Location: Springfield, MI
Age: In her 70s
Marital Status: Married
Education: University of Michigan
Sandy Schrerier never opens her closet and groans, “I don’t have a thing to wear!” That’s because the FOF owns an entire warehouse-full (yes, you read that right) of couture clothing amounting to approximately 15,000 pieces.
Although, Sandy rarely actually dons what she refers to as her “wearable art,” she often lends these pieces to major museums that are mounting exhibits of world-famous fashion designers. Sandy, who’s in her 70s and lives in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, has been collecting designer gowns, bags, and accessories since she was a child.
The daughter of the furrier at a high-end Detroit retailer, her dad would bring Sandy to the store on Saturdays. There, the little girl fell in love with the world of fashion, reading issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar while her father waited on well-heeled clients, many of whom had last names like Firestone, Chrysler and Dodge. “Detroit was one of the big fashion capitals of the world,” Sandy says, “and many of these women would buy their clothes in Paris and New York.” Noticing the little girl, who, with her curly hair, bore a resemblance to Shirley Temple, the women would bring in their “cast-offs” for Sandy, thinking she would use them to play dress-up. Instead, Sandy began to save the items, first in her closet and then, in the attic of her parents’ house.
Years passed, and Sandy married her high school sweetheart, Sherwin. After college, she had children. Still, her collection grew. She started stashing things in her kids’ closets, but that became prohibitive, and she moved everything to the warehouse in the early ’80s, where it still is today. Soon after, she went on Detroit local TV to talk about fashion in old movies, and interest in Sandy and her collection exploded.
Many people might think of selling or donating a collection at some point, Sandy is adamantly against both. “Queen Isabella built a huge sarcophagus and had her furniture and clothes buried with her,” she says. “When I die, I’m going to take it all with me.”
What years does your collection span and how do you decide what items you will keep?
The collection starts with items from the ’20s and ’30s and goes right up to today. Basically, if the designer is important to the history of fashion, I collect him or her. I have things by Balenciaga, Dior, Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli, Oscar de la Renta and Prada. I have American designers such as Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene and Donna Karan. I have English designers like Vivienne Westwood.
How do you keep track of everything?
Everything is filed according to the name of the designer, and I have kept extensive paperwork on every item, bills of sale, even pictures. I’m a saver, a detail person. I had four children in four years. My husband says I like big numbers of everything, except husbands.
What is the biggest misconception about you and what you collect?
First of all, I don’t collect vintage clothing; I collect fashion as an art form. People don’t seem to understand that. Not a month goes by that I don’t get a call from someone who says, ‘My Aunt Tilly just died, and I put all of her clothes in a plastic bag and left it on your front porch.’ Even people I know offer to give me a late relative’s things, and I take them. I don’t have the heart to tell them their mother-in-law’s clothes are not what I collect. Then I give it all to the Salvation Army.
(Left) Sandy at her high school prom wearing a copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s dress in, “A Place In The Sun.” (Right) Sandy dons a Mary Quant suit and Sasson haircut as she poses for a picture with her children
What qualities do you look for in pieces that become part of your collection?
It has to “sing and dance.” By that, I mean it really has to do something for me. If I can’t stop thinking about it, I know it is an important piece.
If you could go back in time in order to wear some of the fabulous couture you collect, which era would you chose and why?
The 1920s. I like the fact that there was a lot of beading and handwork. The embroidery was gorgeous. It was the era between the two World Wars and everybody was having fun wearing the couture.
How did you get interested in collecting costumes from Hollywood movies?
I’d always been interested in movies and the stars’ wardrobes. I wore a copy of the dress Elizabeth Taylor wore in A Place in the Sun to my high school prom. In the ’80s, I started talking about film fashion on a local TV station that played old movies once a week. Eventually, my segments got so popular that the station sent me to Hollywood to actually meet costume designers like Edith Head and Jean Louis (Loretta Young’s husband). After that, people just gave me things. I have Rita Hayworth’s dress from Gilda. I have the purple silk pants and blouse that Claudia Cardinale wore in The Pink Panther. I have the metal-mesh dress Twiggy wore in the famous Richard Avedon photograph. That dress has been in six fine-art exhibits, including three times at The Met in New York.
What is your latest acquisition?
A caftan that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, which I bought at her estate sale. It’s lavender, and was designed by Thea Porter.
What advice would you give women over fifty about buying and wearing vintage couture?
I have two rules: If you’ve worn it once, you can’t wear it again. By this I mean if you wore a micro mini in the ’60s, you can’t put one on now, even if you find a really good knockoff in a vintage store and it fits, and expect it to look the same on you. You can get something that is reminiscent of the style you wore back then; something with similar colors or features, but don’t revert to your teen look. Secondly: Your mirror is your best friend. Take a really good look at yourself and be honest about what you see.
What current designers pieces are worth holding on to for the long run?
Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Balenciaga and a London designer, Mary Katrantzou. I have a Prada “schoolgirl” dress that I will probably wear a few more times, and then it will go into the collection.
Today we see celebrities wearing designer couture on the red carpet all the time. Which do you think are the most influential when it comes to fashion?
Diane Keaton, for sure. When you mention her name, we can all immediately picture what she’s wearing. She has her own look. It’s kooky, but it’s her own. Also Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is a real individualist. When she appeared on the red carpet for the movie Crazy Heart, she wasn’t dressed by a stylist. All of the other stars looked the same; she looked like herself. It was very refreshing.
Sandy poses in front of a few dresses from her collection.
What designers do you currently wear and why?
Dries Van Noten, Rick Owens, Prada, Saint Laurent and Jil Sander. Their pieces are comfortable, wearable and I can travel in them. They make me look good and feel good.