But when I was little there were no nurseries and my mother was busy with my little sister, so my dad would take me to work with him. I’d just sit on the shop floor, and I fell in love with fashion: The staff would dress me up, and I would look at all the pictures in the magazines. At that time, it was no longer fashionable to pass clothes down, and my dad’s clientele saw how much I loved the clothes and started sending me their couture after they had worn it once, or sometimes not at all. Their drivers would bring the boxes over.
Wait — how old were you?
Three or four. I never really thought of what I was doing as collecting, though. I was just acquiring these wonderful things.
What would you do with them?
We had an unfinished room in our house that I think was intended to be a playroom, and I put all the boxes there: from Lanvin, from Chanel. My parents used to say we would die of old clothes disease. One Halloween my mother insisted I wear one of the dresses as my costume and I had a huge temper tantrum and refused. Even then, I didn’t want anyone wearing them.
I always said, ‘If I owned a Picasso, it would not be on my back.’
Did you buy your pieces?
When I started, there was no such thing as a vintage clothing store or vintage dealers. Purely by accident I started going on radio and talk shows and news programs and talking about fashion — they used to call it “social living,” because fashion was frivolous — and then later movie fashion, and then people around the country who were listening to watching heard about me and started sending me pieces. Most of my collection was given to me.
What are some of your favorites?
One dress I think is extremely exciting belonged to Mrs. Dodge [Matilda Dodge Wilson, the wife of a founder of the Dodge car company]; I call it my Egyptian dress. It’s by a couture house called Madeleine & Madeleine, and it is all covered in hieroglyphic embroidery.
There’s the metal mesh minidress Twiggy wore in a famous Richard Avedon picture that ran in Vogue in 1967; when she decided to move back from Los Angeles to Britain she had seen articles about me, so she called and asked me if I would like the dress. Countess Tolstoy, who was the sister-in-law of the writer, came here and brought her couture. And there’s an gold lamé bathing swimsuit by Schiaparelli. I have an incredible swimwear collection; that, to me, is the story of women’s liberation.