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Business News/ Special Report / Inside Pharrell’s Celebrity Auction House Gamble
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Inside Pharrell’s Celebrity Auction House Gamble


The musician and fashion star launched an auction house that aims to take on Christie’s and Sotheby’s by selling items from his personal collection—and from those of his friends.

Pharrell Williams has opened Joopiter, his very own auction house. Premium
Pharrell Williams has opened Joopiter, his very own auction house.

Louis Vuitton’s mammoth monogram luggage already sells for tens of thousands of dollars on the resale market. But you know what makes a trunk even more valuable? If it was previously owned by Pharrell Williams.

Late last year, the Grammy winner and men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton added to his already jammed schedule by opening Joopiter, his very own auction house.

The company’s first sale plucked from Williams’s holding, including an over 3-foot long Louis Vuitton trunk that fetched $121,250, well above its $35,000 high estimate. Other lots included a Jacob & Co. N.E.R.D. pendant chain that sold for $2.18 million (purchased by fellow rapper Drake), a gold Audemars Piguet wristwatch that sold for $187,500 and a one-off, gold-plated blingy BlackBerry phone that fetched $45,000.

“I got so many things that I can’t keep up," said Williams, who was visiting New York this month from his home in Paris. “I feel like they would be better in other hands, enriching other people’s lives."

Williams tends to dream at megascale—his first Louis Vuitton show involved a Jay-Z performance that shut down a major artery in Paris. And so, when Williams went into Marie Kondo mode, he wasn’t content to merely offload his excess collectibles at Sotheby’s as other stars have. Instead, he established his own auction house, subsequently hiring executives who worked at Christie’s and Sotheby’s to help organize his sales. It was the auction-market equivalent to buying the casino, rather than tossing a few quarters into the slot machine.

“I was like, ‘oh this is not a one-off,’" said Williams. “I’m gonna do this and provide a platform for my friends." The name Joopiter stems from Williams’s interest in astrology.

Since that first sale last November, subsequent sales have pulled from the holdings of those friends like fashion-world journeywoman Sarah Andelman, jeweler to the stars Lorraine Schwartz and, most recently, the Japanese fashion designer who runs creative at Kenzo, Nigo.

Williams said that celeb provenance is a bid multiplier. He imagined a bidder’s thought process: “That’s the jacket that person wore. Can I wear that jacket? Will I feel like that if I wear that jacket?"

Joopiter’s launch is a signal of a shifting auction market. Buyers are getting younger and their tastes are changing accordingly. In 2022, Sotheby’s reported a record number of bidders under 40, while auction house Phillips said nearly a third of its buyers were millennials. Establishment auction houses now have promoted auctioneers capable of specializing in guitars, Nikes, sports jerseys and watches. What a Basquiat is to one bidder, a pair of Jay-Z-signed Bape Sta sneakers is to another.

More than that, celebrity ownership remains a perennial draw for bidders. This summer, Sotheby’s hosted a blockbuster auction from the estate of Freddie Mercury. Days later, it sold Princess Diana’s sheep sweater for over $1 million. That month, Christie’s sold a copy of “The Great Gatsby," owned by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, for over $280,000.

Joopiter takes a 25% buyers’ premium on items sold, which is standard for bigger auction houses. The Nigo sale, which wrapped last week, had a 100% sell-through rate, with 80% of its pieces selling for above their high estimates. Nigo-owned Louis Vuitton trunks and a Jacob & Co. white gold and diamond pendant sold with the gavel for $180,000 and $260,000, respectively, before the house tacked on its commission.

To endure as a long-term business, one that can compete with centuries-old institutions like Sotheby’s, Joopiter will need to position itself as more than a mere celebrity clearinghouse.

In May, Joopiter brought on Caitlin Donovan, a Christie’s veteran, to be its head of global sales. This month, John Auerbach, who worked at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s, started as CEO. At a downtown New York preview for the house’s last auction this month, Auerbach—dressed in a smart navy Dior sport coat—stood alongside Williams in his weighty Louis Vuitton varsity jacket.

Aside from the Andelman and Nigo auctions, Joopiter hosted a sale of works by the late American painter Ernie Barnes, which had never been publicly exhibited before. The highlight of that sale was “Mentors," a 2008 Barnes painting depicting a group of Black men huddled together, which sold for $187,500.

“It is nice doing sales for the really impressive friends of Pharrell, but I do think that Joopiter is for longevity and the big vision is much larger than that," Donovan said.

Still, by dint of who its founder is, Joopiter’s core audience is likely to remain those interested in scarce sneakers, Paul Bunyan-scaled chains, works by artists who have collaborated with Dior or Louis Vuitton (Takashi Murakami, Kaws, Daniel Arsham) and clothes more likely to be displayed than worn.

That blue-chip Barnes auction was followed up by “Chasing Grails," an auction of three distinct Nike Dunk prototypes that sold for as high as $37,500 each.

“I don’t think that we are necessarily going to be fighting with a traditional house for a rare books auction," said Donovan. As she describes it, Joopiter is interested in “sales that have cultural relevance and appeal more to the modern collector."

Williams, with his glittery Rolodex, is well positioned to bring in big-name sales.

“Pharrell started it, and I wanted to support it," Nigo said during a preview of his Joopiter sale “From Me To You," encircled by his artifacts like a pair of Levi’s rodeo clown jeans in size 54 and a quintet of Peanuts sweatshirts from the 1960s. They sold last week for $10,000 and $6,250 respectively.

The New York preview of the auction was coupled with a pop-up for Nigo’s streetwear label, Human Made, drawing in an abundance of shoppers to both buy $225 hoodies and glimpse rare Chanel Reebok sneakers that would eventually sell for $11,250.

As he’s gotten older, Nigo said his tastes have changed—fewer Levi’s, more pottery—and he decided it was time to clear things out. (He had previously hosted three sales with Sotheby’s.)

Nigo said the 60 items in his Joopiter auction represented just about 1% of his archive. “I don’t really look at things so much these days, but it’s all stored in the hard disk in my head," he said.

At the preview, Donovan said she hoped she could convince Nigo to offer some more of his holdings for future auctions, particularly his Pierre Jeanneret furniture.

According to the company, in the future Joopiter plans to open an online marketplace that will operate between auctions—bringing the company even closer to a Pharrellified eBay. Said Williams, “My friends aren’t just in my immediate circumference." In other words, if you’ve got a pair of rodeo clown jeans lying around, you could be his friend, too.

Write to Jacob Gallagher at

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