Past Auction

Doyle New York's Auction of the Collection of Acclaimed Fashion Designer Adolfo Tops $500,000

Wed, Oct 15, 2014 at 10am EDT |
New York
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October 15, 2014 Total Surpasses Pre-Sale Estimate

  • October 15, 2014 Total Surpasses Pre-Sale Estimate
  • Auction Showcased Over 150 Lots of Furniture, Decorations and Old Master Paintings from the Designer's Elegant Home on New York's Fifth Avenue
  • Adolfo Dressed Many of the World's Best Dressed Women -- From the Duchess of Windsor to First Lady Nancy Reagan

NEW YORK, NY -- Doyle held the successful auction of the collection of acclaimed fashion designer Adolfo on October 15, 2014. In a career spanning fifty years, Adolfo created his signature suits, hats, dresses, coats and accessories for many of the world’s best dressed women, from the Duchess of Windsor to First Lady Nancy Reagan.

The Collection of Adolfo was presented as a special section of the October 15 sale of Important English and Continental Furniture and Decorations, including Old Master Paintings and Drawings. Highlighting the collection was a Roman life size basalt portrait head of a woman, circa 1st century A.D., that achieved $43,750, far surpassing its estimate of $5,000-7,000. Furniture in the collection featured a late 19th/early 20th century French gilt-bronze mounted mahogany table de milieu by Francois Linke that fetched $40,625, exceeding its estimate of $20,000-30,000. The design of the table was based upon the celebrated dressing table made for Marie-Antoinette by Adam Weisweller in 1784.

Topping the Old Master paintings in the collection was an early 19th century English School portrait of a Boy and His Dog in a Landscape, said to be the Duke of Sutherland, that sold for $28,125, over its estimate of $10,000-20,000. The charming painting depicted the young boy seated in a landscape, with his spaniel at his feet and a grand country seat in the distance.

With competitive bidding from the salesroom, the telephones and the Internet, the collection totaled $537,094, surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $287,100-462,400, with an exceptional 93% sold by lot and 97% sold by value.

Adolfo Faustino Sardiña was born in the town of Cárdenas near Cuba’s famed Varadero Beach. Following the early death of his mother, he was raised in Havana by his aunt, María López, and her husband, Teodoro, in their elegant French Neoclassical palacio near the Havana Country Club. Together with the sons of Cuba’s elite, he was educated by the Jesuits at the prestigious Colegio de Belén. His aunt, a woman of elegance and refined taste, traveled regularly to Paris to be dressed by Chanel and Balenciaga, and young Adolfo often accompanied her on these trips. This exposure to couture at a young age would inform his design sensibilities for the rest of his life.

In 1948, Adolfo left Cuba and moved to New York to begin his career in fashion. Following a millinery apprenticeship at Bergdorf Goodman, he went to Paris and apprenticed at Balenciaga. He returned to Bergdorf Goodman, where he directed the store’s millinery department. In 1953, he became a designer at Emme millinery and received the Coty Fashion Award in 1955 in recognition of his remarkable talent for creating innovative hats. In 1957, he traveled to Paris for a year-long apprenticeship. He returned to work as chief millinery designer for Emme, and in 1959, he was honored with the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award.

In 1962, with a loan of $10,000 from his friend, designer Bill Blass, Adolfo opened his own eponymous salon at 22 East 56th Street. The venture was an immediate success, and the loan was repaid in six months. The Duchess of Windsor, a friend of his aunt, was one of his first clients, followed by Babe Paley, Jacqueline Onassis, C.Z. Guest, Caroll Petrie, Gloria Vanderbilt, Brooke Astor, Pat Buckley, Nan Kempner, Betsy Bloomingdale, Nancy Reagan and other socially prominent women. Adolfo expanded into fashion, and in 1969, he was awarded a second Coty Fashion Award for his clothing and accessory designs. He created elegant evening gowns for his clients, but his true love was luxurious daywear, specifically the chic, refined suits and ensembles inspired by Chanel, which he introduced in the early 1970s. He was meticulous in the materials used in his salon. His knits and fabrics were ordered seasonally from the best mills in France and Switzerland, and his buttons were manufactured in France to his specifications.

Adolfo’s semiannual fashion shows, held first at the St. Regis and later at the Plaza, attracted a who’s who of the social elite. Rather than focusing on showcasing radically new collections at these events, Adolfo preferred a gradual evolution of design. He wanted his clients to feel the sensation of comfortable familiarity when trying on a new suit, as if it evoked the memory of a favorite piece from their past.

Adolfo’s custom designs became available at special Adolfo boutiques in Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store in New York, as well as in their Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago and Washington, DC stores. He traveled semiannually to each location for personal appearances, which were enormously successful at driving sales. In the 1970s, Adolfo expanded his business to include perfume and menswear, for which he received a Coty Fashion Award nomination in 1977, and in 1981 he moved his salon to 36 East 57th Street.   

Adolfo’s fame soared when First Lady Nancy Reagan chose to wear ensembles by the designer at both of her husband’s presidential inaugurations. Adolfo was introduced to Mrs. Reagan in 1966, and the two have remained close friends ever since. The bright red dress, coat and hat ensemble that he designed for the 1981 inauguration was a particular favorite. Subsequent Adolfo outfits in red worn by the First Lady led to the popular description of that color as “Nancy Reagan Red.” For the 1985 inauguration -- in a departure from the expected red -- she chose a bright blue dress, coat and hat ensemble by the designer. She once remarked that his clothes are so beautifully made they could be worn inside out.

In the midst of his success, Adolfo decided to close his salon in 1994 and focus on his licensing business. His clients, many of whom had been wearing his clothes since the 1960s, were inconsolable, and the press lamented the retirement of a much-loved and admired fashion icon.

The auction on October 15 offered approximately 150 lots of furniture, decorations and Old Master paintings from Adolfo’s elegant home on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Over the past sixty years, Adolfo employed his astute eye for quality and design in assembling this remarkable collection. Each piece was individually chosen by the designer to occupy a unique place in his home. Portraits of elegantly dressed aristocrats of the Ancien Régime line the walls of the expansive grand salon, and French giltwood bergeres and fauteuils are arranged for intimate conversations. In designing the interiors of his home -- as he did with his signature suits -- Adolfo has created a sensation of luxury that feels comfortably familiar, perhaps evoking the elegant French Neoclassical palacio of his youth.     

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