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Succession sparks a bidding war

12 January 2024

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Rakewell has always had a penchant for auctions: the way prices suddenly balloon; the lightning-quick decisions; the bravura and coaxing of the auctioneer to get the deal done; the rivalry between bidders. It’s almost like an episode of Succession. So imagine Rakewell’s delight to discover that HBO is auctioning off the props and costumes from its hit show on 13 January in an online auction at Heritage.

The drama about fictional media moguls the Roys and their internal battles to keep control of the family media conglomerate has a claim to being one of the best television dramas of the 21st century. But TV studios didn’t used to allow their prize properties out into the open quite so quickly. The Roys would never cash in on an asset so quickly, would they?

There is something surprising in scrolling through the accumulated stuff of lives never really lived. The sight of Tom Wambsgans’ lanyard (bid at time of writing: $1,950), or the issue of Forbes magazine with Kendall Roy on the cover (coverline: ‘The heir with the flair’) is a bit like walking the decks of the Mary Celeste, only this is an abandoned version of midtown New York. Needless to say, the lot that has attracted the highest bids is something that ‘belonged’ to Logan Roy. His office bar – the day before the auction closes – is tracking as the top lot with a bid of $6,750. Who wouldn’t want to be able to say they shared a scotch with Logan, as it were. A funeral speech on pink index cards (Rakewell shall say no more out of respect for those who are lucky enough not to have seen it yet) is another coveted prize, with bidding currently at $6,500.

Some of the titles of the lots suggest a certain wry respect for what was shown on screen – for instance, a ‘ludicrously capacious Burberry bag’ – while others are delicious in their deadpan factuality (e.g., ‘Ralph Lauren, Zegna, and Canali Men’s suits. Original (5) men’s suits’). Note to anyone looking to update their menswear – this could be the auction for you, although sizes are quite varied.

Given that the show was so dedicated to recreating the way the one per cent live, it is surprising that there is not a whisper of Loro Piano or Brunello Cucinelli among the auction lots. The most glamorous name is probably Lanvin and they haven’t been at the top of their fashion game for a while. Poor Roman Roy seems to have had the dowdiest wardrobe. Suit Supply, Ted Baker and even Walmart are the source of his clothes (the T shirt he wore in Barbados set certain influencers agog with excitement – it was from the children’s department at Walmart. Current bid: $1,150, an excellent investment). Even Greg got to wear Calvin Klein. Shiv’s suits from designers such as Pinko, Ralph Lauren and Max Mara are a lesson in power dressing that might well be inspirational for women who want to own the boardroom but they hardly push the boat out. Max Mara is a lesson in safe, elegant cutting. Rakewell is disappointed that more outré items, such as Frank’s compression socks, don’t seem to be available at auction.

Wonderful as it is to see the engraved dragons on Kendall’s zippo lighter (current bid: $875), Rakewell can’t help but think this is all a little bit strange. What exactly are people buying with this auction? Rakewell was as much an addict of the Roys’ antics as the most avid fan but he is quite content to leave them in the world of imagination.

Fans have always wanted a slice of the action, but what happens when it goes too far? In 2015 Cannon Hall museum, near Barnsley, staged an exhibition of costumes from Downton Abbey in their period rooms. Fans clamoured to catch a glimpse of them. They happily commented on ‘the dress that Lady Mary wore’. All good fun, except that Lady Mary didn’t really wear it as Lady Mary didn’t really exist. Lady Mary was just a character played by Michelle Dockery. It probably doesn’t matter too much if people start confusing real life with TV drama but as the Succession auction shows, maybe it matters a bit. Maybe it’s actually quite an expensive problem not to know the difference between reality and fiction. Or maybe we should be more Roy about it and just make a better deal.

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