Socialite's clothes go for $203,774 at auction

Posted: December 15, 2004

Samuel T. Freeman & Co.'s historic couture auction, featuring almost 550 lots of clothes, handbags and shoes from socialite Hilary Grinker Musser, as well as a few vintage collectibles, garnered $203,774 in sales Monday.

With designer clothes selling at a fraction of their original costs, the sale was the ultimate in markdown mania.

"Overall, we're thrilled," said Freeman's couture cataloguer Olivia Snyder. "We reached an audience we never thought we would have. And the women were having a really good time."

The sale went $22,000 over Freeman's top estimate and attracted 150 buyers, including 33 new to the auction house.

Grinker Musser, 39, is the wife of Safeguard Scientifics' former CEO Warren "Pete" Musser, 78, whose fortune took a serious correction during the technology bust, his personal investments plummeting from a high of $1 billion in 2000 to $14 million a few years later.

Before the sale, Grinker Musser - who reduced from a size 12 to a size 6 - pledged 5 percent of her proceeds to the National Organization for Hearing Research Foundation. It was a departure of sorts; many Main Line socialites give their castoffs to charitable causes. The change was viewed with some concern by people who depend on such donations. Grinker Musser could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Freeman's traditionally sells fine antiques, paintings and collectibles. Chairman Beau Freeman recalled only one other auction, decades ago, that included clothing.

Sale highlights included $7,050 for a Louis Feraud chinchilla and mink coat, $4,700 for a Chanel tweed coat (original estimate, $200 to $400), and $2,350 for a Lana Marks pink alligator Princess Diana bag.

A third of Grinker Musser's items were Chanel, many purchased by an Internet seller of vintage clothing. The most expensive dress, a $12,500 vintage Andre Laug beaded dress, failed to sell.

Among the best deals were a Thierry Mugler red suit and a Christian Lacroix printed suit, originally selling for a couple thousand, which fetched $235 and $129, respectively. A beaded yellow Badgley Mischka gown, the $2,850 price tag still dangling from an armhole, went for $264.

The presale viewing resembled Filene's Basement with women trying on jackets, coats and shoes, which was permitted, as well as some prancing around in lingerie attempting to try on dresses, which was not.

David Donaldson, vice president of Freeman's, called the sale a success.

"We are keeping our minds open to the possibility of more sales like this," Donaldson said.

Contact staff writer Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com.

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