antique auction

*TO BE RESCHEDULED* The Annabelle Neilson Collection of Alexander McQueen

30th March 2020

*Please note that due to the current situation regarding COVID-19, we have decided to reschedule the sale to a later date, to be confirmed. This is not a cancellation and we will confirm the new date as soon as possible*

To friends and family Annabelle was known by the pet name ‘Tinks’, after Peter Pan’s mischievous Neverland fairy friend, Tinker Bell. She was introduced to Lee in 1993 by mutual friend Isabella Blow, who had a talent for putting the right people together. At the time, Annabelle had no idea who he was (there was no Google in those days). Recalling their first meeting she wrote,

‘Lee was standing at the bottom of the stairs in his studio, at that time, as I remember it, there were just a couple of work benches with two old sewing machines. For Lee this was quite a step up in the world. Before then, he had been spraying clothes in the back of friends’ gardens and littering their living rooms with pieces of yet to be hand-stitched clothes by the future master himself ...I was immediately stripped of my clothes there and then. Lee exclaiming at that point, "Oh you are skinny, aren't you?"I walked into not only the greatest genius of our time in the world of fashion, but into a man who saw far ahead of his world and what fashion would become, and my journey beside him had only just begun …. Issy was happy. As she had predicted, she had found a new double act that might work for one of her shoots’

The pair quickly became firm friends and Annabelle spent a lot of time hanging out at the Hoxton studio, and went on to model in many of the shows. During their 18-year friendship Annabelle became his most trusted ally and muse.

‘However odd we may have been to those who looked at us - we worked. East End gay boy meets skinny English posh bird with a naughty streak’. Years later when reminiscing together, they agreed that ‘the minute blue eyes met brown in his first Hoxton studio, we both knew “here is my soulmate”’

McQueen would often work out an idea for a garment, either in his studio or at home (Annabelle had a bedroom in every home he owned), using her as his dressing-up doll. Although he sometimes sketched ideas, he was a master tailor and liked to adapt or cut into the fabric or adjust a garment on a body or form.

‘I never quite felt comfortable with the way he would cut clothes with me in them, the scissors a skin cell away from a permanent scar. But Lee was my love, my great defender and my friend.’

Some of the pieces included in the auction are unique. Lots 7, 91 and 92 are examples of rare prototypes - works in progress, giving tantalizing glimpses into McQueen’s design and construction process. The Angels & Demons tunic, lot 92, for example, never went into production. Others he adapted especially for Annabelle, cutting into them to make them shorter or fitted to her individually.

McQueen empathized with women and believed that hardships and struggle could ultimately lead to their strength and empowerment - a theme he was to repeat in many of his collections. He dedicated his critically acclaimed ‘Joan’ collection, Autumn-Winter 1998-99, to Annabelle in recognition of her resilience and ultimate triumph over the personal hardships she had suffered over her lifetime. After every show, the pair would bundle into a car and escape – either abroad or to McQueen’s favourite place in the world, his cottage in Hastings. She recalled,

There is one place that was Lee’s real love. A cottage by the sea with a great giant tree - a monolith, a living sculpture. I always called it the “witch’s cottage” and it was where he imagined the 2008 show "The Girl who Lived in the Tree”.’

A talented writer, Annabelle produced a manuscript for him ‘based around a magical girl who travelled like his shows to the end of the world’ and it was this fairytale that inspired the collection (see lots 64-67).

Annabelle commissioned many garments over the years, but many were also given by Lee as presents. He gifted the only garment kept from his Givenchy years - the green lace bias-cut haute couture showpiece from ‘Eclect-Dissect’, Autumn-Winter 1997-98. Cut from myriad graduated bands of gossamer-fine green lace placed over satin, it is a masterpiece of construction, worthy of a 1930s Vionnet (lot 8). At Givenchy, McQueen experienced for the first time an haute couture atelier able to convert his ideas into garments of consummate perfection and they experienced a couturier who truly understood construction and could cut toiles himself if he so desired.

Annabelle’s prominence on the London social scene, her role in the reality TV series ‘Ladies of London’ and as a frequent companion to McQueen on red carpets everywhere meant that a glamorous wardrobe was a necessity. Usually dressed from head to toe in McQueen, she became the perfect ambassador for the firm.

She wrote, He liked my wackiness—and the fact that when I went out, I made his outfits live.’

To accompany McQueen to the Metropolitan Museum Gala in 2006, she wore the black lace showpiece from ‘Widows of Culloden’, Autumn-Winter 2006-07 (lot 43). For his posthumous retrospective at The Met, ‘Savage Beauty’ May 2011, she wore what she called her ‘wedding’ dress: a one-off from Angels & Demons, Autumn-Winter 2010-11, which it seems was specially-made for her, as it never went into production (lot 90).

Uniquely, he also made Annabelle sportswear! In 2001 she decided to race across the Himalayas in the middle of winter in aid of charity and so he made a pair of rally jumpsuits in purple and white leather. Annabelle loved to ride and shoot and looked very fetching in her McQueen tweed hacking jacket (lots 17 and 73).

Their birthdays were just six days apart and so each year they had a joint party and went on holiday together – skiing in the Alps, scuba-diving in Thailand and the Maldives, to name just a few. McQueen often used time spent with Annabelle to devise concepts or think through ideas for his next collections.

The ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ Spring-Summer 2010 collection (inspired by their last trip to Thailand together) was arguably his finest, combining as it did his love of nature, the use of innovative fabrics, glorious colour palette and sublime sculptural shapes. The construction, though seemingly complex, was pared-down, simple but devastating.

The last time the pair went out together they mischievously decided to gate-crash Tom Ford’s private dinner at Harry’s Bar in celebration of the British premiere of his directorial debut ‘A Single Man’. Annabelle wore the lovely pink kaleidoscope-print gown with Swarovski crystals down the back (lot 69) She wrote:

‘I thought it was a terrible idea, but I loved a laugh and the thought of us being denied entrance to Harry’s bar was too exciting as all the good and fabulous had been invited except us. So Lee dressed me up (I had clothes in my bedroom in his place). He went in all beige and I had a pink dress covered in diamonds and a fur coat with a hoody.’ When belatedly offered a place at the table, they declined. ‘Lee just said, “We’re not hungry".' This was his last social engagement, a week before his untimely death. Annabelle later wrote that she thought 'Lee had gone to say goodbye'.

Annabelle’s close relationship with the McQueen fashion house continued via her friendship with creative director Sarah Burton and her collection reflects this, in the form of beautiful evening gowns, cocktail wear and fabulous shoes and evening bags (lots 94-123).

Her premature death from a heart attack aged 49 came as a shock, following her beloved Lee’s death just 8 years earlier. She left behind a wardrobe that is so much more than mere clothes. Each piece was carefully selected by herself or Lee. Because of her closeness to the designer for whom she acted as muse, she came to know the ideas, the concepts, the journey behind every thread of every garment, making this a unique collection indeed. In her speech at the V&A’s own McQueen retrospective in 2015, she said,

‘Lee above all things was a great storyteller. He transported us all to different worlds with his narrative genius, which brought us willingly and passionately to admire his creations. I loved the storyteller in Lee - the man and human being I miss. I could not have asked for a greater man to share my life with’.

At quiet, shared moments together, Lee liked to read a favourite poem to her that combined both their names – ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe, written in 1840. Indeed, as a gift he had the text embroidered onto silk tulle and made into a shawl for her. She said, ‘It’s about a love so strong that it reaches across the grave’. Its theme - the death of a beautiful woman and a love so powerful, that even angels are envious:

And neither the angels in Heaven above

Nor the demons down under the sea

Can ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabelle Lee

Auction: Monday March 30th at 2pm

Venue: 249-253 Long Lane, Bermondsey, London, SE1 4PR

Thursday March 26th, 9.30-5pm
Friday March 27th, 9.30-5pm
Sunday March 29th, 12-4pm

Morning of sale and other times by appointment only

Purchasers will be charged a buyer’s premium which for lots up to £50,000, is 25% of the hammer price. For lots selling for above £50,000, the buyer’s premium is 20% of the hammer price. The premium is subject to VAT at the prevailing rate.

If you have never bid with us before we require you to register. This can be done in person during the exhibition or via email in advance of the auction. We require photographic proof of I.D such as a driver’s license or passport and proof of address. Please clearly supply your full name, address, telephone number and email details. We may also request credit card information. This information is held by us in strictest confidence under GDPR.

Bidding in person: Just turn up on the day of the sale – if you have already registered you will be handed a numbered paddle, which you show to the auctioneer once you have made a successful purchase. If you are a new bidder we will require you to register with us first.

Commission bidding: Your written maximum bid is given to the auctioneer to operate on your behalf. We undertake to purchase the lot(s) on your behalf as cheaply as possible taking into account the reserve and other bids received. Bids can be left with us directly – online, by fax or by email. You can also download a bid slip here. You can leave bids via the website but please note if you are a new bidder we will contact you for further ID, and your bids will not be registered until this information is supplied. 

Telephone bidding: There are a limited number of lines so we advise that you request telephone bids well in advance of the auction and not on the day of the sale when it may not be possible to assist. We require a list of your requested lot numbers and primary and back-up phone numbers if possible. Landlines are preferable to mobiles, which are not as reliable. We also recommend you leave a cover bid in-case we cannot reach you for whatever reason.

Live Internet bidding. You are able to bid in real-time during the auction via Invaluable. Bidders wishing to bid online need to register via the online bidding platform and complete their registration process for us to approve. Please note there is an additional 3% buyer’s premium for online bidding via Invaluable.

Payment is due immediately, in pounds sterling. We do not accept other currencies. We accept payment by debit or credit cards (there is a maximum of £1000 for payments on credit cards), cash (up to £8000 only), or bank transfer (fees apply to sending bank wires depending on the country of origin).

We send out invoices the day after the auction and include shipping quotes where necessary.

On receipt of cleared funds, lots can be collected from our saleroom. They are available for collection during our office hours – Monday to Friday 9.30-5pm. We provide shipping quotes via our appointed shippers, Godspeed Couriers. If you would like to contact them prior to the auction with any questions, please email Gary Martin, [email protected] They provide competitive worldwide quotations for packing and shipping of purchases and are experienced in handling rare costume and textiles.

Download Catalogue


A rare and important Alexander McQueen gauze top, 'Highland Rape' collection, Autumn-Winter 1995-96


Alexander McQueen pair of lilac wool Bumsters, 'Highland Rape' collection, Autumn-Winter 1995-96


Alexander McQueen cut velvet evening gown, 'Dante', Autumn-Winter 1996-97


Alexander McQueen camel wool micro-mini skirt, 'Dante', Autumn-Winter 1996-97


A Philip Treacy 'bird's nest' hat, 1996


Alexander McQueen oriental brocade satin Bumsters, 'The Hunger', Spring-Summer 1996


Alexander McQueen cut velvet evening gown, 'Dante', Autumn-Winter 1996-97


Alexander McQueen tulle over-dress, probably a prototype for 'Dante', Autumn-Winter 1996-97


Givenchy haute couture by Alexander McQueen, green bias-cut lace evening gown, 'Eclect-Dissect', Autumn-Winter 1997-98


Alexander McQueen sequined 'Romanov' bodice, 'Joan', Autumn-Winter 1998-99


Alexander McQueen black cashmere coat, probably 'It's a Jungle Out There, Autumn-Winter 1997-98


An Alexander McQueen trapunto-quilted leather jacket, 'Number 13', Spring-Summer 1999


Alexander McQueen fitted, bias-cut grey wool jacket, 'Joan', Autumn-Winter 1998-99


Alexander McQueen grey plaid mohair 'skating' skirt, 'The Overlook', Autumn-Winter 1999-2000


Alexander McQueen pair of striped, brocaded wool Bumsters, 'The Eye', Spring-Summer 2000


Alexander McQueen ribbon-trimmed ivory crêpe dress, 'Eshu', Autumn-Winter 2000-01


Alexander McQueen suede and rabbit fur skirt, 'Eshu', Autumn-Winter 2000-01


Two Alexander McQueen bespoke rally suits, 2001


Alexander McQueen pair of black leather Buccaneer boots, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen ivory wool trousers with rhinestone side stripes, 2003


Alexander McQueen hussar-inspired jacket, 'What a Merry Go Round', Autumn-Winter 2001-02


Alexander McQueen 'Buccaneer' ensemble, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen gold sequin dress, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen black suede and leather shoes, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen soft black kid leather dress, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen panelled black leather jacket, 'Scanners', Autumn-Winter 2003-04


Alexander McQueen panelled white leather jacket, 'Scanners', Autumn-Winter 2003-04


Alexander McQueen leather and suede ensemble, 'Irere', Spring-Summer 2003


Alexander McQueen pair of studded black leather boots, 'Scanners', Autumn-Winter 2003-04


Alexander McQueen tan leather dress, pre-Spring collection 2004


Alexander McQueen patchworked evening dress, 'Deliverance', Spring-Summer 2004


Alexander McQueen bias-cut floral chiffon dress, 'Deliverance', Spring-Summer 2004