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August 22 2014

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Elizabeth Taylor: The Collector

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“I wanted to share my collection with others so they could get a glimpse of the joys, the thrills, and the pure happiness that these beautiful creations have given me,” Elizabeth Taylor once said. It’s a line that now covers one of the purple walls at Christie’s New York, where the Hollywood legend’s jewels, clothes, handbags, and artwork have arrived after a two-month-long world tour. There’s the expected bling and baubles, most notably the Cartier Taj Mahal diamond (bidding to begin at $300,000), the 33.19-carat diamond ring Richard Burton bought her in 1968 (they were married—for the first time—in 1964), and the ruby necklace, bracelet, and earring set given to her by Mike Todd that she famously wore for laps in the pool.

But the famous jewels are only part of the story. “No one knew she had this enormous collection of clothing,” said Meredith Etherington-Smith, Christie’s curator for the Taylor fashion auction, during a private preview and luncheon of the exhibition this afternoon, co-hosted by Christie’s chairman Marc Porter and Orianne Collins. “We knew she would run around in caftans—we didn’t know Ms. Taylor was buying serious fashion for over 50 years. And when I say serious, I mean couture.”

Of course, there’s a chorus line of Taylor’s infamous Thea Porter caftans on display, but other highlights in the multi-floor exhibition are the evening bolero jackets by Gianni Versace (“some of the best things Versace ever did,” according to Etherington-Smith), Taylor’s Louis Vuitton luggage collection with lavender name tags (they read MINE), her red velvet Valentino evening gown (they were great friends), and her incredible collection of Dior evening dresses. “There’s the last Dior dress with red bugle beads that was designed for Taylor by John Galliano in 2010, and it comes with a wonderful letter explaining that no, it won’t be transparent when you wear it,” said Etherington-Smith. “At that point, she was confined to a wheelchair but she could still order up a mean Dior.”

Taylor, say the Christie’s team, was a collector and curator as much as a fashion plate. “This is about connoisseurship and collecting, not consumption,” Porter told Style.com. “To learn that she was one of the most refined collectors of our time was an absolute revelation.”

The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor exhibition runs December 3-12, Christie’s, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, NYC, $30 admission. Online auction runs December 3-16.

Photos: Ryan McCune / PatrickMcMullan.com

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