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Friday, May 2, 2008

Stylist Haidee Findlay-Levin hits Saturday@Phillips...

When I received an invitation from my friend Cynthia Leung, Phillips de Pury’s new press officer, to preview an auction called Saturday@Phillips, my interest was piqued. Not only was it aimed at a young audience, but it was also breaking new ground in the auction world with the introduction of a Contemporary Fashion category. Curious, I flipped through the glossy catalog, which featured tastemakers Irina Lazareanu (uber-cool model/singer) and Simon Hammerstein (of The Box cabaret). Clearly, this was going to be a different kind of auction.

The catalog also confirmed the art was not going to disappoint. There were your typically auction-worthy works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, but also a beautiful C-print by the man of the moment, Richard Prince, estimated between $6000 and $8000. Just as dangerous was a great woodcut by Alex Katz, of whom I have always been a big fan. Things got especially interesting when I turned a page and saw a Larry Clark bookplate of provocative portraits, estimated at a mere $800-$1200. I was starting to feel the pull, the desire to fight to the end for something I didn’t plan on buying. What with all the paintings by Lisa Yuskavage and Karen Kilimnik, I could feel my temperature rising—and this was just the catalog. I felt like one of those old-timey housewives on a Sears mailing list.

I took a deep breath and leafed a bit more, in search of more photography, another weakness of mine. There were some Nan Goldens, a non-naked picture by Robert Mapplethorpe (of a tree) and a great Tierney Gearon, whose work I could imagine living with. I was amused to see a shot I remembered well from L’Uomo Vogue, by Steven Meisel, of a boy in his underwear lying on a carpet in front of a wood-paneled wall. Was this not Calvin Klein's controversial kiddie-porn ad removed from Times Square? Similar, at any rate, and a steal at a maximum estimate of $1200.

Seeing all this in a catalog was clearly not the point, so I went along to the preview just days before the auction. I walked around the carefully curated rooms and noticed a strong Japanese influence, with pieces by Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara (whose sculpture sold for four times its estimate) and the more obscure Aya Takano. There were also bondage and semi-nude photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki. Most interesting of all, and what made this auction so unusual, was the large selection of toys—mostly Japanese. The last time I was in Tokyo, I was introduced by my client, Naoki Takazawa, to the obsessive Otaku culture of anime collecting. Even then I was amazed at the hundreds and thousands of dollars some of these art toys could fetch. Here, there were Two Pink Twins, a Darth Vader companion and Dada Rah—all made by Kaws for Medicom Toys. Yet the highlight and rarest of Kaws' toys was Dissected (pictured here), which looked like a tribute to Damien Hirst. I also loved the action-figure set from Daft Punk, complete with Hedi Slimane-designed leather outfits. The detail was extraordinary, down to the very last zipper and belt buckle. I was later told that the actual auction price for this was an astounding $3125.

One of the central concepts of Saturday@Phillips is the introduction of contemporary fashion and jewelry, with each piece specially and exclusively designed for the auction. Electric Feathers, designed by Leana Zuniga, is the first featured line. I have to be honest here and say that there are few designers I haven't heard of, but this is one of them. At the preview, I was introduced to Leana by Phoebe Stephens, the Fashion Specialist at Phillips. (What a job title.) Almost on cue, a friend of the designer appeared wearing an Electric Feathers dress made from purple-washed raw silk. Most of the pieces were convertible in some way. Some were tunics or ponchos that could be worn as coats or dresses. Others were in silk ikat or woven cotton, and had tubular straps attached to them that could be maneuvered in different ways to turn a skirt into a mini-dress or vice versa. There was an earthy, handcrafted quality to the clothes, reminding me a bit of 70’s Koos van den Acker or old Plantation by Issey Miyake, minus the volumes. Leana previously had a store in Alphabet City, so the aesthetic started to fall into place.

Saturday finally rolled around, and while I had to miss the morning action, I wanted to make the 2:00 to see some of the aforementioned art go on the block. But mostly, and for curiosity's sake, I wanted to see the outcome of the toys and clothes. I promised myself that my wallet would stay tucked away in my bag and my hands firmly planted in my lap. For me, this would be window shopping only, despite the welcome rush that accompanies an auction (and which is quite different from a memory I have fighting with Jill Stuart over a dress in a vintage store—she won). I noticed one excessively tanned, blonde woman with a bandanna, whose orange arm went up for almost everything, but particularly for the Japanese art and toys. (At one point I raised my arm to adjust my glasses, when, in a fit of panic that it could be misread, I dropped my hand and sank in my chair like a child caught talking in class.) By the time the clothes were up, the room had unfortunately thinned out, and I was worried the Electric Feathers pieces wouldn't do well. Yet there seemed to be someone pretty interested on the phone, bidding against the orange woman on the floor. In the end, the most expensive piece, a handmade chain-mail vest, went for $938, while the majority of dresses went for a minimum of $250. This all seemed reasonable to me.

After the auction, I asked Phoebe if she were disappointed with some of the results, but she insisted she was not. A good percentage had sold, she said, and some at really good prices. She assured me that Electric Feathers would become more collectible, especially since it would soon be stocked at Dover Street Market. Besides, this was the first of its kind, and just like those long-gone thrift store finds, it was paving the way to a whole new shopping experience. I left the auction relieved I had survived unscathed, but with a head still buzzing with adrenalin and thoughts of lost opportunities.

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