Blue and pleated: A two-piece suit featuring a velvet collared coat and a turtleneck long sleeve dress by Roberta di Camerino from about 1970.

Blue and pleated: A two-piece suit featuring a velvet collared coat and a turtleneck long sleeve dress by Roberta di Camerino from about 1970. Photo: Leonard Joel Auctions

The retro fashion scene has been around for more than 40 years, but it seems to have really taken off in the past decade, judging by the number of shops that sell vintage clothes.

Vintage clothing, especially haute couture, is now collected in the same way as fine art, and investors are tentatively entering the scene, boosting hopes for the category. But it's a fickle market, as demonstrated by an auction in Melbourne last week where all items listed were passed in.

A major vintage fashion sale will take place over three days this weekend at Como House Ballroom in South Yarra, starting on Friday June 13.

Some items in the sale are from the collection of Mary Lipshut, a legendary figure in the Melbourne fashion scene. She died in February this year at the age of 90. Lipshut had been a buyer for Georges and Myer department stores. She collected prime examples by all the top European designers of the '60s and '70s.

According to legend, her massive collection, worth about $3 million, included the contents of a shipping container imported from Paris which was the subject of a ban by Melbourne wharfies at the time of anti-French nuclear protests. By the time the container was released, the clothing was out of season and Lipshut placed everything in storage. Here it remained for several decades, unworn, with original tags intact.   

The Como House sale has been organised by Danielle Goodwin, owner of Hawkeye Vintage in Greville Street, Prahran. She’s only 27 but inherited the vintage gene from her mother, who has been a fanatical collector all her life. Goodwin is one of a number of young women who prefer clothing that was made several decades before they were born.

She  has the biggest Missoni collection outside of the Missoni family and an impressive collection of Courrèges, some obtained from Lipshut.

Last week, 10 iconic pieces from the Lipshut collection appeared as part of a Leonard Joel pre-owned luxury sale. These were mid '60s and early '70s designs by Courrèges and Roberta di Camerino, all in mint, unworn condition. One Roberta di Camerino suit was estimated at $1000 to $1200, the others were in the $400 to $700 range of estimates.

John D’Agata, Leonard Joel’s National Head of Jewellery, who started the auction house's pre-owned luxury sales, said this was the first time vintage clothing had been included. It may be the last time because all 10 lots were passed in.  

One problem was in the sizing. These clothes were especially small and the female body shape has changed dramatically over the past four decades. Relatively few contemporary women can fit into antique clothing. D’Agata noted that he even had trouble finding display mannequins small enough.  

There is also a reluctance by some women to buy, and wear, vintage clothing, even examples that have never been worn.

This attitude may be changing. D’Agata knows of several collectors who buy vintage to keep, not to wear. Some display significant pieces at home in the same way as sculpture.

He describes vintage fashion as “a very good investment category” provided they come from major fashion houses and are in very good condition. Still, it’s an unpredictable market, as last week’s sale indicates.

Danielle Goodwin will be hoping for better results at the Como House sale, which will include a large selection of more than 3000 items to be sold at three pieces for $100, plus a premium section with items priced between $100 and $2000. Designers featured include Missoni, Pucci, Courrèges, Callahan, Emilio Pucci, Versace, YSL and Gigli. Ten per cent of sales go to the National Trust, the current custodians of Como House.

The European period of fashion from about 1970 is especially desirable, because it so full of colour.The designs of André Courrèges are especially vibrant, with orange strongly featured. Trained as a civil engineer, his pieces were featured in several movies, notably the 1967 classic Two for the Road, where Audrey Hepburn cruises the Cote d'Azur in Courrèges.

Danielle Goodwin’s Vintage Designer Sale takes place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Como House in South Yarra. Open 10am to 5pm.