Karl Lagerfeld’s Estate Auction Excites Collectors

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PARIS — Karl Lagerfeld, the charismatic designer who died in 2019 and was as much a pop culture figure as a fashion superstar, would have been amused by what has been going on at Sotheby’s in Monaco and Paris this month.

“Karl felt that objects are there to serve, and people shouldn’t be enslaved by them,” said Pierre Mothes, vice president of Sotheby’s France.

“He never wanted to be shut in a mausoleum, like a pharaoh. Twenty years ago, he told me: ‘I don’t want to be the conservator of my own collection.’”

But a series of three auctions of 1,200 lots from that collection, assembled from Mr. Lagerfeld’s five residences in and around Paris and in Monaco, has demonstrated that his fans have no such qualms.

“Karl’s taste and his photographic eye inspired affection and positive feelings for a lot of people, which makes them want to own part of his personal universe,” said Mr. Mothes, who is also the sale’s curator and head auctioneer, likening the sales to “a luxurious yet streamlined photograph of Mr. Lagerfeld’s universe at the end of his life.”

Earlier this month, 1,400 bidders registered for the first sale: 582 lots including sketches, memorabilia and personal objects, as well as Art Deco furniture and contemporary works by artists such as Takashi Murakami, Joana Vasconcelos and Jeff Koons. Plus, a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Originally estimated at two to three million euros ($2.3 million — $3.4 million), the auction closed at €12 million ($13.3 million). At one point, a set of five pairs of Chanel fingerless leather gloves reached a hammer price of €48,260 ($54,680).

“Those are really an emblematic accessory, part of a manga-like image that has passed into posterity,” Mr. Mothes said.

For Mr. Lagerfeld, the curator continued, “wearing them was a culture of courtesy inherited from the 18th century, where you don’t inflict your age on others. It’s also a way of keeping your fingers free so you can draw. And at the same time, everyone on the planet recognized those as part of his persona, along with the sunglasses and the slim-cut jackets.”

In Paris, the next act of the auction series was meant to kick off with a public showing followed by an invitation-only cocktail and after-party at Sotheby’s headquarters on the Rue du Faubourg-Saint Honoré. Because of concerns about the Omicron variant, however, it was downsized and took place earlier in the day.

Even so, there was music. A celebratory yet subdued party featured the composer Thomas Roussel orchestrating “The Frozen Garden,” an original soundtrack composed for the Chanel fall 2011 show held at the Grand Palais. Dancers performed choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.”

In between, Michel Gaubert, who for many years compiled the soundtracks for Mr. Lagerfeld’s Chanel shows, DJ’d for a steady stream of visitors meandering through the more than 200 lots arranged over three floors, including contemporary furniture from Mr. Lagerfeld’s estate, plus the occasional sartorial oddity (for example, a stack of Emgès shirt collars showcased under a glass globe on a base with electric lighting).

Bidding opened on Dec. 14. Some in the audience dressed up in furs and high heels or formal business attire, but most wore jeans. Though several of the widely spaced seats in the room remained empty, in an hour and a half, the Paris sale already had brought in $2 million on only 37 lots. The most popular item of the evening was a Soleil Noir mirror by Martin Szekely, one of many pieces Lagerfeld bought from the Galerie Kreo in Paris, which sold for €375,500 ($423,620), a record for the artist and 25 times the estimated price.

Minutes later, a cutout of Mr. Lagerfeld’s profile on paper fetched €32,760 ($36,958), only marginally less than a monumental, 44-arm Louis XV-style chandelier in cut crystal and gilded bronze dating to around 1800.

Meanwhile, a Dior Homme jacket from winter 2008, in black wool embellished with a broken glass motif in PVC, which carried a high estimate of €1,000, sold for €35,280 ($39,801). A Chanel tote in black croc-embossed lambskin with a photo ID pass for the 2011 FIAC contemporary art show and a runway tag from Chanel’s Paris-Bombay Métiers d’Art show went for €94,500 ($106,610), a record for a Chanel bag at auction said Sophie Dufresne, the communications director of Sotheby’s Paris.

“Karl’s universe is a luxurious one, but it’s filled with everyday objects,” Mr. Mothes said. “People identify with that and they’re snatching up pieces as if he were a rock star.”

“Karl was the last monstre sacré of his generation,” he added. “There is no equivalent.”

The Paris auction ended on Dec. 16 with sales of €6.2 million (just over $7 million). The third and final sale in the series will take place in Cologne, Germany, in March. Proceeds will go to Mr. Lagerfeld’s estate, which is being managed from Monaco. Though there were rumors that his cat, Choupette, was one of the main beneficiaries, the actual names remain confidential.

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