Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Douglas Fairbanks Auction - No Thank You

I have been watching half-heartedly since word got out that it would happen.  I received several generous invitations from organizers and individuals to attend some of the preamble concerning the auction.  While I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of both the sum and the parts of the clothing items, I can't seem to be anything other than repelled by the estate auction.

I love old clothing, family hand-me-downs and thrift store finds.  I also have many great jackets, ties, scarves, pocket-squares etc. from elderly friends who though (correctly) that I would appreciate them.  I do.

As for his collection, it is impressive, and is a snapshot of an era that will never again exist, including landmark firms that have gone extinct.  Men's style bloggers write about this subject at great length and to sometimes intense debate and the auction is very in-the-moment.  It is appropriate to mention it and to take the opportunity to salute a great style heavyweight from a romanticized period.

What is being left out of the discussion is the fact that it is being auctioned off in the first place.  Was there not a single relative, friend, God-child, heir, etc. who could lovingly take respectable stewardship of these things, ensuring that they remain in appropriately sentimental hands?  Perhaps the seductive power of liquidation was too great to overcome.

As for buying the clothing... then what?  Wear the blazer around to parties, letting everyone know that it was from Douglas Fairbanks?  It would be a barely tolerable conversation piece if it had been a gift to you from his family ("Doug was very fond of your father, and he would have wanted you to have this"), but to then disclose that you bought it in an auction as a salivating gawker makes the name-dropping unforgivable.  Fairbanks was an impressively decorated Naval officer in the century's most epic conflict, famous actor with unbelievable personal stories, and man of the world, achievements that were earned, and not purchased at auction.

In our typically pleasant exchange, another writer of a blog was also a bit off-put, and likened the enthusiasm to "vultures dancing on a carcass", "itching to swan around" in one of the purchased suits from the Fairbanks estate.  I agree.

If Doyles produces a glossy catalog, it will be worth sending away for, but for God's sake, imagine that it was your family, and you were now witnessing the looting of beloved items at the hands of unsentimental heirs one generation closer to the deceased than you, gleefully dissolved by overseas collectors and the smug rapping of an auctioneer's gavel.


  1. This one is tough, because I know my own personal feelings on it and hope that others share somewhat the same thoughts. This particular auction has turned into such a spectacle / trainwreck, though, that I think most people with the best intentions are going to be outbid by those who want to flaunt and strut.

    I've been to lots of estate sales and auctions, some where relatives are even hanging around and sometimes glumly watching things sell for less than they should be going for. I've been the recipient of some of these items, and I try to at least express my appreciation if possible.

    I specifically remember one sale where a family member saw me with a dozen ties or so and exclaimed, "Look at those! You'll be the best-dressed fellow in town!" I replied that I only hoped to do so, and chatted with them a bit, telling them that a lot of what I enjoy wearing is decades old and how it's hard to find anything of decent quality anymore without spending an arm and a leg. In a world of flippers and pickers, it was the least I could do to let them know that yes, someone cares about something that their family member owned, and that they would try to continue to add to the story of that particular textiles existence.

    Sorry if that doesn't make any sense. I hope it does.

  2. Couldn't disagree more. His wife and daughters have kept the items they want kept in the family, while the rest is being put to auction to raise money for film school scholarships. So where's the rub? She's happy to see the stuff go and sees no need to keep his boxes in the basement, so to speak. Her memories are of the man, not his kit. I would re-cast this as more of a celebration (a tribute) to the guy's style and gentlemanly demeanor, and his one-of-a-kind status in Mayfair. So what if some monied poseur openly struts around in his Lobbs?

    I was at a wedding in France where a guy sauntered around in a pair of Sinatra's white loafers (I think gator). He was neither boastful nor showy, just dropped their provenance into his chat but with a wink. It was charming, and fun. - JP

  3. Looks like an interesting discussion about what is appropriate is manifesting. Find myself sympathetic to all sides so far... I think I'll pop some corn and get a soda.

  4. In the case of my own family, my mother's and father's things were sold at auction because their estate ended up in the hands of a professional administrator who had no interest in the sentimental value of the estate. If any family members wanted an item, they had to buy them at the auction just like any other bidder.

    That probably was not the case here, but I did want to add that sometimes the physical estate is out of the hands of the eventual heirs.

    Any time money is "in play", the buzzards come out.

  5. Very well put in contrast to my own tepidly expressed concerns about this dilemma/topic. The auction is tomorrow. Keep us posted.

  6. I absolutely concur that bidding to acquire the personal attire and items of the Fairbanks' estate is tasteless, however trying to find an antique painting, furniture, or book shouldn't be categorized on the same level. Nothing wrong with these antiques staying in the hands of those who appreciate timeless value.

    In "Old Money America: Aristocracy in the Age of Obama" by John H. Forbes, one can deduce that many of these families will auction the estate and collections out of financial necessity, but also from personal disdain for everything those stood for. The grandchildren sees these estates as money pits and items as symbols of their decline.

  7. Well said. One enjoys old things and old clothes, but, like the previous commentator said, this seems tasteless.

  8. It *is* tasteless, as today's postings at certain style blogs would confirm. Even the guy at ASW, who seems above this sort of thing, gets in on the act. "Gentlemen", indeed.


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