Monday, April 21, 2014

In the Market: Christie's "Magnificent Jewelry" Sale

Last Wednesday (April 16) I had the opportunity to infiltrate a New York bastion of society, a place where Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dogs and the Taylor-Burton diamond have been put on the block and sold to the highest bidder.  Yes, I’m talking about none other than Christie’s auction house (49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza).  I attended the “Magnificent Jewelry” sale accompanying a family member who was a seller of several rare pieces. In case you’ve ever wondered what goes down in this storied place (besides the hammer) and what a high-end jewelry auction is like, here are my “insider” observations.

Catalog from sale

First, I noted that as you enter the building situated smack in the middle of “Tourist-mageddon” (NBC and Rock Center ice skating rink across the way) there is surprisingly little visible security.  On my initial foray  on the Friday preceding the sale (to view the collection on display) I breezed in wearing off-white jeans, faux fur vest, motorcycle boots, toting an enormous H&M shopping bag (I belatedly scored big with the closeted leftovers from the Conscious Collection sale) and nobody so much as raised an eyebrow.  Excuse me but sometimes it’s harder to get through the entrance of the subway although I’ve never personally been stopped.   After entering the spacious building lined with what appeared to be Buccellati sculptures I miraculously found the pre-sale viewing room. Although I’m a confirmed silver lover and John Hardy-aholic (they should have a 12-step program for that) I can still sniff out the “good” stuff.  I mean millions of dollars in gemstones, many which have recently been “on tour” all over the world for the viewing pleasure of the connoisseur, (not to rack up frequent flyer miles and enjoy their stay in a 5-star hotel) who may choose to place a bid.

The large, well lit chamber feels cavernous but not in the plush way that Tiffany’s does; more in the clinical way that the jewelry would feel if it was naked under a paper robe in the examining room of the doctor’s office.  The procedure (unintended medical analogy, LOL) to take an item out of the case is that after you have registered your identification (and probably given your first born as well as your D & B credentials) an item(s) will be removed from the case for your inspection.  Some items were taken to the back room and perhaps more lengthily perused by jewelers, leaving the case empty of several “ lots” at once, suggesting, at least to me, a jewelry heist. (Yeah, I should probably stop re-watching “Ocean’s Eleven”).  Interestingly, the Christie’s representative who handles your baubles, cataloging and appraising them in your home (shout-out to the lovely Jennifer Rosenthal who is amazing in every way) is not actually allowed to transport them to Christie’s without an armed courier as there have been past robberies where employees had been watched and then targeted by thieves.  In the room was a mix of jewelers (who often buy or buy back one of their own pieces) as well as individual collectors.

diamond earrings

As with anything, provenance is of utmost importance in fine jewelry collecting.  I was immediately struck by the inclusion (bad word for precious stones, HA) of two extremely similar ruby and diamond invisibly set flower brooches and the difference in their innate values simply because one was signed Van Cleef & Arpels and the other was Aletto Brothers.  The Aletto Brothers pin was of a better true ruby color (VCA was of a purplish hue), was bigger and bolder in every way yet it fetched slightly more than half of the VCA piece!  If you are worried about investment or resale value I guess it pays to splurge for the “name” if you can swing it.  Actually, I was told that the words “mystery setting” (there are no visible prongs) is registered to Van Cleef and can’t be used by another jeweler, so there you have it.

On the actual day of the sale, upon arrival I was escorted to a private viewing room on the 2nd floor where, disappointingly enough, we could only view the auction unfolding on a relatively modest sized TV screen.  The rooms are furnished nicely with comfortable chairs, couches, bar and snacks as well as a large inside window which would look out into the auction room however we were on the opposite side of the day’s sale and the window was black.  The first hour or so was relatively quiet as some of the lesser pieces didn’t sell but when the more expensive lots began to appear the room quickly became more populated and livelier.

Rahul Kadakia head of Jewelry at Christies

I settled in to watch on the monitor and was immediately taken with auctioneer and Christie’s jewelry department head Rahul Kadakia.  I cannot begin to fathom the ability to multi-task that must be necessary in order to survey the floor, go to the people manning the phones, as well as the internet while consulting your own roster of pre-auction bids and somehow keep it all straight, not lose your cool and be charming all at the same time.  I, on the other hand, am still trying to master texting and walking (textwalking?) and if you throw gum chewing into the mix, I’m out!  It was apparent that Kadakia also had time for theatrics giving our assembled party near collective heart failure as a piece that was estimated at a particular price seemed to be falling well below its estimate while his hammer loomed large just ever so slightly off of the landing pad!  It seemed an eternity passed (it was probably 20 seconds) until finally the hammer was pulled away and the bidding resumed in full force propelling the emerald brooch well into its estimated sweet spot. I needed a drink after that!

Ruby and diamond bracelet by Graff

As a seller, watching the auction was exactly like viewing a horse race that you bet on.  I found myself on the edge of my chair, rooting on more bids, (there were actual fist pumps involved, I’m embarrassed to admit) and saying things like “come on, come on” while waving my hands as if to elicit a new burst of energy in the room and more raised paddles. In the end, the collection sold for exactly what was expected with some pieces going surprisingly higher than anticipated while others struggled to reach their minimum estimates. Speaking of paddles, I realized that a particular paddle number had purchased quite a few items and am interested to find out if that number represents a jeweler or a large collector.  I guess you always are curious about the home “your children” (or in this case “stepchildren”) are going to.

What I’ve learned is that the jewelry market, like all markets, is cyclical.  Right now, large diamonds (20 carats) of great quality (D color, VVS1 clarity, by known jewelers (Harry Winston) are in demand; large pearls are not.  Since pearls are being routinely produced, even large sized ones can be cultured, they are not the valuable commodity that they once were and odds are if you bought pearls back in the day, sadly they are not worth a fraction of what you paid for them.  As I mentioned before, certain jewelry houses have all the cachet and right now David Webb appears to be having a huge resurgence.  People are still collecting or adding to their collection of enamel animal head bracelets, rings and the gold and diamond necklaces, earrings and cuffs are highly covetable. Always make sure a piece carries the stamp or signature of the jewelry house as this is something that will be looked for even if it has begun to wear off. The novelty items also did well for instance a gold and diamond evening bag and a pair of men’s cuff links matching the invisibly set ruby brooch both went over their estimate however we’re talking about items that were not the big ticket items of the sale

One thing to be careful with is coral as the lighter color variation has been placed on the CITES list (United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) an organization which founded in 1975 which has placed a ban on ivory and more recently on the white flecked species of coral.  Christie’s as well as other auction houses, has had to become vigilant in policing the acceptance of these materials into their sales because if a piece is identified by CITES it will be seized and neither the seller nor the house will be able to seek reimbursement for the loss.

 -Laurel Marcus

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In the Market Report: Kate Middleton

"We’ll Have What She’s Having"

Kate Middleton wearing her Zara blazer, navy jeans
 and wedges with Prince William in New Zealand

Whatever you may personally think of Kate Middleton’s sense of style, and even if you disagree with those who refer to the Duchess of Cambridge as a "Fashion Icon", the one thing that cannot be denied is that many women would not only like to BE her (or enjoy the same life of privilege), OR at the very least, they would like to look like her (she is enviably model tall, gorgeous, and always radiant). There is no question that whatever she wears in public, it will guarantee to start a fashion feeding frenzy.

But she is not only highly influential, but pragmatic, if not frugal.  She not only repeats and recycles her wardrobe, but rather than opting for expensive designer, haute couture, or custom made pieces (which she can easily afford LOL), more often than not, especially when it comes to her more informal duties, her choices are culled from moderate priced emporiums. But while this makes them affordable to many women (who do not, like her, enjoy special stature as a royal), they are not always accessible. Because within minutes of images reaching the Internet, whatever it is she is wearing, will undoubtedly be sold out.

Kate Middleton Smythe navy blazer

Kate is a classic and simple dresser as befitting her position, and for her casual outings, has a predilection for Breton striped tops, dark wash skinny jeans, wedge espadrilles, and impeccably tailored navy blazers with gold buttons (the same highly distinctive basics that form the basis for many women’s wardrobes). Last year she was photographed at many events (including Wimbledon) wearing a gold buttoned, fitted Smythe navy blazer (it retailed for about $800). It was in fact sold out in most stores, and was impossible to find anywhere except for EBay, where many savvy and creative international sellers capitalized on the fact,  advertising that the jacket was the one worn by the Duchess of Cambridge (their auctions of course, included pictures of her wearing it), and hiked up the prices.

She and Prince William are now on a tour of  New Zealand and earlier yesterday, the ‘Big News’ online was that she was wearing the same outfit three days in a row (quelle horror!)  And what’s wrong with that? There’s a lot to be said about streamlining and affecting a uniform.  If something is flattering, appropriate, and cannot be improved upon, why try? This is something many women should pay heed to. It’s fun to experiment and have fun with fashion, but there are certain things that stand the test of time. And in the end, who does not want to look tall, skinny, and rich?

Kate Middleton Zara blazer closeup

Once again, her look consisted of a classic fitted double breasted gold buttoned navy blazer, a striped Breton top, and dark wash skinny jeans (J.Brand), accessorized with her signature navy wedge espadrilles. This time, the jacket, in question was from the popular worldwide brand, Zara, ( Out of curiosity, I called a few stores in New York and was told by the managers that it was from their new spring 2014 collection, retails at $139, and had sold out almost immediately by midday. So, if you are interested , your best bet is EBay, where many international sellers are hawking it, once again advertising it as the same one worn by the Duchess of Cambridge -- but often doubling the price.


- Marilyn Kirschner 

Monday, April 14, 2014

See Thru Bags: A Clear & Present Danger

_Kaley-Cuoco-Sweetings  with Vince Camuto purse

Does Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting have a new gig working in a department store is the question I asked myself after seeing her on the red carpet the other night at her movie premiere for her new film "Authors Anonymous" in LA.  Capital One would not have to ask the question "What's in your wallet?" as there wasn't one  or even a "contents  anonymous" to her see-through Vince Camuto clutch bag;  bringing to mind a Bloomingdale's salesperson going on break.

Christian Louboutin 

Remember those clear pouches that store employees were required to use in lieu of their verboten purses? (In the interest of "full disclosure" (ha) the clear bag had a textured blue trim that matched her shoes so it did make some sartorial sense). I can see " clearly" now that this trend has a unique purpose. Last fall the NFL instituted a law against bags being brought in to stadiums (including handbags) unless they were of the clear variety. Major League Baseball is planning to implement the same law in 2015 and I'm sure many concert venues and arenas will sit up and take notice.

Charlotte Olympia Perspex Clutch

What's a stylish woman to do if you don't care to tote your goodies around in an NFL tote emblazoned with a team name on it or a standard fare beach bag?  Luckily there are some very interesting options at every price point and degree of formality.  At the high end, I have long admired the Charlotte Olympia Perspex clutches which do come along with a variety of decorative pouches so that the items in your purse can remain a mystery (ranging from $995 to around $1,500).

Simone Rocha purse

Simone Rocha makes a lovely transparent purse ($1,485) available on Farfetch with a shoulder strap as well as one by Christian Louboutin which is jeweled and features hot pink trim ($995 at Saks).

Furla croc-pring top handle bag

In a more affordable price range, there is the Jil Sander minimalist clutch with black or turquoise leather trim ($280 at Net-a-Porter), the Furla croc-print top handle bag ($298), a Zac Posen black tinted carryall bag ($595 at Shopbop) as well as a Golden Lane Beach Vinyl petite duffle ($627, also at Shopbop).

Juicy Couture Minaudiere

If you'd like to keep it under $200, and since we're talking PVC plastic or lucite that's really enough to spend, then there's the Rebecca Minkoff mini Mac in a clear or tinted pink version and on sale at Bloomingdales for $115, a Juicy Couture Minaudiere for $148 (now 40% off), a black lace option from Modcloth called "Cool Clear Night" (on sale for $29.99) or a heart shaped chain bag from Nasty Gal ($40).

Alexander McQueen studded Perspex

Okay, so you've got your clear purse now how do you load it? The answer: very carefully. The Big Bang star had several $20 bills, an Amex gold card, a hot pink lip gloss and a driver's license visible in hers.  Certainly you want to be careful not to reenact a scene from 1987's "Broadcast News" in which Holly Hunter leaves the White House Correspondents dinner when she sees that security is checking the contents of women's purses and she doesn't want her date William Hurt to see that she is packing condoms.  (Fun fact:  I recently spotted the dress she wore at a vintage show last month at the Metropolitan Pavillion and called it even before I saw the index card identifying it)!  Also, if anyone asks to borrow a twenty you can't lie by saying you don't have one! Got that Uncle Sam?

So much for transparency!

- Laurel Marcus

The Daily Bet - by Rhonda Erb
Thalé Blanc Flutter of Hope Clutch
Designer Deborah Sawaf created this bag to support children’s cancer research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles The hospital receives 20% of the proceeds from the collection. The plexiglass bag is engraved with 3D brass butterflies and lined with vegan friendly materials.
Available at: $985.00

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fashion Group's RTW Presentation / Lord & Taylor "424 Fifth" Brand

C’mon Get Happy!

Amy Cheung with Margaret Hayes (center) & Evie Evangelou

On Thursday, I attended Fashion Group International’s Fall/Winter 2014 Ready-to-Wear Trend Presentation, held at the Time Life Building. FGI ( ) is now partnering with Fashion 4 Development (F4D), a private sector global platform whose mission is to harness the power of the fashion and beauty industries and implement sustainable strategies for worldwide economic growth. To emphasize its commitment, the designs of Amy Cheung and her parent company Sung Hing Industries Holding Limited were showcased. Their motto is “Green At Heart” and they won in the top environmental management category honored by the OKEO-TEX Sustainability Award and were the only textile company from China to have that distinction.

Panel discussion

It is always interesting to review the collections, once you’ve had adequate time to digest, and FGI’s Fashion Director Marylou Luther sifts through the trends, always puts the whole thing together in proper perspective, ending with a summary of the Best Bets (the trends most likely to go from runway to reality). This time around, they are: Coats (“the fashion must have of the season”, especially wraps and maxis); Outerwear (standouts include military inspired parkas); Shearling (“It’s the yearling of the shearling”); Fur; Leather; Knits; Turtlenecks; Comfort; Prints; Plaids; Intarsia; The Shopping Bag’; The Bucket Bag; The Sneaker-Cum-Running Shoe; The Bootie.

Mickey Boardman, Brooke Jaffe, Elizabeth Kanfer, Julie Gilhart, Marylou Luther

One advantage of attending the noontime showing is the interesting and lively panel discussion that follows. Panelists this time were Paper Magazine’s Mickey Boardman, Bloomingdales’ Brooke Jaffe, Saks Fifth Avenue’s Elizabeth Kanfer, and Julie Gilhart (a consultant who was formerly with Barneys New York). Special Guest Moderator was Fairchild Publication’s Bridget Foley who got everyone talking about a range of subjects from the emotion of fashion, the notion of trends, the power of accessories, designers, and the fashion show system.

Bridget Foley (BF): “What excited you most about the shows”? 
Mickey Boardman (MB): “The gift bags (that got a laugh from the audience). Sparkle. It’s a trend that never goes away for me ( he was wearing a black sequined cardigan and toting a humongous leopard printed bag trimmed with a heavy gold chain). “I also loved ankle boots.” 
Brooke Jaffe (BJ): “The novelty and special details.” 
Elizabeth Kanfer (EK): “The energy and emotion of the shows. The challenge for us is how to translate it for the customers. I also loved all the maximalism (shine, furs)” 
BF: “How do you sift through trends?” 
EK: “We need to find the best and edit. It comes from the gut. But of course, our customer feedback is key.” 
BJ: “We always think of our customers. For us, huge trends this season are layering and texture, and we have to educate the customer so she knows how to wear it.” 
MB: “We pick things we love and decide what’s best and then we fill in. For example, this season we love ‘The Villain’ (as in Public School’s cartoon villains), and Gareth Pugh touched on that as well And we thought YSL was the best show.” 
BF: “Do trends even exist?”

Julie Gilhart (JG): “Yes, but they are more related to lifestyle now.” 
BJ: “Yes. Our customer is looking for direction in trends and our job is to point them out.” 
BF: “There are over 600 shows. How do you find ‘the core’ of what is important?” 
BJ: You have to be a good editor, take a position, and have conviction. The trends we feel are key this season are shine and sparkle, and bold florals rather than graphics and geometrics (our customer is girlie).”  
EK: “We go with what we love. It’s the instant emotion of fashion that is important to communicate to the customer.” Bridget agreed that emotion is key in fashion. 
MB: “Yes, it is truly about the emotion but unfortunately, you really must see shows in person because you don’t get that on or You must be there. It’s those few times (those major fashion moments) that really keep you going.” 
BJ: “I got the chills when I saw the clouds at Marc Jacobs. It’s all about communication. The challenge is to communicate that emotion to the customer. It’s all about street style and runway, and not just runway.” 
EK: “Everything is now special. We have to educate the customer so that she understands why things have gotten more expensive.” 
BF: “Accessories have steered the ship for a longtime now. Is that positive?” 
JG: “I had a conversation with a major designer who was very frustrated because women are becoming so casual and simple, and tend to spend their money on handbags rather than fashion. Accessories are an easy way to do that.” Bridget agreed that the increasingly casual lifestyle is frustrating to fashion designers. 
BJ: “Accessories lead the charge and understandably because the customer wants fashion credit for recognizable status symbols that they can wear every day. The good news is that we were in a cycle of minimalism for so long and so this new maximalism is an interesting shift.” 
BF: “What does it mean to be fashionable today?”

MB: “How do you want to look? I think about that every day.” 
JG: “In the same way a merchant must take a stand and own that stand in order to be successful, the best dressed women take a stand and own it. You must have a look that is yours and nobody else’s.” 
BJ: “Regardless of the trends, the most fashionable women always look like themselves.”  
BF: “What about the fashion show system? Are there too many shows?” Everyone agreed there were. 
JG: “It’s excessive but there are exceptions. Last season (spring 2014), Rick Owens illustrated perfectly why you go to a show. It provided images that went all over the social media. And for fall 2014, Nicolas Guesquiere’s debut for Louis Vuitton was a benchmark collection”.

BF: Proving that the shows are important, “Miuccia Prada admitted that she gets ‘cracking’ for her runway shows.” 
MB: “There should be a certain criteria in order to have a show. As soon as you knit one sweater yourself, you think you should have a show. H&M does not need to stage a show during Fashion Week.” 
BF: “It’s harder and harder to be blown away when there are so many shows, but I love going to them because of the creativity. We are never ‘not looking’ at clothes it seems. The vast 90% of people should not be staging formal shows.” 
BJ: “There should at least be some rhyme and reason regarding location. Downtown shows and uptown shows should be scheduled more intelligently.”  
BF: “What excites you this season? What do you take away from the season?”

JG: “All the emerging talent. The new emerging designers and street culture brands. The key thing is to stay positive. Life is tough for everyone.”  
EK: “We are excited by new talent as well but we have to make sure the brand has the ability to produce and to work with us. It’s like a marriage. At Saks, we take a careful approach.” 
MB: “There are so many designers, the least amazing thing about them, are the clothes (this got a lot of laughs). Sometimes you just want someone nice and easy. If someone is really fabulous, I can put up with a difficult person.”  
BF: “What was the most compelling show of the season?” 
EK: “Fendi, Chanel, Givenchy.” 
JG: “Vuitton: it was more simple than I thought it would be with easy things to wear; Altuzarra, which was American Classic; Simone Rocha: she is living a legacy now; Givenchy (amazing dresses).” 
MB: “Givenchy; Prabal Gurung; Anna Sui (it was the first time she was ‘Chinese- y’); Valentino (I know I’m supposed to be a hipster but I couldn’t help it); Chanel (not the clothes as much as the energy)”. 
BJ: “Fendi, Gucci, Misha Nonoo, Chanel, for the energy, and I loved Michael Kors. Fabulous chunky knits and scarves, and the models always look happy, which they never seem to on other runways.” 

 Pharrell Williams Happy soundtrack from Dispicable Me 2

FYI, regarding all this talk about ‘happy’. The FGI audio visual presentation began with the soundtrack, ‘Happy Days are Here Again”, ended on a ‘happy’ note, and somewhere in the middle, featured tall hats that referenced Pharrell Williams. I (along with everyone else it seems), cannot get his contagious tune “Happy” out of our minds. Is it me, or does it seem to be a reaction to Alber Elbaz’s bold, statement making brass scripted ‘Happy’ necklaces that made their appearance for fall 2013 and were seen on some of the most fashionable necks around?

Marie Holman Rao, Liz Rodbell, & Kate Young

And continuing on with this sentiment, Lord and Taylor’s chief creative officer, Marie-Holman Rao, sure has a lot to be happy about these days, thanks to 424 Fifth, the fabric driven well priced (from $29 to $300 retail) private label collection. To properly celebrate, there was a formal launch on Thursday night, hosted by stylist Kate Young and the American Museum of Natural History with 10% of the sales going to benefit the museum.

Kate Young & Marie Holman Rao with models

Named for the store’s Manhattan address, 424 Fifth is “a compelling women’s brand, inspired by their rich heritage”, and it “offers a full lifestyle collection for the modern woman," according to Mary Turner, Executive Vice President of Specialty for Hudson's Bay Company, the parent of Lord & Taylor. Included are both everyday essentials and statement pieces, and for spring, the color palette is predominantly ivory and black with hits of electric color and a smattering of prints and patterns.

424 Fifth Cherry Red Skirt & crisp white button down shirt

Among the standouts: the vibrant cherry red full satin skirt and crisp white button down shirt; the black patent leather bomber jacket, white Supima cotton t shirt, and tweed pencil skirt; the ivory and black striped cropped jacket, black bralette top, and ivory faille midi skirt. The line is available at Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay stores, and online:;

-Marilyn Kirschner

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Better Bets: "Spring Fling"

Dooney & Bourke Pansy Leisure Tote:

This roomy carry all is a breath of spring in a coated cotton fabric that is covered with brightly colored flowers. Inside there are pockets to hold your wallet, cell phone and other essentials. The zip closure bag is available in three floral prints.

Available at: $198.00

Click for more "Spring Fling" Selections