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Chanel treasures hit Paris' auction blocks

PARIS — Hundreds of fashionistas, collectors and would-be consumers with a dream jostled for a closer look at some of the more than 800 garments, accessories and shoes by the storied luxury giant Chanel that hit the auction blocks Thursday.

Lots on display included iconic tweed skirt suits, classic chain handbags, 1980s-era ensembles in screaming hues by the label's current designer, Karl Lagerfeld, and vintage haute couture gowns by Mademoiselle Chanel herself.

The organizer, auctioneer Pierre Cornette de San Cyr, said he expected the sale to fetch between euro200,000-euro400,000, though he added there "could be surprises."

Estimates for the lots range from euro20 ($27) for a bunch of buttons emblazoned with the label's hallmark double "C"s to euro10,000 for a 1923 drop-waisted dress in ivory silk — though most of the estimates hover around the couple-hundred-euro mark.

Star lots, which could end up fetching several times their estimates, included a 1935 haute couture sheath gown in fine black lace, its neckline embellished with a black silk bow — estimated at euro3,000-euro3,500 — and a 1929 afternoon dress in verdant leaf print, with a swingy jacket in emerald green — estimated at euro4,000-euro5,000.

While the vintage pieces — displayed on mannequins behind velvet ropes — were off limits to the public, most of the lots could be handled, inspected and even tried on. A hoard of women of all ages — some of them dressed in head-to-toe Chanel in a mark of brand loyalty — swarmed the racks, shimmying into slightly too-small jackets, swimming in oversized trenches, and sometimes, just sometimes, finding that perfect fit.

"This is my first time at an auction," said Francoise Brunet, a 65-year-old Parisian who said her "life's dream" was to own a quilted Chanel handbag. "My kids gave me some money for Christmas, so here I am, to make that dream come true."

The bags she hoped to bid on are estimated at about euro200. New, they go for nearly euro2,000, she said.

It took assessor Francoise Sternbach a year and a half to assemble the 820 lots, which she acquired from more than 120 private sellers. Some of the vintage items were dug out of trunks or rescued from attics where they had languished for decades, she said, adding she hoped those lots would end up going to museums.

With bidders expected from across Europe and telephone bidders calling in from as far afield as Asia and the Americas, the rest of the garments will likely get a chance to come back into fashion in the wardrobes of women from around the world.

"These are dresses which have lived during Mademoiselle Chanel's time, which went to the most famous parties, which were admired and worn by gorgeous women," said auctioneer Cornette de Saint Cyr. "And they will be worn again by gorgeous women. That's what I want: For (the garments) to live again."

The two-day-long sale, held at Paris' Drouot Richelieu auction house, wraps up Friday.