As a young man in the 1950s, Paul Brockmann worked at the seaport in Bremen, Germany. One day, a shipment came in and he was allowed to pick out a few things he wanted—he chose 10 dresses and gave them to his then-girlfriend Margot. That was the beginning of a glorious collection—over the past 56 years of marriage, Paul has given his wife more than 55,000 dresses.
“I was fascinated by the dresses from the ’50s,” he told the L.A. Weekly. “The petticoats and the wide skirts made a woman look real feminine. And that is what I really liked. When I seen a gal with a dress like that, I wanted to get her on the dance floor.” Soon, the dress-shopping became more than just a passing interest—and turned into an obsession.
“I kept collecting dresses,” he says. “With my wife in mind that she’s gonna wear ’em. We went ballroom dancing every week, and I wanted her to have a different dress for every dance.”
Now 78 years old, Paul and his wife—who’d until recently kept their massive collection of vintage dresses a secret from everyone including their daughter Louise, are at a crossroads.
“I walk around here and I still can’t believe it,” says Louise, who discovered part of the collection in her parents’ garage last year—the rest of the dresses live in a warehouse space in Gardena, California. “Honestly, I don’t think he had any idea what was gonna happen with these in the future. It’s, like, what are you saving them for?”
Facing mounting costs for storage—topping out at nearly 1.700€ a month—Louise convinced her parents to start selling bits and pieces of their enormous collection. In the first year, they made sales to vintage stores around the country as well as larger corporations such as Urban Outfitters and ModCloth. They opened up their warehouse to teenagers, who bought dresses for proms, and to designers looking for inspiration.
Now the couple are taking to the Internet. They’ve launched 55thousanddresses.com, where you can browse a small selection of vintage dresses for sale, as well as a Facebook page, where dress-lovers can find out how to make an appointment to visit their warehouse.
“Margot is the love of my life and has remained so to this very day,” Paul writes on his website. “I followed her to the United States and was disowned by my own family for doing so back in the ’50s. We first lived in the Midwest and with time traveled West and settled in Los Angeles, California. The dress collection grew as I searched far and wide at estate sales, department stores, yard sales, and antique shows. Always looking to buy more dresses for Margot, everywhere and anywhere I went.”