Liz West, sculptor, Manchester; collects Spice Girls memorabilia
My parents are artists and I grew up in a home surrounded by paintings, artworks – all very high culture. But back in 1996, aged 11, I heard Wannabe on Radio 1 and was hooked.
My mum thought my collection was a fad; I wanted to prove her wrong. As a pre-teen, I got so much joy from rearranging my Spice Girls objects, which remained in their packaging, and photographing them. We weren’t rich, but I desperately wanted the Spice Girls pencil cases, T-shirts and backpacks my friends were buying, so I saved up or waited for the sales. My collection got off the ground when the Spice Girls’ popularity started to wane and their merchandise was cheap.
I began spending serious money on the collection when I got a student loan and discovered eBay. I bought one of Mel C’s T-shirts for £300. I most covet Geri’s union jack dress, which the Hard Rock Cafe won at auction in 1998 for £42,000, the highest amount ever paid for pop memorabilia.
I hold the Guinness World Record for the biggest Spice Girls collection; that record has led to TV appearances and meeting Emma Bunton, Mel C and Mel B. Mel C sent me one of her tracksuits, having never previously given away a tracksuit or sold one. And after I won an item of Mel B’s at auction, she sent me extra stuff, too. They like the collection because I have created a time capsule celebrating their history.
Sir Vidia Naipaul, novelist, Wiltshire; collects Indian art
My background led me to take an interest in Indian art – a kind of dull interest, because it was uninformed. Then I met Len Deighton, the thriller writer, at dinner many years ago. He demonstrated to me that Indian art could be approachable. It is quality and technique that I look for in paintings. They’re not investments: I wanted to possess them.
When I started the collection, I made a colossal error. I followed the critics. They made me believe that Moghul art was worthless, and that anything pretty is probably also worthless. And because of that advice – which, being young, I obeyed – I missed wonderful pictures in the 1950s and 1960s. The paintings I chose are still important to me. They come with all sorts of associations.
I’d like them all to stay together, and I’d like to be able to walk into a room in a museum or some similar place and look at them. In my own house, I never had the space. I would like to look at them often enough, so I could be satisfied I understood them, or understood how they were done. I would like them to become more part of me.
Roberto Baggio, former international footballer; collects hunting paraphernalia
From the age of five, I used to go out hunting with my father. He worked hard all week, so this was the only time I got to see him relaxed and happy. I’d also help him raise our live decoys: captive birds whose calls would attract their wild brethren. I used to dream about ducks flying in front of the moon. Then, when I started playing football full-time, I wasn’t able to go hunting with my dad any more, because I was busy on Sundays.
Dad had some lovely old, hand-built wooden birdcages. One day I asked him where they were. “Oh, we put them on the fire,” he said. “I’ve got new plastic ones now.” At that point I decided I’d seek out similar old things connected with the hunting culture of the Veneto, and try to save and restore them.
I collect these things so that one day my kids can understand that once things weren’t as easy as they are now. I have birdcages, lark mirrors and hundreds of types of gunpowder tins, from a time when people made rifle cartridges at home – some are beautifully decorated. I have floating duck decoys, and wading bird decoys for beach hunting at low tide. I have a rare antique wooden spit for roasting birds.
I have more than 500 cages, hunting decoys and other items made by Giovanni Simoncin, who used to make decoys for Ernest Hemingway when he went hunting in the Venetian lagoon. And there’s an 18th-century fox trap, beautifully worked by people who had nothing and yet were able to create these exquisite objects that today, with all our machines, we’d be hard put to imitate.
Rose Reeves, graphic designer London; collects orange wrappers
My first wrapper arrived in the post on Valentine’s Day 12 years ago. It’s red and gold with a big heart in the middle. My mother sent it because she knew I’d like it, and ever since, I’ve picked them up whenever I spot one at a market.
The older ones are even more beautiful, because they’re thinner and the designs are more delicate. In the mid-19th century, imported oranges were a luxury, sometimes given as Christmas presents, so the wrappers were opulent.
I love the mystery around them. There’s usually no brand name or region, and never a date. And, despite the beautiful illustrations, there’s never a signature. From the old ones, you can see characters and logos evolving over time, and I think: who worked on these? Who drew them?
I also love that they’re worthless. Most people chuck them away. Friends and family pick them up for me, and I’ve got hundreds – one is framed, but the rest are in boxes. They’re so wafer-thin that I like the feeling of leafing through them.
Kim Hastreiter, co-editor of Paper magazine, New York; collects contemporary art
I collect things that I can’t live without, from painting and photography to artists’ ephemera, such as skateboards and sneakers. Many artists in my collection – Tauba Auerbach, John Waters, Ted Muehling, Chris Johanson – are friends. I went to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, which was a hot school in the 1970s – Joseph Beuys was teaching there. I then went to graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts, before getting involved in New York’s art, fashion and music scene.
The first piece of art I bought for myself was Keith Haring’s, in the early 1980s. A crowd of us would hang out at Club 57 in the basement of a church, and Keith had his first show there. None of us knew about these drawings, we only knew Keith to be painting on sidewalks. Everything was $100 and I said, “I have to buy some of these” but Keith said, “Come to my studio tomorrow – I have thousands.” I spent about seven hours going through more than 1,000 drawings and eventually boiled it down to three. I had to call my mother to borrow $300. Keith gave me one, too.
I do not hang stuff. Everything leans. I have things leaning on top of other things. I designed my whole house around leaning my art, because I live in a 1950s building with low ceilings.
Lady Anne Evans, Cotswolds, UK; collects vintage and antique costume, couture and textiles
My oldest item is probably a Spitalfields silk open robe from about 1770. I keep it in a room where I have a number of mannequins and an ethereal Margot Fonteyn costume and tiara from the ballet Ondine, suspended as if floating in a Perspex box. There’s also an 1880 promenade dress with a bustle.
A collection is like a massive jigsaw of all the things that are important to you. Among my 1940s Balmain, Zandra Rhodes rainbow dresses and vintage Vivienne Westwood, I have Inuit and Native American pieces, including a pre-reservation boy’s jacket. Most of what I buy, I wear. I waft around the house like Miss Havisham in antique nighties. These things have to come back to life.
David Gainsborough Roberts, former banker, Jersey; collects 20th-century memorabilia
I must have been seven or eight when my gran gave me a piece of wood, which she said came from Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory. I said “My God, perhaps the great man trod on this.” I just thought it was something wonderful.
There are so many stories in my collection, but the best might be the wooden gun belonging to US gangster John Dillinger: he broke out of Crown Point jail with it in 1934. I also have a card case given to Oscar Wilde by Lord Alfred Douglas, one of the principal figures in his trial. It’s a very private piece, with nothing on the front, no initials, just “…so mysterious by this love”. It is the most unusual Wilde piece. It came up in auction years ago and the under-bidder was Stephen Fry.
My Marilyn Monroe collection began in 1991 at Christie’s auction house. A dress she wore in There’s No Business Like Show Business came up and I bid £16,000, something like that, and the press went bananas. It took off from there
Simon Costin, art director and set designer, London; collects macabre curiosities and folk art
My parents were antique dealers, so I was surrounded by things from a very early age. When I was about four, I collected fossils, stones or feathers, things I’d found in the forest. My taste for the macabre is ingrained. I collect all sorts of things: tapestries, waxworks, working models of guillotines, puppets, toys, model theatres, film props, ornate cabinets.
There isn’t anything I feel is missing from the collection (other than the entire contents of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford). My collection isn’t structured. It’s drawn from things I come across, as opposed to things I hunt out. Flea markets are the best sources, because you can haggle. You can never deny that initial thrill of when you pull up to the car park not knowing what you might find.
My favourite thing is called Bonheur, or happiness. Bonheur is an entirely tattooed human skin. He died in 1883 and we are digging to find out more about him. I found him at the Port de Clignancourt flea market in Paris, 15 years ago now.
• Some of these photographs were previously published in Christie’s magazine. Interviews by Amy Fleming, William Robinson, Lee Marshall, Libby Addington and Maria Howard