Let's say you are a guy and you love a girl. Or, perhaps you are a girl who loves another girl! You could do all sorts of things to prove your love, but what could be better than buying her a beautiful dress simply because you want her to feel pretty and look great when you go out dancing?
I'll tell you what could be better: buying her 55,000 beautiful dresses. Yes, you read that right.
Paul Brockmann is a 78-year-old California man who I'd hire to be a shopper on any show I designed in a hot second. He's got a killer eye and a great sense of what looks good on a woman. And here's why: over the last 50 years, Paul, a retired construction business owner, has purchased a stunning 55,000 evening dresses for his wife.
I don't think I can properly explain what it's like to be in the presence of 55,000 dresses. It's breathtaking. Satin and crinolines as far as the eye can see. Paul calls them "after 5 ensembles". As I walked through his warehouse just south of downtown Los Angeles, I found myself wishing I could live my whole life after 5pm -- waltzing and cocktail-ing in a whirl of swishy taffeta and sparkles.
How did Paul acquire this staggering amount of evening wear? As this brilliant LA Weekly profile of him puts it, "one dress at a time."
Paul was born in Germany right as WWII was starting. Daily bombings were the norm in his childhood. Food was scarce -- and clothes even scarcer. When bales of clothing started arriving in Germany from the states, Paul was transfixed. He used his job as a deckhand at the seaport to procure 10 beautiful evening dresses for his soon-to-be wife, Margot. She brought those 10 dresses with her to the states in 1955, at a time when a woman owning 10 evening dresses was quite unusual! But those 10 dresses were just the beginning.
From there, Paul kept on collecting, at the rate of 20+ dresses per week. Paul and Margot were avid ballroom dancers -- and Paul needed no further encouraging to buy anything and everything that he thought would look fabulous swirling around the dance floor.
Obviously, Margot garnered compliments everywhere she went. I can see why -- Paul has excellent taste! His eye for what makes a woman sexy is spot-on. He loves details -- a proper puff sleeve, a dusting of sequins at the bodice, or a strapless number with a sharp matching jacket. He's a born shopper.
Paul bought dresses wherever he could find them -- garage sales, vintage stores, end-of-season sales at department stores like Macy's, Nordstrom, Dillard's and Bullock's. Some of the gowns hanging in his warehouse still bear their original price tags!
Paul didn't let the dress not being his wife's size stop him from purchasing. He figured they'd maybe fit her one day or another. That turned out to be a lucky break for you, as they are now for sale to the general public -- all 55,00 of them.
The bulk of Paul's dresses are from my favorite eras for evening wear -- the 1970s and 80s. Beautiful tea and floor length hostess gowns fill the racks, begging the wearer to host a dinner party as she swishes about in their folds. Razzmatazz bubble minis made of sequins scream of nights spent at Studio 54 and dreamy high school proms. (I've never met a prom dress I didn't love, so I had to sit on my hands to keep from loading up my car while I was there.)
But there are also tons of perfectly intact specimens from the 1940s and 50s to be had. The dresses are sorted by color, so you must dig to find what you are looking for. Considering that a lifetime of digging for gems is the way this amazing collection of dresses came to be, it's only fitting.
It should come as no surprise that Paul hid how huge his secret dress-buying habit had become from almost everyone for years. A man collecting dresses? He must be gay! (Quelle horreur in the 1950s, ya know?) He kept a large chunk of them in his house for his wife to choose from, but when even she began to be overwhelmed by them, he simply rented a series of storage units to keep them in.
I pointed out to Paul that he in no way could have pulled this off if he lived in a humid, wet climate. The dry desert of California was quite kind to his dresses while they were cooling it in storage -- they are all in amazing condition.
Paul's collection of dresses is a perfectly curated time capsule. When you take them in all together, they present a singular, clear vision. Paul is a man who knows what he likes.
The next 55,000 Dresses warehouse sale takes place on September 28th, 2013. Prices range from $5.00-$500.00, in sizes 0-14. (The majority of dresses are in the $65.00-$125.00 range.)
There are prom dresses, wedding dresses, opera dresses, collectible dresses, costume-party dresses, holiday dresses -- basically a dress for any occasion you can dream up. It's the ultimate party girl closet. If you live in Los Angeles or will be visiting, it's not to be missed.
I asked Paul how many dresses his wife currently owns. He said she only has about 120 in her personal closet -- but that when she comes to the warehouse to visit, she can't help but pick out one or two she hadn't previously seen before. Even though she loves to protest to him that she doesn't need any more dresses, I think she might secretly be living every girl's dream of an endless closet.
I am seriously sentimental about clothes -- I distinctly remember what I was wearing when this boy said that dumb thing or when I got some really great news. So Paul's story really touched my heart. He wanted his wife to have endless great memories, and the dresses to prove it. Each one is a part of their love story, their history and his huge heart. These dresses are the fabric of their lives.
Paul's warehouse of wonder is clearly no Taj Mahal -- it's a hot metal cage in the middle of an industrial park. But there was joy there, a splendor that can't quite be put into words. Paul absolutely loves these dresses. I sat in my car and cried after meeting him. His charm, kindness, warm spirit and easy, generous nature broke my heart a little bit. You can find beauty, grace and glitz everywhere in life -- you just have to be willing to let a little bit of it in.
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.