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Eager Buyers Snap Up Margaret Lesher's Designer Wardrobe / Late Heiress Paid $1 Million for Clothing

1998-11-23 04:00:00 PDT WALNUT CREEK -- Never assume that the threat of rain will keep women away from a clothing sale.

Especially when it's a sale of the wardrobe belonging to the late newspaper heiress Margaret Lesher , who died last year.

The socialite's designer clothing and shoes, costume jewelry and accessories -- valued at $1 million -- are being sold for one-third their original price as part of the settlement of her estate.

Handling the sale is Labels, a small Walnut Creek consignment shop that caters to women who can afford to buy haute couture but are sensible enough to appreciate a good bargain.

Yesterday, despite menacing rain clouds, women from throughout the Bay Area turned out by the dozens for the opportunity to have first crack at the sale, which will continue for the next six months.

Crowding into the shop were the curious -- those eager for a glimpse of a what a wealthy woman's wardrobe looks like -- and the serious -- those shoppers who couldn't get their credit cards out fast enough.

Shoppers who received invitations to a "pre-sale before the masses arrive" event were first on hand. As they browsed through racks of Chanel, Valentino, Versace, Oscar de la Renta and Mary McFadden , among others, they sipped on champagne and dined on catered food as music from a one-man jazz ensemble drifted through the air.

At 4 p.m. the shop was opened to the general public but because of the crowd, customers were only allowed to enter in small batches. A line of fashion -hungry women stretched along an outside wall. Some who could see through the consignment shop's plate-glass window pressed their faces against it like children looking through the window of a candy store.

"We're drooling and we're envious of all the stuff we've seen leave the store already," said Trisch Kubasek of Martinez.

Lynn Hayworth , the 29-year- old owner of Labels, scored a coup a few months ago when the trustees of Lesher's $100 million estate asked if she was interested in helping to sell off the wardrobe, which consists of more than 1,000 outfits, 400 pairs of shoes, 100 handbags and 1,000 pieces of costume jewelry.

"I was thrilled," said Hayworth, who opened her Newell Avenue shop only eight months ago. "The clothes are beautiful -- every little detail, every little button, the hand stitching -- so many of these pieces are more like artwork than garments." Like many women, Lesher had a closet -- in her case, closets -- filled with clothing in a variety of sizes. Hers ran the range from 6 to 14.

"She really fluctuated, didn't she?" said Robin West of Walnut Creek.

In some cases, the size differences were due to designers' desire to flatter their high-paying clientele.

"A size 6 in Chanel is more like an American 8," Hayworth said.

Karl Welm was among the few husbands dragged to the sale by his wife. As she happily went through the sales racks, Welm dutifully stood nearby.

"The husband's job is to be a money-giver," said the Livermore man, holding a glass of champagne in one hand and a bundle of Lesher's clothing in the other arm. "And to be wrong." Two hours after arriving, Welm finally left with his wife and $900 worth of clothing. He figured he had gotten off easy -- she had put back an $1800 Chanel suit because it didn't fit right.

"It was such a shame it didn't fit," he said to her with a smile.

Carolyn Campbell , a Walnut Creek business owner, purchased $250 worth of Lesher's Chanel costume jewelry. She was surprised, she said, by the magnitude of Lesher's wardrobe.

"I knew Margaret, you know," she said in a low voice. "We went to the same dentist. And the funny thing is that all she'd ever wear was black Levi's and a white T-shirt." Only elaborate evening gowns, fall and winter holiday clothing and skiwear were on sale yesterday. Spring ensembles and Western wear will be brought out and sold after January.

Many of the items fell within the sales price of $200 to $2,000. Originally, some cost as much as $10,000.

Lesher drowned in an Arizona lake in May 1997 during a camping trip with T.C. Thorstenson , whom she married after the death of her second husband, Contra Costa Times publisher Dean Lesher.

The newspaper heiress apparently had a taste for bright colors, beading and sequins, fur and feathers. Her wardrobe ranged from conservative business suits to the outlandish. Case in point: four identical ostrich feather jackets in red, pea-green, fuchsia and white. With matching hats.

Whether shoppers liked what they saw depended on their taste. Many were thrilled by Lesher's choice in clothing. Others found it a little gaudy.

"My first thought when I walked in here was, 'this woman had pretty bad taste'," West said.

But that didn't stop her from walking out of the store with one of Lesher's fur-lined vests.

Eager Buyers Snap Up Margaret Lesher's Designer Wardrobe / Late Heiress Paid $1 Million for Clothing 1

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