Didier Ludot Collection: My Secret Fashion Show

January 23, 2023

For nearly five decades, Didier Ludot has been collecting extraordinary pieces of haute couture. One hundred and fifty treasures from this pioneer of vintage will go under the hammer on January 26th as a live auction at Artcurial in collaboration with Christie’s. But first, they will be displayed as a “défilé secret” celebrating the artisans, couturiers and the women who have worn these magnificent dresses. Here, Didier Ludot and Camille de Foresta, curator at Christie’s, offer a sneak peek ahead of this special occasion.

Didier Ludot: You stand out as one of the leading names of the vintage scene. Where did your passion come from? What were the criteria for your choices?  

As a child, I would always go with my mother to visit her dressmaker. When I started in Paris at the Palais Royal, I began with Art Deco jewellery, which was trendy at the time. Yves Saint Laurent’s “Libération” collection in 1971 was a major inspiration for me. Then I started collecting 1940s and ’50s Couture dresses. At the time it wasn’t called “vintage” but “retro.” Once the first models were displayed in the window, people started offering me pieces. Things happened quite naturally. For me, the criteria were simple. I have always looked for the pieces that are most representative of an era and of a designer’s work.

YSL Carla Bruni

Camille de Foresta: What makes this collection exceptional?

Didier Ludot’s collection is exceptional in its abundance, diversity and depth. We thought we’d already seen the best of Didier’s treasures; but no, there are more! And what treasures! The part of the collection that will be sold on January 26th has a particular importance and identity because next to the star designers such as Alaia, Balenciaga, Chanel, Galliano, Givenchy, Lacroix, Lagerfeld, Mc Queen, Yves Saint Laurent or Versace, there are surprises: designers that Didier Ludot adores and wants to introduce to as many people as possible. For instance, Jean Dessès, king of pleated and sculptural dresses in the 1950s and ’60s, of whom we have five models in the sale, or Rudi Gernreich, who was very well known at the end of the ’60s, as well as Pierre Bory who launched a do-it-yourself kit dress around 1970. There’s also a very theatrical Lecoanet Hemant Haute Couture dress from the 1990s.

Versace, robe portée par Madonna © Steven Meisel

Didier Ludot: The sale is entitled “my secret show.” Would you say that it is also your ideal fashion show?

Many memories and ideas flood back to me with this sale. It’s called “my secret show” because it’s an intimate sale. Each garment has a story. Either it belonged to women like Francine Weisweller or Charlotte Aillaud whom I knew. I loved the elegance of these women. I was lucky enough to have known them and I cherish their memory. Or else they were catwalk prototypes. These pieces have a particular value for me because they are the original models, those that are the closest to what the designers imagined. Many of the prototypes come from the Grès atelier. When Bernard Tapie bought the Maison, he threw away a large part of the archives. People came to sell them to me afterwards. It’s very touching to have these pieces that Mme Grès had in her hands and that she kept with love. The Saint Laurent anise green embroidered jacket is the show’s model. There is even still the ribbon. This secret fashion show makes it possible to highlight some of the great masters who are less well known today, such as Jean Dessès and Marc Bohan. Finally, these exceptional pieces pay tribute to all the craftspeople of haute couture. There is a certain nostalgia here. The pieces will be bought by houses, museums, or collectors. But what makes me feel good is that I know they will be protected.

Camille de Foresta: Which piece do you think best reflects this collection?

It’s an extremely difficult question to answer, but it seems to me that the dialogue in the catalogue between a black wool suit top by Christian Dior from 1952 and a short evening dress by Versace from 1992 perfectly illustrates Didier Ludot’s rigorous eye. Forty years separate these two pieces and in the Versace dress we find the very essence of the Dior jacket: the architecture of the cut, the enhancement of the body and the radical timelessness that are the essence of haute couture.

Dior, Robe manteau et capeline © Artcurial

Didier Ludot: Finally, what would be the ideal cast for this secret fashion show?

It’s very difficult to say. All these girls from the ’80s and’ 90s. Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Carla Bruni… It was a celebration to see them on the catwalk! They knew how to walk and make the designers’ creations come alive. 

I would start with three Mondrian dresses and two Poliakoff dresses by Saint Laurent; I would add a lot of Balenciaga; then the pure dresses by Mrs. Grès, Alaïa and Galliano for Dior who took up the codes of the house with humour and talent. And McQueen would be the ultimate. I would do a show with the best of each designer rather than a show with several designers.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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