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Originally published Saturday, May 12, 2012 at 6:01 AM

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Fashionista stocks a warehouse, cherishes her couture collection

Sandy Schreier firmly believes that fashion is an art form that should be saved for future generations. And that is why Schreier, who keeps her 15,000 items in a warehouse, lets designers view her treasures and curators put them in shows, but never wears the collection herself.

The New York Times

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SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — Sandy Schreier would seem to be among those voracious fashion hounds who relish brand-name couture and enjoy flaunting it at benefits, teas and dinner parties.

After all, Schreier, who is in her 70s, has been collecting since she was a teenager and has an estimated 15,000 items, including gowns, bags, shoes, muffs, lingerie and even designer sketches.

But there is a crucial difference between Schreier and other clotheshorses: She never wears her treasures, but keeps them in a warehouse near her house here in a suburb of Detroit, bringing them out only to lend to museums or to show designers. (She used to stuff some pieces into her young sons' closets, but when their friends made fun, she decided it was time for storage).

Among those who have made the pilgrimage to view her holdings are Zandra Rhodes, Isaac Mizrahi and Harold Koda, the curator in charge at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute, who is preparing for the upcoming exhibition "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations."

"I feel like I am the fashion savior," Schreier said recently at her home, where the bathroom wallpaper was designed by Karl Lagerfeld and there is an Yves Saint Laurent lithograph on one wall.

Dressed in a Rick Owens black and white knit, a Miu Miu sweater, Jil Sander boots and a Lanvin necklace, she exuded urban chic as she unwrapped a Poiret dress that she had pulled from storage.

"Without me these objects would be thrown out, but I feel they are an art form that should be saved for future generations," she said.

Schreier's passion for fashion is palpable and sometimes exhausting, with every item that she shows off accompanied by a breathless yarn about its owner, its history and the wonder of its workmanship. Her library of fashion books covers two walls. But obsession has its payoffs. Schreier has lent items to every museum from here to Leningrad, most recently a white panné velvet evening gown to the Met.

"That dress was another instance of Schiaparelli's unusual and humorous taste, because at the time it was rare to wear velvet in the summer," she said.

It is one of more than 100 Schiaparelli items she owns.

"She is a go-to person when one is putting together a couture show. She loves the clothes and the craft and how the clothes were made," said Koda.

He added: "Sandy is drawn to Hollywood designers. She likes iconic pieces and a bit of razzle-dazzle."

The razzle-dazzle is kept encased in acid-free tissue; a visitor who accidentally touches a garment is quickly reprimanded.

Among her trove are not only pieces by Fortuny and Poiret (a favorite), Charles Frederick Worth, Balenciaga, Dior and Saint Laurent, but the Jean Louis dress that Rita Hayworth wore in "Gilda."

"She had just given birth to Rebecca, her daughter with Orson Welles," Schreier said.

"She still had a bit of a stomach and he spent hours explaining to me in an interview how he had covered it up."

Then there are the purple silk pants and blouse that Claudia Cardinale wore in "The Pink Panther."

"See, here is the actual design that Saint Laurent did for the beading on the collar made by House of Lesage," Schreier said, eagerly handing a visitor the sketch. (Schreier once designed for Saint Laurent, as well as costumes for the Supremes.)

Schreier's obsession with clothes began young, at the movies, where she was mesmerized by the stars' wardrobes. (She copied a dress that Elizabeth Taylor wore in "A Place in the Sun" for her high-school graduation, and went on to write two books about Hollywood style).

Her father, Edward Miller, was a furrier who worked for Russeks, a fashionable store in 1930s New York.

"He was good looking, so they sent him to Detroit when they opened a store there," she said.

Schreier's mother, Molly, was not particularly interested in fashion, and on Saturdays, when Miller had to go to the store, he took his curly haired daughter along with him.

"I became completely obsessed with the clothes," she said. "For me, reading Harper's Bazaar was like reading Mother Goose."

Schreier built up much of her collection before vintage-clothing stores became popular.

"After the war, it was no longer fashionable to wear French clothes," she said. "American designers like Norell became famous, and that is when those ladies started giving away their unworn or seldom-worn couture."

She got a lounging ensemble in creme satin with a heart embroidered on each piece that says, "To Matilda from her husband," from the estate of Matilda Dodge Wilson, who was first married to John Dodge and then to the lumber magnate Alfred Wilson.

"I was told that Mr. Dodge enjoyed giving his wife monogrammed lingerie for special occasions," Schreier said.

That lingerie, as well as a dress created as part of a craze for things Egyptian following the 1922 discovery of King Tut's tomb, was informally acquired from Wilson's estate after her death in 1967. The silver lamé gown has faux scarabs and a pattern of hieroglyphics.

Although she could probably sell many of her things at a huge profit, "I will stop collecting when I am dead," Schreier said.

"Queen Isabella built a huge sarcophagus and had her furniture and clothes buried with her. When I die I am going to take it all with me."

Whether or not she means it, one gets the point.

Hinting at a bequest, Schreier added: "Of course, there are people at museums who have been very supportive."

But that doesn't mean those who borrow her pieces, like Koda, aren't strictly vetted.

"I have four children, seven grandchildren and 15,000 fashion things," Schreier said. "If they go to camp, I want to be sure they will all be looked after by good counselors."

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