A Conversation With Celebrity Auction Expert Nan Valentino

The joint was jumping at Michael’s today with plenty of familiar faces (Kathie Lee Gifford, Henry Schleiff, Fern Mallis) and a few long-time-no-see Michael’s loyalists (Welcome back, Joe Armstrong and David Zinczenko) trading plenty of air-kisses. The power lunch lives!

I was really looking forward to today’s lunch with Nan Valentino and Mozell Miley-Bailey for a few reasons. First off, we’re all ‘former People people’ as we alumni of the Time Inc. title refer to ourselves. I first met Nan when she was handling communications for People and worked with her many times over the course of her 12 (!) year career. When she departed Time Inc. in March 2015, Nan had risen through the ranks and was SVP Corporate Communications and Brand Development for news, sports, entertainment and fashion.

What I didn’t know was prior to her stellar career at People, Nan had an equally accomplished 12-year run at Christie’s where she founded the house’s ‘Popular Arts’ department and specialized in all things celebrity. She was responsible for the blockbuster Marilyn Monroe auction and managed Princess Diana’s headline-making ‘Dresses’ sale. “It was an exciting time because suddenly it became socially acceptable for celebrities to sell their things,” said Nan. And how.

Since January of this year, Nan has returned to the auction world as COO of Julien’s Auctions, the record breaking house which handled the sales of Marilyn Monroe’s happy birthday Mr. President dress ($4.8 million dollars!) and Michael Jackson’s white glove, both of which garnered them two Guinness Book of World Records.

“They have a totally different take on the business and that intrigued me,” said Nan. “Not every sale is done in the same way. They disrupted the model.” With much of the staff working remotely, the house is based in Culver City on the Hayden Tract and hosts sales all over the world and live streams auctions where online viewers can watch in real time and bid live against bidders in the room and on the phone or place bids online. “In certain sales, as much as 70 percent of buyers bid online,” said Nan. “Julien’s use of technology is what makes them a different kind of auction house.”

Fans of movie memorabilia – particularly those glittering (faux!) gems worn by legends like Vivien Leigh, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis and, of course, Elizabeth Taylor along with countless other stars – will want to fire up their laptops if they can’t hop a plane to the West Coast for two incredible auction events at Julien’s Auctions. On November 18, “Property from Joseff of Hollywood: Treasures from the Vault,” a stunning collection of Hollywood costume jewelry will head to the auction block live and online. Nan brought along the gorgeous – and hefty – catalog which includes too many memorable pieces for sale to count. A sampling: the simulated diamond chandelier brooch Bette Davis wore in “All About Eve” and the gold-plated clip on earrings with filigree spheres and simulated diamonds worn by Marilyn Monroe in the famous publicity stills for “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and the gold-plated hammer textured cuff worn by Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra.”

And for “Gone With the Wind” fans, Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara necklaces and Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler cigar case from “Gone with the Wind” are up for sale. The book, which must weigh five pounds, is as grand as the icons it celebrates and juxtaposes the jewelry with photos of the stars and movie stills. It’s worthy of the chicest coffee tables (that where I’m putting mine). And here’s a fun fact: many of the pieces Joseff created were worn by multiple stars. The same gold-plated tiara Bette Davis wore to play Elizabeth I was worn six years later by Ginger Rogers in a studio publicity photo. In this Rent the Runway era, it turns out Joseff was way ahead of his time.

On November 17, “Icons & Idols: Hollywood and More” will feature a more eclectic array of showbiz and celebrity relics including the largest collection of Judy Garland’s costumes, a Nobel Prize medal, Marilyn Monroe’s screenplay for Breakfast at Tiffany’s (she was Truman Capote’s first choice for the role!) JFK’s commissioned rocking chair, Evel Knieval’s motorcycle and jackets, Neil Armstrong’s space glove and, wait for it — the wedding cake souvenir from Donald Trump’s wedding to Melania.

I asked Nan, who now commutes between coasts, if toiling in publishing helps her in her current position. “I’m so much better at what I do because of my 12 years at Time Inc.,” said Nan.” I understand the power of a brand and how to position its strength.” We talked about the seismic changes that have occurred in publishing over the past few years and I asked her to weigh in on the future of magazines and the people who run them. “Today everybody is a journalist, everybody is a photographer,” she said. “But there will always be a need for curated content.” Then added, “I get my news online.”

For those people looking for a career change Nan advised, “You have to reinvent yourself. The key is to take those skills you learned and apply them to another industry.” But, she warned, those opportunities aren’t exactly falling from the sky. “If you’re in a legacy business, there is a small window and if you don’t jump through, it kind of shuts.”

Seen & Heard Around the Dining Room

Jane Pauley (who we love on CBS Sunday Morning) with husband cartoonist Gary Trudeau with two folks we didn’t recognize on Table One … Peter Brown at his usual spot on Two … I was thrilled to see ‘Mayor’ Joe Armstrong back in town (he decamped to Plano, Texas a while back after 27 years in the big city) with his good pal David Zinczenko who, in addition to running his own hotter than hot media company, Galvanized, is back at the Today show giving expert advice on health and fitness after a nice run on Good Morning America.

These two guys always have a lot going on, so I stopped by Table Three for a quick catch up. Joe told me he is in town for a three-day visit to raise money for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang’s Jordan River Village in Israel. The camp is for seriously ill children from Israel, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East where kids are sadly dealing with illness and, in some cases, PTSD. A little birdie also told me Dave has some big doings in the works, but my lips are sealed …

Moving onLeonard Lauder at Table Four … Kathie Lee Gifford, looking fabulous, and Eva Mohr were enjoying some of KLG’s own chardonnay and then Kathie sent some over to Joe and Dave’s table. How thoughtful … The ‘Imber Gang’: Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer enjoying the weekly ‘boys’ lunch’ on Six …New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia at his usual perch with Paul McDonnell and his father, Ed, on Table Eight. The McDonnell’s are the former owners of Seagrams. Just thought you’d like to know.

And there’s more Jack Myers with some media folks on Twelve …Jimmy Buffet (yes, that Jimmy Buffet) on Fourteen … Steven Haft, who arrived with his own coffee from Starbucks …Barry Frey on Seventeen … Henry Schleiff on Eighteen … On Table Twenty: Fashionista Fern Mallis, who will be interviewing designer Eileen Fisher at the 92nd Street Y on December 5, with former Page Six-er Paula Froelich, who has been writing some editorials for The New York Post and is as busy as ever with her “A Broad Abroad”, her award-winning travel and lifestyle site. See you next Wednesday!

Diane Clehane

Diane Clehane is a leading authority on celebrity and royalty who has written for Vanity Fair, People, and many other national outlets. She is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, including Diana: The Secrets of Her Style and Imagining Diana. She appears regularly on CNN.

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