Thatcher's passion for fashion on show ahead of UK sale

11th December 2015, Comments 0 comments

The British public were invited Friday to share Margaret Thatcher's "secret passion" for fashion ahead of a sale of clothes worn by the former premier known as the 'Iron Lady'.

London's Christie's auction house will put the clothes under the hammer on Tuesday.

It is also selling 200 personal items belonging to Britain's only female premier, in an online auction that runs until Wednesday.

The lots, owned by Thatcher's family, could fetch a combined total of around £500,000 ($760,000, 700,000 euros), Orlando Rock, president of Christie's UK, told AFP.

The auction house is used to dealing with works of art that regularly sell for more than ten times that amount.

"It is quite unusual for us that the vast majority of lots are affordable to a very, very large number of people," said Rock.

Some of the most famous items, including the dresses she wore when first meeting Nelson Mandela and when dancing with Ronald Reagan, went on public display at Christie's on Friday.

The auctioneer said the collection would give "unique insights into the 'Iron Lady'."

- Fashion diplomacy -

"She had a secret passion for clothes," curator Meredith Etherington-Smith said of Thatcher, a dressmaker's daughter born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, central England, in 1925.

"From a very young age, she and her sister used to make clothes," she added.

"When she became the first woman prime minister she used clothes as a way of emphasising her power.

"Every time there was a photo opportunity, she was beautifully dressed, immaculately coiffured, with a nice handbag, and she looked what she was: a powerful person."

Historic lots include the blue suit she wore in a 1990 parliament debate on the expansion of the European Monetary Union, in which she uttered the now immortal line: "No. No. No."

Thatcher went to great lengths to ensure she wore colours appropriate to any country she was visiting -- green, a symbol of hope, in Poland, and blue and cream in Israel to mirror the country's flag.

"It was all very carefully thought-out," said Etherington-Smith.

"At her party conferences, she always wore a very sharp blue suit," the colour of her Conservative Party.

"She never wore red in the UK because that's the colour of socialism but she did wear it in America because that's the colour of Ronald Reagan's Republican party," the curator said.

- Feared handbags -

Her "special relationship" with US president and fellow free-market reformer Reagan is a focal point of the collection.

Items include a statue of a bald eagle, the symbol of the United States that Reagan gave her as a gift, which is expected to sell for between £5,000 and £8,000.

One of the most emblematic pieces is the iconic red leather briefcase that contained the prime minister's confidential documents, which is expected to fetch between £3,000 and £5,000.

Other items include signed copies of some of her most famous speeches, her wedding dress, her handbags -- which used to strike fear into colleagues during cabinet meetings -- and jewellery.

The items, proceeds of which will go to her children and grandchildren, were initially offered to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, but they decided against showing them.

Thatcher was in power from 1979 to 1990. Her privatisations and deregulation helped turn around Britain's ailing economy.

But she remains a divisive figure, particularly in Britain's hard-hit working-class heartlands.

She died on April 8, 2013, and received a ceremonial funeral attended by Queen Elizabeth II.


© 2015 AFP

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