I have impeccable taste, and so do moths. They've paid repeated attention to a timeless grey wool jersey sleeveless, scoop-necked, ribbon-trimmed long dress I bought years ago at a church rummage sale. The dress was designed by Maggy Reeves.
Maggy Reeves was born in Vienna. She opened her Yorkville couturier shop in 1962 and "gladly worked from dawn to dusk creating new masterpieces.
At the height of her career she produced 200 gowns a year with a staff of up to 11 European-trained seamstresses. Each gown took up to 300 hours of labour, this from the catalogue at Ritchies Auctioneers, where her personal collection is being sold off.
The designer is moving to a long-term care facility and no doubt hoped these examples of her life's work would attract some recognition in cash form.
A crowd of previewers gathers around the display cases full of jewels to be auctioned later. I have the two racks of clothes to myself. It's a mishmash, and many pieces show signs of love - that is to say wear. Still, gowns of tricoloured jersey gap-stitched together in zigzags speak of immense creativity and hark back to a time when Toronto's horizons were happening and hopeful.
Over on the dummies hang les pièces de résistance. Outstanding is an exquisite construction of pleats and tiers in emerald-green silk with a matching cape lined in purple. A pearl satin gown bears the weight of heavy three-dimensional hand-beaded flowers similar to those the Victorians displayed under glass domes.
The crowd isn't particularly stylish: older women in leather, rhinestone pins on denim, ostentatious jewellery. The woman with the Pekinese dog must be a good customer - she gets a special chair. It's a frosty night. Maybe the man wearing shorts and sandals just flew in from Florida.
Six employees are poised at the bank of phones to receive bids from exotic absentees.
At precisely 7 pm a charming young woman in a teal sweater steps up to the podium. A plain-looking suit that bears the Chanel label goes for $850 over the phone. A Pucci dress, "easily repairable," is a hard sell. For the first Maggy Reeves piece there are no bids at all. A beautiful three-layer chiffon confection goes for only $80.
Three blouses together net just $50. Twenty dollars each for a lot of skirts. No bids on the needlepoint-flowered black party dress. The sympathetic auctioneer cannot raise $80 for three frocks in a block. A four-piece rose-printed set garners $70. The black velvet pieced "puzzle' dress inspired by artist Harold Town pulls in $550, but two fantastic cocktail dresses go for only $40. A fabulous flamenco outfit is likewise rebuffed.
The brilliant green dress fit for the Queen of the World has no takers! No one wants the gown with hundreds of hours of beading on it. It breaks my heart to witness the rejection of an artist's legacy that, without bidders, has become literally priceless. But somehow it seems very Toronto.
Down at the 80th annual Hadassah-Wizo Bazaar it's another story. The auctioneer has time to cajole the crowd as the model passes her jacket around to be tried on for size. The suit goes for $220.
Mountains of platform shoes, dill pickles, salamis, 50-pound bags of carrots, evening gowns for a hundred wedding parties. If I were serious about looking for good stuff, old stuff, I would have arrived at dawn to line up.
But I already have a wardrobe of handmade gowns and French ladies' suits to care for. They've lasted since the 1930s and 40s and I've maintained them for decades myself, hoping to find the life to go with them.
My costumes are dreams. And they're being eaten away.