IN 2015, Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif., sold the fuzzy green mohair-blend sweater that Kurt Cobain wore on Nirvana’s “MTV Unplugged” episode for $140,800. Four years later, the stained cardigan was back on the auction block again. That time it went for $334,000. Today, Darren Julien, the owner of Julien’s, an 18-year-old auction house that frequently hosts sales of celebrity possessions, believes the same grungy sweater could perhaps fetch double that amount. “I’ve had offers of $500,000 to $700,000 to get the buyer to sell it,” he said. For now, the anonymous owner is keeping Cobain’s cardigan. But no matter for Mr. Julien: He has plenty of highly covetable celebrity clothes filling up his auction calendar.
Other auction houses including Heritage and Sotheby’s dabble in pop culture items, but Julien’s is the rare firm which trades almost entirely in nostalgic, celebrity-owned relics. It “specializes in things people don’t need, but things that they want,” said Mr. Julien, including tour-used guitars, furniture from star’s homes and lots and lots of famous clothes. He founded his business four years after financier Martin Zweig paid $1.26 million in a landmark 1999 Christie’s sale to acquire the slinky dress Marilyn Monroe wore to sing “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy. In 2016, Julien’s sold that same beaded, flesh-colored gown on behalf of Mr. Zweig’s widow for $4.8 million.
For Julien’s, the business of auctioning off pop-culturally significant clothes—steady through the mid-2010s—has erupted in the past few years thanks to deep-pocketed 20- to 40-somethings. “Rich millennials don’t want Picasso and Monet. They want pop culture,” said Mr. Julien. “That’s what connects them or, you know, is most appealing to them.”
In January, a set of seven outfits worn by the K-pop band BTS in its 2020 “Dynamite” video sold for $162,500, far exceeding the lot’s $40,000 high estimate. The set was purchased collectively by a pair of Japanese bidders: Yusaku Maezawa, 45, a billionaire and art collector and Hikakin, a 32-year-old YouTuber. A video of the duo joyously winning the auction posted to Mr. Maezawa’s account has been viewed more than three million times.
In April, a pair of Air Jordan sneakers that Bill Murray wore in the 1996 film “Space Jam,” a millennial favorite, brought in $22,400 on a $7,000 high estimate. And just two weekends ago, coinciding with Janet Jackson’s birthday, Julien’s hosted a three-day auction of her belongings, including some of the singer’s seminal early-MTV-era outfits. Julien’s does not disclose buyers’ identities without permission, but a few bidders boasted about their purchases on social media.
Original posted at www.wsj.com