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Inside Pharrell’s Celebrity Auction House Gamble

Louis Vuitton’s giant monogram luggage piece is already selling for tens of thousands of dollars on the resale market. But do you know what makes a suitcase even more valuable? If it previously belonged to Pharrell Williams.

Late last year, the Grammy winner and men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton expanded his already busy schedule by opening his own auction house, Joopiter.

The company’s first sale came from Williams’ possessions, including a 3-foot-long Louis Vuitton suitcase that brought $121,250, well above the high estimate of $35,000. Other lots included a Jacob & Co. NERD pendant necklace that sold for $2.18 million (purchased from fellow rapper Drake), a gold Audemars Piguet wristwatch that sold for $187,500, and a one-of-a-kind gold-plated fancy BlackBerry phone that fetched $45,000.

“I’ve been given so many things that I can’t keep up with,” said Williams, who visited New York this month from his home in Paris. “I feel like they would be better in other hands and would enrich other people’s lives.”

Williams tends to dream on a mega-scale — his first Louis Vuitton show included a Jay Z appearance that shut down a major Paris artery. And when Williams went into Marie Kondo mode, he wasn’t content to simply dump his excess collectibles at Sotheby’s like other stars have done. Instead, he founded his own auction house and then hired executives who worked at Christie’s and Sotheby’s to help organize his sales. It was the equivalent of buying the casino on the auction market instead of throwing a few quarters into the slot machine.

“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this isn’t an isolated incident,'” Williams said. “I’m going to do this and give my friends a platform.” The name Joopiter comes from Williams’ interest in astrology.

Since that first sale last November, the stocks have been used for further sales by friends such as Sarah Andelman, the world-renowned fashion expert, Lorraine Schwartz, the jeweler to the stars, and most recently the Japanese fashion designer who creates at Kenzo in Nigo.

Williams said celebrity backgrounds are a bidding factor. He imagined a bidder’s thought process: “This is the jacket that person wore. Can I wear this jacket? Will I feel like this if I wear this jacket?”

The launch of Joopiter is a signal of a changing auction market. Shoppers are getting younger and their tastes are changing accordingly. In 2022, Sotheby’s reported a record number of bidders under the age of 40, while auction house Phillips said nearly a third of its buyers were millennials. Established auction houses have now sponsored auctioneers who can specialize in guitars, Nikes, sports jerseys and watches. What is a Basquiat to one person is a pair of Jay-Z signed Bape Sta sneakers to another.

Additionally, celebrity ownership continues to be a constant draw for bidders. This summer, Sotheby’s held a blockbuster auction of Freddie Mercury’s estate. Days later, Princess Diana’s sheep sweater sold for over $1 million. This month, Christie’s sold a copy of “The Great Gatsby” owned by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts for more than $280,000.

Joopiter charges a 25% buyer’s premium on items sold, which is standard for larger auction houses. The Nigo auction, which ended last week, had a 100% sell-out rate, with 80% of the pieces selling above their high estimates. Nigo’s own Louis Vuitton trunks and a white gold and diamond pendant from Jacob & Co. sold with the hammer for $180,000 and $260,000, respectively, before the house accepted its commission.

To survive as a long-term company that can compete with centuries-old institutions like Sotheby’s, Joopiter needs to position itself as more than just a celebrity clearinghouse.

In May, Joopiter brought in Caitlin Donovan, a Christie’s veteran, as head of global sales. This month, John Auerbach, who worked at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, started as CEO. At a preview of the house’s latest auction this month in downtown New York, Auerbach – dressed in a smart navy Dior jacket – stood next to Williams in his heavy Louis Vuitton varsity jacket.

In addition to the Andelman and Nigo auctions, Joopiter held a sale of works by the late American painter Ernie Barnes that had never before been publicly exhibited. The highlight of this auction was “Mentors,” a 2008 Barnes painting depicting a group of black men huddled together that sold for $187,500.

“It’s nice to be making sales for Pharrell’s really impressive friends, but I think Joopiter is going for longevity and the big vision is much bigger,” Donovan said.

Nevertheless, due to its founder, Joopiter’s core audience is likely to continue to be those interested in rare sneakers, Paul Bunyan chains, works by artists who have collaborated with Dior or Louis Vuitton (Takashi Murakami, Kaws, Daniel Arsham) and clothing more displayed than worn.

This premier Barnes auction was followed by “Chasing Grails,” an auction that featured three different Nike Dunk prototypes that each sold for up to $37,500.

“I don’t think we’ll necessarily compete with a traditional house for a rare book auction,” Donovan said. As she describes it, Joopiter is interested in “sales that have cultural relevance and are more likely to appeal to the modern collector.” .”

Williams, with his glittering Rolodex, is well-positioned to score big-name sales.

“Pharrell started this, and I wanted to support it,” Nigo said during a preview of his Joopiter sale “From Me To You,” surrounded by his artifacts including a pair of size 54 Levi’s Rodeo Clown jeans and a quintet of Peanuts sweatshirts from the 1960s. They sold last week for $10,000 and $6,250 respectively.

The New York preview of the auction was tied to a pop-up for Nigo’s streetwear label Human Made, which drew scores of buyers who both snapped up $225 hoodies and caught a glimpse of rare Chanel Reebok sneakers, which ultimately sold for $11,250.

As he got older, Nigo said his tastes changed — less Levi’s, more pottery — and he decided it was time to clean things up. (He had previously hosted three sales at Sotheby’s.)

Nigo said the 60 items in his Joopiter auction represented only about 1% of his archive. “These days I don’t look at things as much, but it’s all stored on the hard drive in my head,” he said.

At the preview, Donovan said she hoped she could convince Nigo to offer more of his inventory for future auctions, particularly his Pierre Jeanneret furniture.

According to the company, Joopiter plans to open an online marketplace in the future that will operate between auctions – bringing the company even closer to a Pharrellified eBay. Williams said, “My friends aren’t just in my immediate circle.” In other words, if you have a pair of rodeo clown jeans lying around, you might as well be his friend.

Write to Jacob Gallagher at [email protected]

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