On a hot sunny day in June, Kate Madison drove her ten-year-old Mercedes station wagon through Greenwich, Connecticut, until she reached Mead Point Drive, and followed the directions she’d been given until she arrived at tall iron gates. She pressed a buzzer and said her name when a male voice answered. A moment later the gates swung open, and she drove slowly onto the property. The grounds and gardens were impressive and there were beautiful old trees lining the driveway. She had been in the area many times before, though never to this particular estate. The woman who had owned it was a well-known society figure who had only stopped going out shortly before she died, at ninety-two. Before that, she had been one of the grande dames of New York society, a generous woman who was best known for her philanthropy. She had no children, and had been on the best-dressed lists for years, mostly for her vast collection of French haute couture, which looked fabulous on her even at her great age.
The woman’s clothes were being disposed of by two nieces, who were finding the project far more tiresome than they had expected. Both were in their sixties and lived in other cities, and their husbands were executors of the estate.
They had already made arrangements with Sotheby’s to sell the jewelry, had consigned the furniture to Christie’s to auction, and were keeping some of the more important art. The rest was either being donated to museums or sold privately through a dealer in New York. And all that remained to deal with now was their aunt’s wardrobe, which filled three enormous rooms that had previously been bedrooms in her spectacular house. The deceased had been a small, very thin, elegant woman, and her nieces couldn’t imagine who her clothes were going to fit. The coats maybe, many of which were voluminous, and she had some magnificent furs, but the dresses were minute.
They had contacted Kate’s store, Still Fabulous, after reading about it on the Internet, when a friend in New York recommended it to them. Kate had disposed of the friend’s mother’s wardrobe too, and she’d been very pleased with the results. Kate herself and Still Fabulous had a golden reputation in New York as the best, most elegant resale shop in the city, located in SoHo. She sold clothing that she bought outright occasionally at auctions, or she sold things on consignment, so she had no initial investment. She only sold clothing which was in impeccable condition or brand new. She had some wonderful vintage pieces, but most of what she sold was current and still fashionable. Her customers loved her store.
Opening it had been a dream Kate had had for many years before she finally could. She was adept at combing resale stores herself, out of necessity, and she loved the hunt for beautiful things. When Kate’s husband died when she was twenty-nine, leaving her with four young children, she had worked at Bergdorf Goodman for five years, first as a salesgirl, then as a buyer of designer clothes. She was well versed in new designer clothing too, but the thrill for her was in finding unique pieces, some vintage, some recent. And in the eighteen years she had owned Still Fabulous, she had gone to Paris many times to buy exceptional items at auction that others often overlooked. She bought only the most pristine items, in perfect condition, and they had to be still wearable and look chic. She liked older, more historical vintage pieces as well, but she bought them judiciously or took them on consignment, in case they didn’t sell. If they looked ridiculous, were out of style, or in poor condition, she didn’t want them in her store. She remembered many of the really beautiful and exceptional pieces she had sold, where they came from, and kept meticulous records of who she had sold them to. Her prices for important designer clothes were high, but fair.
Kate got out of the car in Greenwich, pounded the heavy brass knocker smartly, and a moment later, a butler in a starched white jacket opened the door. Kate felt a blast of cool air from inside, and was relieved to realize the house was air-conditioned. It would have been too hot to go through the closets otherwise, examining heavy winter clothes and furs along with the rest. It was obvious that she was expected, and she was respectfully led into a wood-paneled library by the butler. She could see at a glance that the walls were lined with rare leather-bound books, many of which were probably first editions and worth a fortune. The family was selling them at Christie’s too. They were keeping very little of their aunt’s estate. Kate was enjoying looking around discreetly, and was standing at the open French windows, with a view of the exquisitely manicured gardens. It was not the first time she had been in a home like this to evaluate and buy items from an estate.
A secretary appeared a few minutes later, apologized for being late, and led her to the locked rooms that were the woman’s closets. They were any woman’s dream, and a sight to behold, as the young woman turned the lights on. There was row after row of impeccably hung garments, many of them in individual cloth bags, and several racks of fabulous furs. And there were specially built cupboards for hats, handbags, shoes, and drawers for her custom-made underwear, satin nightgowns, scarves, and gloves. There was one entire closet of evening gowns, many of which Kate knew she couldn’t use. Nowadays most of her clients, even the most social ones, led more informal lives. She might be able to take a dozen or so of the beautiful gowns, but there were at least two hundred there, in black, pastel, and brilliant colors, and always with evening bags and shoes to match.
One of the closets contained mostly French haute couture, from important designers, many of whom no longer existed. The collection was worth a fortune, and had cost an even bigger one when the woman bought the clothes hanging on the racks. It was a treat to see such magnificent pieces. Kate asked the secretary for permission to take some photographs. She agreed without a problem, and told Kate she was welcome to stay as long as she liked. Kate smiled as the secretary said it. She would have loved to spend a week there, not just a few hours, but she couldn’t indulge herself just for the fun of it. She had to single out the items she could sell, and think about her more important private clients, as well as what she wanted in the store. Her shop was also a valuable archive for famous designers, who came to do research sometimes, when they were looking for inspiration for their next collections.
Kate had another segment of clientele as well. She had long attracted movie stars and celebrities who borrowed and rented evening gowns to wear to press events, premieres, and award ceremonies like the Oscars. The evening gowns would work well for them. And she had rented clothes as costumes for several movies over the years.
On a more human scale, while she still worked at Bergdorf’s, she had acquired clients she consulted for, helping them to build their wardrobes or finding special items for them. It had given her extra money she needed for her children and inspired her to open a store of her own. The steady additional income she made from fashion consulting had given her the seed money to open Still Fabulous, along with loans her best friend, Liam, helped her obtain at the bank where he worked. Still Fabulous had produced beyond expectations, and within three years she had repaid all the loans. She started her business on a shoestring and watched her budget closely, and it grew rapidly in a relatively short time.
Kate was strikingly chic, and always dressed simply. She had worn a black linen Chanel suit, with white piqué collar and cuffs and matching white camellia on the lapel. She looked trim and elegant as always, and had an innate flair for fashion, for herself as well as others. She was tall, slim, and had long straight blond hair she wore in either a sleek ponytail or a bun. At fifty-three, she looked ten years younger than she was, and went to a gym five times a week to maintain her figure. The secretary in Connecticut was impressed when she saw her, but not surprised. Kate Madison had been highly recommended as the best in the resale business, and supposedly had an unfailing eye for what would sell, and women would still want to wear. She never picked the trendy pieces that were a flash in the pan and had gone out of style almost as soon as they were made. Her clients loved finding things they could wear forever, some of them iconic pieces from the designers who had made them.
Kate carried a lot of Chanel at the store, Yves Saint Laurent from Paris, and Dior from the days when Gianfranco Ferré designed it in the eighties and nineties. She also had Balmain from when Oscar de la Renta had done their haute couture, and Christian Lacroix before they closed, both haute couture and ready-to-wear. And Givenchy, both from the days of the great designer himself, and its more recent incarnations by Alexander McQueen and Riccardo Tisci. There were designers others had forgotten, the many young designers who had died in the seventies and eighties at the height of their talent, and some later, Patrick Kelly and Stephen Sprouse among them. And she sold the American brands of ready-to-wear that everyone loved, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, and here and there a nameless brand that she bought not for the label, but because it had style, or gueule or chien, as the French called it. That ephemeral something you couldn’t really describe but that made a woman look special when she wore it, if she had the guts to pull it off. Kate also found wonderful basics like simple little black coats, pea coats, expertly cut Prada, and skirts and pants and sweaters that were timeless.
The secretary came in to check on her as Kate was photographing several beautiful evening gowns from Paris. She had made her way through the first closet, with two more to explore.
By three o’clock, Kate had seen all she needed to of the woman’s collection, and had photographed the most important pieces. Kate thanked the secretary and promised her a list of the prices she would suggest in the next few days. With many of the pieces, she had to guess what they sold for originally, but she knew the market well. The rule of thumb was that she charged clients half of what the items had originally cost, and Kate split what she made fifty-fifty with the seller. So the seller got 25 percent of the original purchase price, and so did Kate. And in the case of exceptional items, or something truly iconic, she might charge more, and the price she sold it for was always negotiable. It was a very fluid business, and with rare and important pieces, she recommended donating them to museums for a tax deduction for the donor. She loved finding special things for her clients, and her merchandise often came to her in unusual ways, sometimes from estates like the one in Connecticut. What she had seen that day was a remarkable collection, and Kate knew just what she wanted from it, which pieces she felt her clients would want to wear and would sell well. There was an editor at Harper’s Bazaar who was always anxious for beautiful furs, and there were great ones in that estate. The elegant dowager in Connecticut was going to make some people very happy with the treasures she had left.
Copyright © 2017 by Danielle Steel. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.