Heiress's exquisite wardrobe under the hammer


Skinny minnies can bid for an extraordinary collection of clothes amassed by a woman renowned for her style, writes Orna Mulcahy 

NOW FOR some silver linings.

If you are not on a trolley in casualty suffering from the flu, there are reasons to be cheerful. This frosty weather is glorious (though beware the low winter sun's tendency to show up facial hair) and whether it's the black ice, or the shrinking economy, the roads are emptier. There is no pressure on anyone to buy a new car: you can be a master of the universe in an 04. Petrol is cheap, parking spaces plentiful. Supermarket wars mean more discounts and mortgages are costing less.

We're all in this together - everyone has lost money. The daffs are pushing through. Aer Lingus is having a sale so if you're truly fed-up you can get away for less. Sales assistants are actually being helpful. Employees are not looking for a raise. Gratitude is making a comeback. Tea lights are returning to their original use, as votive candles. And there's good news for skinny minnies who can bid for some wonderful vintage clothes at an upcoming sale at Adams on St Stephen's Green.

The sale, in early February, is of the wardrobe of the late Anne Bullitt, an American heiress with fascinating parents, a string of husbands and an exquisite figure. She spent much of her life in Ireland at a 700-acre racehorse stud in Lucan. She was renowned on the international racing circuit for her elegance and style.

Having worked as a model for many of the top fashion houses in New York in the 1950s and 1960s she amassed an enormous collection of clothes and accessories, many of which were scarcely worn and some not at all. After her death last year at 83, her antiques and art were sold in Dublin, and her jewellery in London. Now her boudoir is on the block, everything from negligees to hats, with furs and fripperies in between. Well, not quite everything, because Christie's has already been through the boxes and suitcases and rails and picked out what one must assume are the very best things and these are to be sold in London later this year. All the rest, and we're talking hundreds of items, will be offered by Adams on February 8th.

A sneak preview earlier this week was enough to put me on Lipotrim. The clothes are fabulous but teeny tiny. As a young woman, Anne Bullitt had a 16-inch waist. Later she ballooned to a size 10, but fashion is sometimes forgiving and there are 1960s shifts and 1970s smocks that would fit the average girl these days. Those with narrow shoulders and a big bottom could pick up a swing coat or two.

Heffalumps can head straight for accessories - shoes, hats and boxes and boxes of Hermes gloves. Hermes did you say? Then surely there must be handbags too? Sadly, most have gone though there are a couple of token treasures including a perfect, perfect, black crocodile Hermes Birkin Bag. The kind you normally see in candy colours hanging off the twig that is Victoria Beckham's arm. It's barely used and in excellent nick considering that, like the rest of the items, it's been in storage for 15 years.

Before her death, Anne Bullitt had been in a home for a long time, her clothes hidden away in suitcases. The suitcases are gorgeous. Old cream pigskin ones with labels for the Grand Hotel Taipei and the like.

The box marked "evening gowns" is tragically empty, though there are some beautiful 1970s lamé sheaths that might have been worn to Studio 54.

Gone too are her wedding dresses. Bullitt married four times, to Caspar Wistar Barton Townsend Jr, Nicholas Duke Biddle, Roderic More O'Ferrall and Daniel B Brewster. She had no children, which may explain that little waist right up to the end.

It's said the real love of her life was her father, William C Bullitt - America's first ambassador to the Soviet Union under the presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt and a millionaire from a family who made their money in land and railroads.

He won custody of Anne in the split from her mother, the famous left-wing journalist Louise Bryant, who reported on the Bolshevik revolution and whose earlier marriage to the writer John Reed was made into the movie Reds with Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton.

But back to the clothes.

Most are by Lanvin. There are lots of little coats including a brilliant Kelly green one, a black beaded number, an astrakhan coat, a rainbow of spring coats and some great raincoats.

There are piles of little cashmere jumpers of the three- and four-ply variety; there are clumpy two-tone Charles Jourdan shoes from the 1970s.

There are hundreds of neatly folded silk squares by Lanvin and Patou, Dior and Hermes. There are kimonos and kaftans and magnificent lengths of silk from China and Japan.

Last, but not least, there's a fabulous fur coat, dripping with tails, reeking of mothball and with a perfectly preserved silver lining. Like the rest of the clothes in this fascinating sale, it will be sold without reserve.