WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — South Florida became “fashion central” on January 11 as some 125 trendsetters and art buyers arrived in red-carpet style at Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ (PBMA) exhibition center. Some of the guests pulled up in Rolls-Royces, wearing smart designer outfits and Chanel hats. Others took a sportier approach, with Chanel T-shirts — the real ones — discreetly evident under their perfectly tailored blazers. They gathered at PBMA’s spacious venue with one goal in mind: to immerse themselves in a historic, one-time-only event — the auction of a long-held trove of 1960s Karl Lagerfeld fashion sketches. Originally the property of couturier Evan “Buddy” Richards and his Rome-based company Tiziani — where Lagerfeld once freelanced — the archive had passed intact through two estates before its consignment to PBMA.
“Everyone who attended was engaged in the moment — it was like an homage to Karl Lagerfeld, who is one of fashion’s most iconic figures,” said Palm Beach Modern Auctions’ co-owner and auctioneer Rico Baca, who presided over the $545,165 sale. But it was not just the fashion-conscious set that wanted a chance to bid on Lagerfeld’s early sketches; art collectors and prestigious museums and art institutions were after them, too. “They recognized that Lagerfeld’s 1960s sketches are the fashion world’s equivalent of early drawings by a great impressionist,” Baca said.
In addition to bidders participating in-house, 570 bidders took part online, with scores more on the five phone lines and hundreds of absentee bids in place. The fashion portion of the 487-lot sale — which also featured modern furniture and decorative art — was 100 percent sold (with after-auction sales included).
The auction both opened and concluded with photographs of Richards’ close friend and favorite Tiziani client, Elizabeth Taylor. A signed photo of Taylor in a floaty gown, accompanied by a signed letter in which the actress wished Richards well with his new collection, sold for $4,800.
Taylor, Richards and Lagerfeld frequently collaborated on designs for the star’s personal wardrobe, as well as the costumes for several of her films. Among the Lagerfeld sketches identified as being for “Elizabeth Taylor Burton” was an ankle-length dress in a floral pattern of vibrant 1960s pop colors. It sold for $2,520.
The top Lagerfeld item was a sketch of a confident-looking woman in a two-piece suit that bore similarities to classic Chanel designs. Hand-signed “Karl 64,” it opened at $1,600 against a $1/3,000 estimate and sold for $4,500.
Among the many other sketches that attracted strong competition were an annotated color sketch of an Egyptian-style calf-length dress with faux-jeweled halter, $3,900 (Internet); a sketch of a day ensemble with fuchsia hat and tights signed “Karl Lagerfeld 64,” $3,360; and a black cocktail dress with copious handwritten notes in the margin, $3,240.
A German bidder competed over the phone for more than 50 of the fashion lots. After the sale, he was among the many who asked if there were any unsold sketches and ended up purchasing all that remained. “It’s our understanding that, like some of the institutional buyers who bought Lagerfeld art, he intends to mount a public exhibition,” Baca said.
Anyone wondering where the next generation of collectors will come from need not have looked any further than a 7-year-old girl — picture perfect in a beautiful party dress –— who snapped up 12 Lagerfeld sketches ranging in price from $700 to $2,800. “She was encouraged by her very chic mother, who thought her daughter should have some of the sketches for her bedroom wall. She was a very poised young lady and bid aggressively against the adults in the room,” Baca said.
As guests dined on a catered lunch, the modern design section of the sale commenced. A monumental gold-tone “Sputnik” chandelier with Murano glass spikes led the list of prices realized at $38,400, selling to a Palm Beach collector over the phone. It was a good day for lighting, as another Murano design, dome style and attributed to Barovier & Toso, realized $19,200.
A Paul Evans faceted, chromed metal and mica “Cityscape” cabinet settled within estimate at $36,000. Two signed items from Vladimir Kagan’s personal collection were offered. A sleek upholstery and chrome sofa achieved $9,000; while a tri-symmetrical cocktail table was bid to $7,200.
“We could not have asked for more from this sale,” Baca remarked afterward. “It captured the media’s attention worldwide — even Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, blogged about it. With the additional help of the Internet, we had bidders from 15 countries, from Canada to New Zealand. Needless to say, our consignor was very pleased.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Palm Beach Modern will conduct an art, decorative arts and modern design auction on Saturday, March 22. For information, 561-586-5500 or www.modernauctions.com.