Long Live Lagerfeld: Here’s What’s On Offer at the Auction of the Century
“Possessions were beginning to suffocate me; I have decided to possess less.” Karl Lagerfeld, Point de Vue, 2003. And so, the time has come, the final hurrah. Lagerfeld’s estate is up for auction nearly three years after his passing and we are preparing to immerse ourselves in his fascinating world in all its glory. This month, more than 1,000 items from his personal collections will go up for auction.
From contemporary design by Marc Newson and art by Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami – a portrait of Lagerfeld, no less, numbered 1/1 – to his Egyptian cotton sheets, famous fingerless gloves and beloved cat Choupette’s feeding dishes, it’s all on offer. Come one, come all. Here are some of the facts:
• Lagerfeld was an obsessive collector with an encyclopaedic knowledge of art and design that encompassed centuries, rather than decades. The collection represents his wide and deep range of interest, which includes many museum-worthy pieces from across the ages.
• But he wasn’t sentimental about his belongings. In fact, he made an art form of divesting the past and living wholeheartedly in the present. “I create dresses of today, and therefore I must live in a decor of today,” he once told Point de Vue (a French mag that specialises in ‘royal families and exceptional people’).
• Karl loved an auction. In 1991, he sold the contents of his penthouse in Monte Carlo, which was entirely furnished with a collection of extraordinary primary-coloured pieces by Ettore Sottsass’s Memphis Group. In 2000, the contents of his Louis XV-style hotel particulier (a grand townhouse) in Rue de l’Université, once shared with his lover Jacques de Bascher and where they were said to have riotously entertained their inner circle, was also auctioned off, including furniture by master cabinet-makers Jean Henri Riesener (Marie Antoinette’s favourite), Jean-François Oeben and Martin Carlin. The record-breaking sale netted more than $21.7 million (about £16 million in today’s money) for the mainly eighteenth-century artworks and furniture. No wonder he loved a clear-out. In 2003, in yet another ultimate spring-clean, the spectacular art deco contents of Lagerfeld’s homes in Biarritz and Monaco were also sold, some 240 pieces by legends including Eileen Gray, Jean-Michel Frank and Pierre Legrain. “I find the joy of collecting, the fun of hunting for objects, the exciting thing,” he said in 1975. “But once I [win] it, I lose interest. I don’t want to be a curator living in a museum.”
• “The collection of Karl Lagerfeld reveals his taste as a decorator, aesthete, designer and humanist,” says Pierre Mothes, the vice president of Sotheby’s France. “But it is also so much more, revealing the man he really was. Karl had always maintained, intact, his taste for all the main aesthetic movements of the twentieth century, especially art deco, but as someone who consistently looked to the future, he was fascinated most by the designers who, like him, were pioneers in their field.”
• Lagerfeld embraced change throughout his career, foremost as a fashion designer but also as a collector, making an art form of acquiring some of the finest pieces from the eras that fascinated him… and often then disinterested him. It was an act of artistic liberation. “After a while, I need change. It’s a question of survival,” he told Point de Vue. “One has to free oneself to be able to conquer something else.”
• The eight auctions, which will be staged in Paris and Monaco in 2021 and Cologne in the spring of 2022, feature items from eight of his residences in France and Monaco. This includes three flats in Paris (two were in Rue des Saint- Pères, which housed his extensive collection of books) and the Pavillon de Voisins in Louveciennes near Versailles, the last home he bought and which he decorated with German designs and art from the 1920s.
• A true twenty-first-century collector, Lagerfeld was an admirer of industrial designer Marc Newson’s work. Prized, limited-edition pieces by Newson offered in these auctions include a polished aluminium and lacquered metal Zenith Chair from 2003 (one of only eight made); all fat curves and super function, it has an estimate of €40-60,000. Also available for purchase is Newson’s incredible lightweight (2.5kg) Carbon Ladder (one of 18), made in France in 2008 by an aerospace manufacturer. Plus the magical Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos 561 clock, from 2011 (one of 888); its mechanism appears suspended in its Baccarat crystal case. Word is that Mr. Newson may well buy back these pieces.
• The work of minimalist French industrial designer Martin Szekely also feature large. The epic stainless-steel consoles and exquisite corian and aluminium honeycomb tables are highly sought after. “Fashion can go from the old world to the new world and we have to adapt to the times… change is the most interesting thing,” Karl once said of his eye to the modernists and the future.
• “He embraced culture. He followed film. He followed literature. He loved society. He loved grand houses… He was superman,” said Anna Wintour, Vogue’s Chief Content Officer and a friend of Lagerfeld. His superhuman legacy sadly does not include any handwritten papers, but it will offer 200 pairs of his signature fingerless leather gloves. (Oh, to slip one’s hands inside and channel the king!) There are also his signature Dior Homme suits, decorative fans, a hefty stash of superlative Goyard suitcases, a fine and worn Chanel leather bag and the poignant art piece Superposition of Shirt Collars, made by Emgès, with the stiff collars all neatly stacked under a glass bell jar, lit from above. And his three Rolls-Royces, one of which could often be seen parked in the courtyard at Chanel when he worked in the studio.
‘Superposition of Shirt Collars’, made by Emgès
• Other great names from the collection include French art deco architect/designers Louis Süe and André Mare, French poster artist Georges Lepape, Scandinavian silversmith Georg Jensen and exquisite works by Lalique (a glass set) and Meissen (part of a porcelain dinner set). The best of the very, very best. We particularly love the exquisite stainless-steel Diapason Desk (1968) by Marzio Cecchi. Mwah.
• Although he hated sentimentality and kept his personal life strictly personal, the exception to this was, of course, his cat, Choupette, the love of his life and a highly protected and pampered kitty who had not one but two maids. ‘The dishes of Choupette’ (Goyard china, naturally), and the work of artist Joana Vasconcelos inspired by her, will also go up for sale.
• In 2009, the year after the death of Saint Laurent, his partner Pierre Bergé sold off the priceless art and furniture that they had amassed together, raising £317 million. It was the most expensive private collection ever to go under the hammer. Will Lagerfeld’s estate beat that? Sophie Dufresne, director of press and communication at Sotheby’s France, says, “Given the importance of the provenance, the estimates are only indicative and it is impossible to anticipate the Karl Lagerfeld effect on the auction”. We think the Karl effect will be huge. Period.
• The auction is the last word from a man who dominated the twentieth century and as much of the twenty-first as he could. But he lives on in new books, including the recently released Karl by Marie Ottavi, who has spoken about the great designer with his inner circle, which includes Tom Ford, Princess Caroline of Monaco, Alessandro Michele, Bernard Arnault, Carine Roitfeld and Bruno Pavlovsky. Coming in February 2022 is Karl Lagerfeld: A Life in Fashion by Alfons Kaiser, a journalist and friend of Karl. “One day it will be over and I don’t care,” Karl said. But we do. And so will the rest of the world as it watches.