The late Karl Lagerfeld, one of the most prolific designers of the 20th and 21st centuries, might well be appalled with our 2020 sartorial choices were he still alive.
The creative director of Chanel since 1983, who was described by Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, as representing “the soul of fashion” when presenting him with the Outstanding Achievement Award at the British Fashion awards in 2015, once commented that “sweatpants are a sign of defeat”.
Even in his 80s, when most of his peers were retiring to their yachts or country estates, the prolific designer was creating an average of 14 new collections a year; following his death in 2019 the value of, and interest in, Chanel pieces on the secondary market skyrocketed.
Now fans of Lagerfeld have an opportunity to own a piece of his legacy when Christie’s in New York auctions more than 100 Chanel jewels, which were created during his tenure at the French fashion house, in its online auction that takes place from January 14th to 29th.
The collection is part of the treasure trove of New York socialite Susan Gutfreund, who lived with her late husband, John at their sumptuous Fifth Avenue apartment, which sold last year for $53 million (€43 million).
John Gutfreund was the chief executive of Salomon Brothers, and was known in trading circles as the undisputed “King of Wall Street” in the 1980s – until his fall from grace in 1991 in a scandal involving illegal bidding.
What makes this sale of interest to collectors is the fact that these pieces of costume jewellery were created by Lagerfeld for Chanel runway shows during the 1980s and 1990s, the era acknowledged as the designer’s most important period with the French fashion house.
Many of the pieces are one of a kind and, according to Christie’s, were gifted to Susan Gutfreund, who was a close friend of Lagerfeld. They have never been offered for sale. Estimates range from $200-$6,000 (€162-€4,885) but could well sell beyond their upper estimates due to their rarity and provenance.
Known for his over-the-top and sometimes outrageous runway shows, Lagerfeld imported a 265-tonne iceberg from Sweden for one collection, and built an airplane hangar, a brasserie and a supermarket (stocked with Chanel dishwasher powder and Chanel pasta) for others, all within the confines of the Grand Palais, his preferred Parisian venue.
He lived alone with his cat Choupette, who had her own maids and diamond necklaces, and his penchant for publicity may well be echoed in his comments: “Chanel is an institution, and you have to treat an institution like a whore – and then you get something out of her.” Indeed, he transformed the brand, which was fading into irrelevance, into what is now estimated to have revenues in excess of $4 billion a year.
The contents of Gutfreund's Fifth Avenue apartment – designed by French decorator Henri Samuel – are also up for sale. Highlights include a Flora Danica Royal Copenhagen porcelain dinner service which carries a $150,000-$200,000 estimate, and a pair of silver George III candlesticks and candelabra from 1775, listed at $100,000-$150,000.
The doormat at the entrance to Gutfreund’s recently sold 12,000sq ft New York apartment bears the inscription, “The Neighbors Have Better Stuff”. While that may well be the case, the sale of Gutfreund’s “stuff” is still expected to secure in excess of $7 million.