As you may have been aware, Christie’s held an auction for many of Audrey Hepburn’s belongings last week, and continued an online sale into this week.
I know how I feel, but I am not quite sure what to say.
You will say I should feel joyous at the opportunity, and joyous that I actually won something. I did. And I am grateful, and in shock.
Well, let me tell my auction story. Sit back with a nice cup of tea for this one.
Two days before the auction, I arrived in London with a friend. We found our way over to the exhibit at Christie’s and took a look around. We ran into an “Insta-friend” of mine as we were leaving, Terence Pepper. We made arrangements to meet up later at the Vivien Leigh party and then come over to the Audrey one. I don’t know a lot about Vivien, but she certainly had many interesting things! It was a lovely, dressy event there, where my friend (in jeans) and I (in bright red cropped pants and a bright red shirt tied at my waist) felt a little out of place. But we enjoyed it. We learned a little anecdote about our Audrey that Viv had written in a journal. How when Audrey and Greta Garbo would come over, they were never happier than when weeding in the garden.
Off we went to the Audrey event, where the line was around the block. However, Adrian Hume-Sayer found Terence, and then recognized me, as well, from our correspondence. How wonderful to be meeting all of my virtual penpals! Ah, I could just squeeze them all!
Anyway, he walked us straight in, and we decided to take a photo together. At least one person nearby thought I had been hired as an Audrey look-alike for the evening and wanted a photo with me. I tried to convince him that no, I was not, but I was so flattered and amused that of course we took a picture together.
There were a few speakers, Breakfast at Tiffany’s playing in one room, and in another room a line of women getting dolled up like Holly for mini-photo shoots. I’m not a fan of waiting in line, so I skipped that! We eventually called it a night.
Two days later, it was auction day.
We arrived at Christie’s at noon, unsure of how busy it would be before the 2PM start time of the auction. At 1PM we entered the auction room and grabbed seats near the front. My lovely Insta-friend Charlotte joined us not long after, as did Terence. Another mutual Insta-friend, Henry, was at the other end of the room with his mother.
I had a short list of what I was interested in. First, a pair of hoop earrings (which they neglected to mention were Yves Saint Laurent and just threw out a 1960’s-ish date for the 1967 collection it came from). I bid on them to my limit, and then felt a jab from my friend. “Keep bidding,” he said. It went higher, and higher. “You’re not going to get it,” Terence said. Higher, higher… he had the auction bug. But finally said enough.
Sold for over £7000.
Second, a big butterfly hairclip, made most likely from her own hair. In the catalogue they described it as having been cut for The Unforgiven. Which was highly unlikely and I deducted it was for The Nun’s Story, if it was her real hair. I was a bit hesitant on this one and finally had to let it go once it went past £2000.
At this point, Charlotte and her companion decided to leave. The prices for everything were depressing and out of her price range. We were all feeling a bit emotional. Even Henry would get up and walk out of the room occasionally… it wasn’t just the prices. But the whole idea of this auction, which I will address later in this post.
I had contemplated bidding on shoes, and had a favourite pair, but I thought they might go way out of my budget, so I had resolved to focus on the smaller items (that I thought would go for less) as my goal. However, an earlier lot of two pairs of shoes went for about £1000 while I was out of the room saying good-bye to Charlotte, so I was encouraged by this and decide I would indeed bid on the pair of shoes I liked. I had run out of small items on my list, anyway. I hadn’t anticipated how vicious the bidding would actually be… As much as I wanted those two items, the idea of winning shoes really appealed to me. I had been toying with the idea of writing a book with the title of In Audrey’s Shoes, if I was lucky enough to come away from the auction with her shoes… maybe it was actually a realistic idea.
We took a dinner break (because by this time it was around 7PM) and returned to bid on my favourite pair of shoes… a gorgeous black satin pair from the 1960’s.
Henry also raised his paddle. I couldn’t tell if he had seen me or not, but my heart leapt into my throat.
“Oh, Henry!!” I exclaimed. He didn’t hear me. Our whole corner was gasping at the war of the paddles. I finally put mine down. He seemed very determined, and another bidder had also stepped in. Henry won at £2400. Then he turned to us, grinning. I shook my head and waved my paddle, and he realized that I had been bidding as well. Oops. I did feel a bit bad, if I raised the price for him. But I also felt bad that I had bid on two other things and had lost them both, and now was beaten by a friend on my third try! But the shoes are in good hands. Maybe they’ll look nice with that Audrey-worn Givenchy gown he owns. Lucky boy!
But now what could I bid on? There was nothing else on my wish-list… I flipped through the catalogue, now still hoping perhaps I could find some shoes, so I could write my book! There were two pairs of high heel sandals… a pair of red satin high heel Givenchy’s… Neither of those really spoke to me. Then I found another pair of black satin shoes, labeled from the 1960s. Not as gorgeous as the last pair, but perhaps my last chance. I wasn’t sure if I could trust the online auction that would be going on until next week, and only one pair had been listed as 1960s (though I discovered a pair hidden amongst a lot of 1980s shoes later). I had been told by Henry earlier that the tiny (minuscule, really) golden fish charm was already bid up to £1000 and there was still a week to go. Better to bid here. This was one of the last lots in the book. We estimated at 20 lots per hour, it would come up around 11PM. My friend thought that would be ridiculous, what auction would go that late? Well. We went to dinner and came back with plenty of time, and indeed, it came up for sale around 11PM.
My friend was in the game now. He hadn’t cared for the butterfly clip, but he would help me win some shoes. “What’s your maximum?” He asked. I said around 2000. He said if it went higher, to go up to 4000. OK. Dear God, please don’t let it get that high.
A man in front spoke into a telephone. “This is our lot.”
Damn. I begged him with my eyes. Just hang up. Hang up.
Then someone online in New Jersey bid against me. Higher, higher… I had it at £3500 and waited… the auctioneer had mercy and ended the auction with a bang of his hammer. I sunk in relief and shock. £3500. Plus a 25% fee. What have I done. There are thousands of people losing their homes in a hurricane and I’m spending how much on a pair of shoes I can’t even wear?? Such mixed feelings on this. I didn’t even do the currency calculations for days afterwards. I just prayed I would be able to donate an equal amount to my favourite charities someday soon, to ease my guilt.
I grinned in relief, and the room applauded. I’m sure they had watched as I bid on all of the items before and were pleased that I finally got something. Nobody in the room had bid against me on this one. After 10 hours in that auction room, I felt like we had all been through an emotional rollercoaster together. We had all watched in fascination as her Breakfast at Tiffany’s script got bid up, and up and up and up until being sold to the woman (from Tiffany’s) in the back for £520,000. We all laughed in disbelief at the prices some of the photos were going for. I’d never been to an auction before, and perhaps it was the bond between people who adore Audrey, but the mood in that room was very cozy.
Anyway, I wasn’t able to pick up or pay for the shoes that night, so it had to wait, and we left to go get some much-needed sleep. That, my friends, is my auction story (and when the shoes arrive, I will let you know!)
Now… why do I have mixed feelings about this auction?
It’s because to me, it seemed to go against everything Audrey stood for.
Audrey was a woman who loved to give, loved to help people and make them happy. She didn’t cling to material possessions, nor money. When her first engagement was broken off, she told her designers, the Fontana sisters that;
I want my dress to be worn by another girl for her wedding, perhaps someone who couldn’t ever afford a dress like mine, the most beautiful, poor Italian girl you can find.
The dress was worn by Amiable Altobella, who wore it to her farm wedding.
This is the kind of woman Audrey was. She would give her clothing and her jewelry to friends and co-workers. My orthodontist told me once that she had given her bike to a friend of his (and then it was stolen…). She wasn’t interested in the money. She enjoyed giving. She was quoted as saying,
There is a moral obligation that those who have should give to those who don’t.
An auction at Christie’s is the farthest thing from giving possible. Her son Sean Ferrer is quoted as saying about this event,
A lot of things we’ve kept. But there was also a desire for us not to have these beautiful items which actually have been working hard for the past 25 years in a variety of exhibitions which have been for the benefit of children’s charities and UNICEF and so on and so forth. We wanted to share these things, we wanted to share these things with her fans and the ever growing base of ‘tweens and teens who are in love with her. And so I think if you look at this collection, apart from the very valuable BAT script and whatnot, special dress from a film, Charade, to me the emblem, the symbol o this auction is the little silk flower that she wore in her hair for an event or with a beautiful Givenchy dress, and which a young girl can convince her mother or her grandmother to buy and to keep as a keepsake much in the same style as when you lost a grandparent and your parents brought you something to keep and remember them by, that’s sort of the spirit of what we’re trying to do.
Pardon me for being disputatious here, but when I was a teenager, none of these items would have been within reach for me or my parents, or my grandparents. The lowest priced item to be sold was £500, plus fees, for a small promotional pamphlet for War and Peace. Silk flowers and jewelry were all in the high thousands. Perhaps his experience of childhood was different from most people’s, having been raised by Audrey Hepburn, the mother who could afford to buy a house for him as a wedding gift. That’s privilege that most of us don’t experience.
When I would put my tithe in the plate at church as a ‘tween, I felt embarrassed to be giving coins, but the 50¢ I would put in was more than 10% of my allowance for many years. When I began babysitting, I breathed a sigh of relief that I could finally put bills in. My first job, when I was about 15 or 16, was picking strawberries. My first paycheck was $25. I would make and sell little pieces of jewelry to family and friends for 50¢ to $1 a piece.
When we got the internet (I was 16), I would research sewing patterns that were selling well on ebay, buy them for $1 at Joann’s, and re-sell them, bringing in maybe $100 a month with that. When I decided to move to Los Angeles, I had been working at the Renaissance Faire, hot-glue-gunning feathers to hats in a stuffy back room, wearing a Renaissance dress I had made for myself, or colouring in designs on wooden play shields. I bought a car (note: my parents didn’t buy me a car, nor were they going to pay for college, or a house, for that matter) for $150 and made it to LA with no money (all spent on gas and then a new radiator somewhere in Arizona for that 1978 Dodge Aspen station wagon) in my pocket to start doing background work. Making $200 a week, working 5 12-15 hour days, I felt rich.
My birthday checks from my parents and grandparents were rarely more than $50. Even a $1000 War and Peace Pamphlet (because that’s how much it would cost, in dollars, with fees) would have been unthinkable for me, my parents, or my grandparents. So to say that you want or expect these things to go to her fanbase, who are mainly people who were born after she died, is not acknowledging reality. Even Audrey could have known that. She would not have sold her things to her fans. Without knowing her personally, I will still say that with 99% certainty. Yes. Fans will buy her things. But only fans with a lot of money, or those who aren’t afraid of going into debt for a while (*raises hand*). But Audrey never would have wanted anybody to spend money they couldn’t afford on something she could give them.
If Audrey were to be convinced to sell her personal belongings, you only could have convinced her by saying the money would go to UNICEF. Again, I say this with 99% certainty.
Secondly, Audrey was a very private person, and also respected other’s privacy. She wouldn’t have sold off letters written privately to her. She wouldn’t even write an autobiography. She was very sensitive about this. She would have returned the letters to their authors, or destroyed them, if she were told she had to part with them. I wonder how many of these things she would have wanted to be public… tokens of affection between her co-stars (and lovers) and herself? She once got furious at her grandmother when she sold a private wedding photo to a newspaper, rather than tell her she was in a bad financial state. After scolding her, she then sent her a little money every Christmas.
Yes, her sons are not her. They will make different decisions. But even those of us who were not raised by this wonderful woman have it engrained in our consciousnesses how we should conduct ourselves when it comes to matters such as these. Audrey worked hard for what she had. And then in turn, she reached out a hand to those who perhaps had also worked hard but did not have the opportunities that she had. I believe she would have found a way to give her things to fans who had no means to afford them at auction or retail prices. To give them to people who had worked hard and followed her example in kindness, graciousness, and compassion. To people for whom they held no monetary value, only sentimental. She would have donated her screen-worn items, scripts, etc, to UNICEF to auction off for fundraising, to help children in need. And it kills me that this was not done. Absolutely tears my heart out.
I’d been following the news items on her son and the Children’s Fund, including this article in the LA Times, which was a disappointing thing to read about the situation. Then came this one, about the lawsuit between her sons being settled in a way that forced them to sell her belongings and split the profits 50/50 . It grieves me… and I don’t know the details, so it’s hard to really comment… but the overview does not paint a pretty picture. And the fact that this lawsuit was not mentioned at all as a motivating reason for the auction (no, just that her young fan base should have a chance to own something of their idol’s, rather than having them hidden away in storage… ) in interviews or explanations of the sale. I have thoughts, but I won’t share them, because that’s not what Audrey would do. Today, another article popped up as well that troubled me. I don’t believe Audrey would have thought well of this kind of nonsense.
The last thing that bothered me about the auction were the errors in the catalogue. I understand they only had a few months to pull it all together (although, actually, according to the lawsuit settlement, they had one year to have the sale) but many of us are noticing errors. Some of them were noticed too late. The shoes I bid on were not from the 1960s, but from 1989, to be very specific. But neither I, nor most likely the two people bidding against me, were aware of this. Judging by the prices for other pairs and sets of shoes, I paid the vintage 1960 price for a 1980s pair of shoes, and am paying 25% on top of that. And perhaps customs fees. Another pair of 1960s shoes were inadvertently included in a lot of 1980s shoes for the online sale as well. I bid on them, but having spent most of my money on the other pair of shoes, I had to give up on the auction at some point. I was outbid by £200, and the set of 4 still went for less than my one pair of shoes – and I believe it was because they were all represented as from the 1980s. Other pairs of shoes from the 1960s went for similar amounts, and the 1980s shoes went for much less. This is painful to me. Other items were labeled the wrong designers, the wrong years, the designers not mentioned at all, etc, etc… For the amount of money flying around for these things, more care should have been taken in the descriptions. This is a well-known and respected auction-house and we were all shocked and dismayed at the lack of attention to detail.
So those are my thoughts on the recent auction. It’s been a rollercoaster of a time this past week…
However, I’m going to make those shoes pay for themselves, and am starting research on a book (like everyone else. lol). I’ve already got nearly 15 years of research and notes behind me (obsessive much?), and now feels like the right time. Wish me luck (and buy a copy)! I intend to donate a portion of the profits to a charity, though I don’t know which one, yet. I support a few.
Tell me your thoughts on all of this. Did any of you attend, bid, or win anything? Do you know something I don’t? 🙂