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January 27, 2023

Billie Miró Breskin

On a brisk afternoon last month, I left my family to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers and made my way to Audrey Gale’s home in Chicago’s Near North Side area. Gale worked in finance for over thirty years, including running her own company representing three different money-management firms. Between handling everything from business and marketing to legal matters, Gale found time to collect hundreds of pieces of designer clothing. Her extensive wardrobe, filled with Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, vintage Norman Norell, and Old Céline, fills closets and rolling racks in multiple rooms, as much a part of her decor as her statement furniture pieces and art collection. Before we sat down to begin our interview, Gale showed me a beautiful assortment of Barbie clothes, knitted and sewn by her mother. The colorful assortment of pieces, tucked away in a shoebox, mirrors Gale’s own eccentric style and love of vintage brands and silhouettes. As we pored over her racks of dresses, Gale’s enthusiasm and love for fashion was clear; every piece had an origin story, an anecdote. What follows is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

You mentioned the Barbie designs your mother made when you were a child. Is that what first interested you in fashion?


I think that I just was drawn to it visually. My mother had some beautiful things, so when I was growing up, when they were getting dressed to go out—I just loved watching and seeing her do that. And when they went out, sometimes I used to sneak into her room and pull out her jewelry box. And to me, they were the most beautiful things my mother ever had. It was just costume jewelry. My mother didn't have diamonds, we didn't have a lot of money, but she really liked her costume jewelry. And she would bring [the Barbie clothes] out as a special treat for me to see. And I just marveled at their detail. And then she hid it away. And I've told that story to some people and they say, “why didn't she just let you play with them?” But I don't know that I would've been that careful with them and then I wouldn't have them today. And it was a special treat for me to see them.


And then later when I was old enough to work, I remember my mother said to me, “Well, you like clothes, now it's time to get a job.” So I actually lied about my age when I was 15 and I was a telephone solicitor. It was a terrible job, but I started making money and I could buy some of my own clothes and that was a very powerful feeling not to have to ask anybody for it. So then I worked as a waitress at a coffee shop that was really busy. So I just saved that money and I saved part of that for college. And I also could buy clothes.

My dad used to tell a story of how he heard an argument with me and my mother. Like I was being sassy and I was arguing over what I wanted to wear when I was two. But I don't think that's unusual. I think there's a lot of girls that are like that.

Right. But fewer that stick with it.

I guess. Love hate, love hate.


And in terms of your collection—was that a conscious decision to start collecting or did it happen organically?

Well, I don't know if I would call what I have a collection. I think I just have a bunch of clothes that I like. I have to admit, I've tried to stop myself from buying things just ‘cuz I love it and want to have it—I want to wear it. But sometimes I have bought things that are just so beautiful and have never worn them. I'm a woman who's always loved clothes.

Where do you source your collection and how do you authenticate?

I've really gotten into the resale. So if there's something I want to see, I will look at The RealReal or I'll just throw it out there on the internet and see what pops up sometimes. I've done Poshmark, I've done Farfetch… apps that are just aggregators.

What do you look for in a piece?

Gale's box of handmade Barbie clothing. 

It's hard to nail me down sometimes because if there’s a piece I like I just fall in love with it. I want things I can pack in a suitcase and travel with easily, that will go with a lot of things. I have to admit I do want things that are comfortable but still fashionable. Comfort, versatility. And then I always like things with a little bit of a sense of humor. There was a net top—I shouldn't have bought it, but I bought it—and it's got an owl with eyes right where your nipples are. It's this crazy top. So I like things that make people laugh too. My boyfriend will call me a peacock. And I've had people say, “well you must wanna stand out.” And well, maybe I just look at a piece and I think, “that's so much fun.” And sometimes clothes spur conversation, people will talk to me then about something that I'm wearing.


And are there any designers that you find yourself gravitating towards?

I have to tell you, I'm really all over the place. If I go into a store, I wanna go over and look at Alexander McQueen. I think Sarah Burton has done a really nice job. So I've got just a couple pieces. I think some of the Dior stuff's pretty fabulous. But the one I love and I keep hoping I'm gonna find is Raf Simons Dior.

And you mentioned in our previous correspondence that you might be “purging” soon.


What does that entail? When do you decide to let something go?

I think about my age, and I have that battle a lot too. Cuz I'm gonna be 65 and I feel like I push it with some of the stuff that I wear that's a little young for me. And sometimes my brain doesn't know how old I am when I'm looking at clothes. I love a mini skirt with tights and a boot. But it's like, am I too old? So I struggle with it. And sometimes I think, “Oh, I don't give a damn and anybody thinks I'm just gonna wear it. I don't care.”

I've let stuff go over the years that I just thought weren't maybe special enough. They felt special at the time, but I let some of that type of stuff go. But my life has changed. I stopped working in my field for a variety of reasons. And I feel a bit off kilter because of it. I've worked my entire life and all of a sudden I'm not working. And it was my thing. So those “lady dresses” [dresses Gale bought specifically for work] and all that stuff kind of were part of this life that I had that I don't have anymore. And I think that I've had to come to terms with that, and now I feel like I want to document the ones that I personally found special for me. And then I think I can let them go.

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