Journalist Laurence Benaïm on Coronavirus and Her Fashion Auction for French Retirement Home Relief –

Original sketch by Alber Elbaz.Photo: Courtesy of Tajan Live Auctions

Journalist, author, and Yves Saint Laurent biographer Laurence Benaïm has organized a charity auction to benefit SOS EHPAD, a non-profit organization led by the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Benaïm has a 93-year-old father who lives in a nursing home in France and she can’t visit him amidst the country’s coronavirus lockdowns. Disturbing reports about supply shortages prompted her to act. The funds raised will go directly to the staff at elderly homes throughout France.

The auction came together in less than a week, with Benaïm reaching out to her network of fashion industry leaders and others across different creative spaces. Among the items on the block are a private tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment in Paris, a photograph of Saint Laurent and Betty Catroux, and original sketches by designers like Alber Elbaz and Giorgio Armani. Fashion show tickets from Jean Paul Gaultier and Simon Porte Jacquemus are also in the auction catalogue.

The sale is taking place this week online at Tajan and will close this Monday, April 27th. Benaïm’s effort serves as an example of the fashion community coming together even while apart. She’s given Vogue a look at a few of the pieces and discusses how fashion can move forward in the midst of the pandemic.

How did the idea for this auction come about?

I didn’t actually have a plan and it all came together in less than a week. I was becoming increasingly anxious because I was receiving daily updates about the situation at the EHPA (general acronym for a retirement home in France) where my father is staying. They told me that they didn’t have enough masks and protective gear and there was also a growing list of suspected coronavirus cases. I wanted to help them somehow and provide relief to the staff. So, I began to reach out to a few auction houses: one said no, the other way closed, but Tajan said yes. I’d organized a charity auction with them previously in 2013 and I knew Romain Moteaux Sarmiento and the president Rodica Seward. I also contacted geriatrician and psychiatrist Olivier de la Douchette, who created the Foundation for Alzheimer’s Research.

What are the most unique or special pieces in the auction?

There are nearly 200 pieces in the auction and I love all of them. It has become like an imaginary museum or a cabinet of extraordinary curiosities, thanks to the energy of all of the donors. They are a dream team to me. There are signed photo prints, drawings, watercolors, talismans, private tours, exceptional workshops, and one-of-a-kind pieces. Some of the first to agree to the auction were Alber Elbaz and Marisa Berenson, as well as Valérie Duport from Kering and Jean-Charles Tréhan and Mickael Soria at LVMH. These initial enthusiastic responses gave me hope and so I continued to email and email. I also reached out to people on Instagram. This story isn’t about friendship and connections though. It’s about mutual respect and admiration.

What has self-isolation been like for you?

Quarantine is a luxury for those who have a project they’re working on and managing. I am used to working every morning and disciplining myself to write. In mid-March, I finished a book about my mother. I’ve been working out more than ever but also eating too much chocolate. I wrote articles and I organized this auction with a number of friends. Again, my dream team. I actually miss having some time to rest.

Do you believe that the fashion community will come out of this pandemic stronger?

This pandemic will have terrible consequences for the fashion industry. But these last few years, in my opinion, the industry has been more obsessed with logos and narcissism instead of true beauty, which is more dangerous, adventurous, and more about spontaneity. I think it’s time to reset, to reinvent the desire of fashion. We should open the doors and breathe, celebrate fashion as an experience. In the auction, Jean Paul Gaultier and Simon Porte Jacquemus each gave invites to their next show, and I think this is a fantastic way of fashion looking forward.

During a crisis like this one, do you believe that fashion has the power to change and uplift?

Yes. Fashion has the power to change and reconsider its own agenda. It’s about self-expression and inviting creatives to share. To quote Christian Dior after the second World War, “the aim of fashion is to renew the feeling of love.” Maybe this is too French. But I believe in France and I believe in love.


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