Even the most far-sighted fashion fans would have to concede that Chile is decidedly off the typical style map. But Santiago banking scion Jorge Yarur Bascuñán is quietly battling – and bidding – to place his homeland squarely in the centre of the global fashion arena. His passion is vintage clothing: he has 8,000 rare collectible garments dating back to the 17th century and worth literally hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re all stored in Bascuñán’s Museo de la Moda, a private museum housed in the 1960s modernist structure which the unlikely museum-maker’s family once called home.
More than a decade after Bascuñán’s collection debuted, it’s now making headlines thanks to its most recent acquisition, a black taffeta ball-gown worn by a 19-year-old Diana Spencer during the media mayhem that immediately followed her engagement to Prince Charles. The silk confection was created by English design duo David and Elizabeth Emanuel in 1981 and sold by the pair to Bascuñán for a stunning £200,000 (€240,000) last week. The impressive figure is several times the frock’s initial estimate and has caused fashion-world insiders to once again marvel at Bascuñán’s impressive – and seemingly limitless – resources.
For Bascuñán himself, the purchase makes sense. After all, it was the first dress Diana wore after the royal engagement’s announcement. Not only did the Emanuel design help propel Diana on to the world stage, it also helped pave the way for her later powerful public image. “The dress was really a bit shocking at the time,” Bascuñán told Monocle earlier this week. “Diana made many fashion changes during her life,” he added. “It revealed a bit of skin – marking the first of those many changes to come.”
This is not the first time Bascuñán has committed serious sums to what many might consider less-than-serious necessities. Back in 2001, he spent $21,500 (€17,350) on a conical bra designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, while he paid nearly $61,000 (€49,200) for a 1913 dinner jacket set by seminal early French designer Paul Poiret. Topping them both, meanwhile, is the $94,800 (€76,500) tutu worn by Margot Fonteyn for a performance of Swan Lake.
Funding Bascuñán’s spending spree is fortune inherited from his family. His parents were among Chile’s most influential industrialists with operations in textile mills and banking while his grandfather was a one-time presidential candidate. But beyond mere finances, Bascuñán credits his parents with instilling within him a deep appreciation for aesthetics and design. His mother, in particular, was a well-regarded beauty and fashion aficionado whose personal wardrobe ultimately served as the foundation for her son’s museum following her death.
Today, the museum is as much a research centre as fashion showcase. There’s a 3,000 book library, restoration and preservation laboratory, artisan workshop and documentation centre. “The entire museum focuses on people’s relationships with intimate objects,” says Bascuñán, who’s earned the scorn of vintage rivals at major museums such as the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “What interests me is how clothing can engage with human kind.
Considering her reputation as “The People’s Princess”, Diana’s dress will certainly be at home in an institution dedicated to the intersections between inner-strength and outer beauty. “The dress is just important,” Bascuñán declares with passionate conviction. “Not for me – but for my collection.”