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André Leon Talley’s estate auction attracted people seeking a piece of history

Sale of the fashion editor’s belongings raised money for churches in Harlem and North Carolina

Three days after Rihanna closed out her Super Bowl halftime performance in an Alaia coat that appeared to be a tribute to fashion editor André Leon Talley, his own bright red Norma Kamali Sleeping Bag coat sold at auction for $25,200.

The auction house Christie’s sold a collection of Talley’s belongings after a portion of the offerings completed a three-city tour through Palm Beach, Florida, Paris, and New York. There, 66 lots (individual objects or a group of objects offered for sale as a single unit) were auctioned live. Another 350 lots were sold in an online auction that ended Thursday.

Talley, one of the most prominent Black men in the fashion world, died at 73 in January 2022 of complications of COVID-19. He began his career working for Diana Vreeland at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and went on to work for Interview magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, and, finally, Vogue. There, he served as fashion news director, creative director and ultimately editor at large, working side by side with Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

The memorabilia provided a look at Talley’s private life. There were couture pieces given to him by designers, a selection of Talley’s signature caftans, monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage and photographs of supermodels autographed by Chanel’s former creative director Karl Lagerfeld.

The goal of the auction was to raise money for the two places Talley called home: Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York, and Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, where he was raised.

For Black people, the auction was a chance to see history up close and many came to see the items displayed in Christie’s museumlike exhibit.

Hilliard Jones flew in from Atlanta hoping to buy a caftan that designer Dapper Dan designed for Gucci. He’s celebrating a birthday soon and thought the piece would be appropriate for the occasion.

“I want a piece of history,” Jones said before the auction started. 

“The energy in here was so heavy,” Jones said of seeing Talley’s things on display. He likened it to a memorial. “It’s an overwhelming feeling when you’re walking around, seeing the clothing, seeing the bags and the shoes, seeing the furniture. Like, wow, like, this Black man is an icon, a maverick, and I’m truly excited to be here.”

Designer Brandon Blackwood said he believed it was important to support the auction and he hoped to snag a piece of Black excellence.

“André Leon Talley was a huge influence to Black fashion and Black designers,” he said. 

“When you walk through his things you can see not only his whole career but the relationships he had,” Blackwood said. “The pieces really embody who he was: larger than life. You could really see his influence in fashion just through his belongings.”

Blackwood hoped to get the Karl Lagerfeld drawing of Talley and two personalized trunks. “I’m hoping to snag at least one of them to turn into a coffee table for my office.”

The live auction opened with a trio of Talley’s straw boater hats. Originally estimated to bring in around $800, they went for $6,048 to an online bidder. 

The day’s big ticket items included three works by Andy Warhol that fetched $94,500, $94,500, and $44,100, respectively; a pair of Stephen Sprouse x Louis Vuitton briefcases made only for the runway (a gift from then creative director Marc Jacobs), which went for $69,300; and a set of three personalized hardsided Louis Vuitton monogram suitcases that sold for $94,500. A personalized Louis Vuitton monogram wardrobe trunk went for $37,800.

Fashion commentator Audrey Smaltz was there too, jotting down how much each of the pieces sold for. After the auction, she said she was surprised at how quickly the prices jumped. 

There were 19 Christie’s employees on a raised platform to the right of the auctioneer relaying bids coming in by phone and from people from all over the world who were following the live auction online. Christie’s noted that more than 800 people from more than 24 countries had registered to bid. Only a handful of sales happened in the room. But with every gavel bang signaling the end of a sale, it felt solemn.

Jones and Blackwood were each outbid for the items they hoped to buy. (Blackwood was able to win a 20th century Senufo chair.)

In a little over three hours, the items sold Wednesday brought in more than $1.38 million. The online portion of the sale brought in $2,167,704.  

Because it’s impossible to put a dollar amount on a legacy that large, Alexis E. Thomas, the executor of Talley’s estate, said the next phase will be placing items that weren’t sold into Black museums across the country.

Channing Hargrove is a senior writer at Andscape covering fashion. That’s easier than admitting how strongly she identifies with the lyrics “Single Black female addicted to retail.”