with a doll we had already sculpted of the Princess two years before. Because of the huge interest in the Princess at the time, there was little hope that we would get a bidding paddle. However, we were very lucky and finally got one. (We later heard that our chances of actually getting a bidder's paddle and a seat in the auction were like one in ten thousand.)
The Christie's Auction of Princess Diana's Gowns was being held in the early evening at their New York offices on Park Avenue. We had arrived the night before from California and had spent the afternoon getting acclimated to New York. When we finally left the hotel for the auction, our cab got trapped in heavy traffic. Here is where we learned why Park Avenue is called 'park avenue'. It took us nearly an hour to go six blocks because it was so tight.
When we finally arrived at Christie's, it was nearly dark. There were hundreds of people milling around, gawkers and celebrities alike, and many news agencies set up with cameras and lights aimed at Christie's entrance. It was surrealistic, like a Fellini movie, with excitement everywhere and no one in control. Taking advantage of the confusion, we donned our dark glasses to hide our faces from the crowds and from the hundreds of news and TV cameras and briskly walked the gauntlet into the main entrance. After presenting our credentials and special passes to the Christie's staff, we were given our paddle, a large 12" white cardboard square with a handle and larger black numbers printed on it. We were then escorted by two young women to the auction area up the stairs and past the milling crowds. We were very lucky to get the last two seats in the room only 20 feet from the auctioneer's podium.
The auction started promptly at 7:00 PM with about 300 people seated (around us) and another 700+ standing shoulder to shoulder like rush-hour subway passengers (this is New York, isn't it?) in the peanut gallery behind us at the extreme back of the auction room. (This was the overflow section where there was standing room only.) The auctioneer, Lord Hinslip, Chairman of Christie's, entered the room and brought the beehive-like sounds down to a faint buzz in a matter of seconds. When he had everyone's attention, the bidding started.
We sat down in our opened folding chairs, and then, the auction started with Lord Hinslip presenting each dress by Lot number. A large television image were displayed overhead in front of us. Because of room light and our position, it was very difficult for us to see what the dresses looked like. Like many other bidders, we had prepared for this by bringing our own copy of the large auction catalog with us which we balanced across both our knees as the bidding proceeded. We made quite a picture, Freddie and I, balancing the book on our knees, holding the pages open with one hand each, and me using my only free limb, my right hand, to raise the bidding paddle. At the same time, we were talking about bidding on several gowns, but especially Lot #18. It was an exciting time, figuring what to pay and whether we should bid on this or that dress. Quite a picture! This went on for the 30 minutes into the auction.
We had the strongest feeling that we must bid on Lot #18, a Catherine Walker original in Blue Silks and Pearlized sequins. However, the variety and choices of other great designs dazzled us as well. So in our precariously balanced position with the book on our knees in the little folding chairs, we ended up bidding on all of them. Of course, the prices for the dresses went way beyond our expectations. We had initially and naively believed that the dresses would sell for the minimum requested for charity donations, of between $5,000 and $7,500. We had planned to spend no more that $10,000. However, everything went higher, much higher.
Lord Hinslip was very active on his podium. Each dress went on the block in succession and was sold within a few minutes. The prices averaged around $26,000 for the first few dresses. We became fast and familiar friends with Lord Hinslip, our eyes seeming to meet across the room more times than we could count since our paddle was always there to start the bidding on each new dress lot. With each dress after a few minutes of bidding activity with the prices going sky high, Lord Hinslip would always come back to see if we wanted to take the bidding higher to outbid the last bidder. This happened seventeen straight times that we decided not to be the last bid on a gown.
On Lot #18, our dress came up and simply sparkled. It was unique and had a certain charm and mystique about it that moved us into another dimension. Freddie said, "Here is our perfect dress just made for our Diana doll!" The bidding started with a mad rush. This gown had to be something very special, because everyone seemed to come after it at the same time. There were dozens of paddles in the air, all waving, all demanding attention, like excited students in classroom wanting the teacher to choose them. The first mandatory $5,000 was bid, then $6,000, then $7,000, then $10,000, then it went to $20,000 and kept on going. Our paddle was like a yo-yo, going up, then down, then up again, then down. Freddie was determined that we must get this gown, that it was more than perfect, that it was the ultimate outfit for our Bruno Rossellini sculpting of Princess Diana. Then, her ultimatum went out to me to "get that dress at any cost".
By this time, Lord Hinslip had craned his head to see us so many times his neck must have hurt. With a look of anticipation and puzzlement as if asking the final question of "Don't you want this great dress? It's perfect for you and exactly why you came here," our paddle again shot up. Eye to eye like two powerful laser beams across an empty universe of silence, Lord Hinslips' unspoken words thundered through our souls. The bid on Lot #18 was up to $32,000. This was our bid, and our hearts stopped. We had answered his question. Then, Lord Hinslip called out our bidder's number to his auction clerks, made a two-second 180 degree scan around the room, and then came back to us with a smile and hard hammer slam! We now owned Lot #18. The final price tag, with commissions, was actually $36,800. With only 79 dresses in the auction, we became one of 50 lucky people in the world to own such a treasure.
ABOUT THE DRESS
"The Best of the British" is how the gown was headlined in a 1997 pictorial in The Star Magazine covering the Dress Auction. (The Star also featured this dress in it's August 25th issue this year, 1998.) The full description from the Christie's catalogue follows:
Lot No. 18
The bodice pointed in pale blue lace, trimmed with ribbon work flowers and pearlized sequins on pale blue satin. The dress, which is draped at the hips with pale blue silk chiffon and pearlized sequins, falls to a demi train at the back with two trailing ties. Worn by the Princess on an official visit to the Cameroons in 1989.
A Dress Well Traveled: This dress was special to the Princess and was worn by her on many events, especially Royal visits and on many personal appearances. It was worn on Royal Visits to Qatar, Cameroon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and also on important London social events (such as at the Savoy Hotel). Close examination shows that it is frayed and threadbare in places from lots of usage.
A Fashion Masterpiece by Catherine Walker: In a personal meeting with the French manufacturer of the material used in making the dress, it was divulged that the lace cost $161 per yard (the material is all handmade by small artisans living in the French countryside). It is considered an artistic creation in the classic French lace-making tradition rather than a fabric.
A Dress of Change: After Researching the dress we learned that it had been modified or redesigned several times to show her changing tastes and disposition. (See the 1998 August 25th issue of The Star Magazine, page 24, where two versions of the dress are pictured.) It started as a full sleeved, high neckline gown and slowly transformed with the Princess's own changing life into a fashionable low cut sleeveless evening gown. It was considered one of her favorite outfits.
A Media Favorite: This dress was pictured in the May 19, 1997 issue of "People Magazine", in The New Yorker, twice in "The Star" tabloid including this week's August 25 issue (it was labeled "Best of the British" in the issue of The Star preceding the auction in 1997), and has been featured in many of the "Memorial Books" and several other magazines published since Princess Diana's passing.
The Brinks Armored Truck: On Friday morning, August 21, 1998, two heavily armed Brinks guards quietly drove up to an ultra-secret underground storage facility on the west side of Los Angeles. After carefully scanning the area, they were rushed into a small waiting room where their credentials were carefully checked. Following this, they were asked to wait, the room now locked, while two facility guards disappeared down a darkened corridor.
When the two facility guards reappeared, one was carrying a medium-sized laminated and sealed cardboard container. Although everyone knew what was inside, not a word was uttered. One of the Brinks' guards signed the remaining documents, while the other parked outside to make sure the way was clear to the truck. The guard holding the container exited the building and entered the back of the armored truck. The other guard locked him in and let himself into the driver's seat to start the twenty minute ride to their new destination. Now was the start of another great adventure for this now famous Princess Diana gown, Lot #18. (Watch for more stories, coming soon.)
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