Bloomberg News

Liz Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’ Robe, Wedding Gown Set Fashion Record

December 15, 2011

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Elizabeth Taylor’s glittery designer gowns, rhinestone-adorned tops and feather capes raised $2.6 million at Christie’s International in New York yesterday, a record for a fashion auction.

The haute-couture evening sale from the estate of the actress, who died this year, lasted more than three hours as telephone and online bidders from China to Minnesota fought for a piece of the Hollywood icon’s famous wardrobe. All 67 lots sold, some beating their high estimates by more than 60 times.

“To own a piece worn by Elizabeth Taylor, the last of the glamorous, great movie stars, is priceless,” said Fern Mallis, fashion industry consultant, who attended the sale. “There are people who buy it as collectors. Vintage clothing is like buying art these days, it will only increase in value.”

The fashion sale followed a record auction of the Hollywood star’s jewels that tallied $137.2 million over two days, including a 50.6-carat pearl given to Taylor by her husband Richard Burton, that sold for $11.8 million on Dec. 13.

The top lot in yesterday’s evening sale was a signed 1964 Andy Warhol lithograph depicting Taylor on a red background with green eye-shadow and red lipstick, inscribed “To Elizabeth, with much love.” Estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, it surged to $662,500.

The priciest fashion lot was a Christian Dior gown of silver-encrusted brocade with a matching purse. They fetched $362,500, compared with a $6,000 high estimate. Taylor wore the ensemble to the annual ball in France given by Guy de Rothschild and his wife.

‘Crazy’ Sale

“It’s crazy,” said Linda Yellen, who was a producer of “Sweet Bird of Youth,” a 1989 melodrama in which the actress starred. “It just shows you how much wealth there is to have some piece of the magic that she represented.”

Michael Steinhardt, an art collector and former hedge-fund manager, walked into the salesroom mid-way through the evening with his wife Judy. Sitting in the front row, he bid through a representative for Taylor’s black velvet “Scorpio” cape by Tiziani that she wore to Princess Grace of Monaco’s 40th “Scorpio” ball on Nov. 15, 1969. It ended up going to an Internet bidder for $60,000, more than 20 times the high presale estimate.

Steinhardt, chairman of Wisdomtree Investments Inc., had more luck with a pair of cascading rock crystal and gold ear pendants by Gucci. The room erupted with applause when his winning bid of $60,000 ($74,500 with commission) brought down the auctioneer’s gavel. The result exceeded the piece’s low estimate by 30 times.

Botswana Wedding Dress

“He is really the best husband in the world,” Judy Steinhardt said after the sale. “There’s never a dull moment.”

Taylor (1932-2011) was married eight times, including twice to her “Cleopatra” co-star Burton. The flowing dress by Gina Fratini she wore at her second wedding to Burton in Botswana in 1975 sold for $62,500.

Earlier in the day, the gold and diamond rings given to Taylor by Burton upon their marriages in 1964 and 1975 sold for $1.02 million, against a high estimate of $8,000.

An embroidered saffron-yellow chiffon robe made for her role as Cleopatra by costume designer Irene Sharaff brought in $62,500, while a Versace beaded bolero jacket, embroidered with rhinestone portraits of Taylor in her famous roles, including Cleopatra, fetched $128,500. The actress wore it to the “Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness” in April 1992.

“What instantly comes to mind is how incredible and brave she was to take a stand on AIDS when no one was acknowledging it,” said Mallis. “She was there from the very beginning and helped raise millions and millions of dollars for it.”

A portion of profits generated by admissions, events and select publications related to the sales will be donated to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, Christie’s said.

Prices include buyers’ commission, while estimates don’t.

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

--Editors: Adam Majendie, Linus Chua.

To contact the reporter of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at kkazakina@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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