In Memoriam: How Death Affects the Secondhand Auction Market

By Julian Roup.

In light of the recent passing of Karl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer and the creative director of Chanel and Fendi, the auction search engine, Barnebys, examines the consequences of death on the secondhand auction market.

When someone famous for their craft passes away, modern society collectively mourns. But death, as crass as it may seem, also piques people’s curiosity. Take the recent passing of Karl Lagerfeld, the German fashion designer best known as the creative director of Chanel and Fendi. People who previously may never have heard of Karl Lagerfeld, now see his name buzzing on global news media and on social media. And they immediately take to search engines to type in the designer’s name to see what this icon is all about. As do many of his many fans.

On Tuesday 19 February 2019, just hours after Karl Lagerfeld’s passing at the age of 85, Barnebys saw an increase in searches for Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld on the secondhand market. Between Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 February, Chanel jumped up by more than thirty rankings to become the eleventh-most-popular search term on the Barnebys global analytics. With an increase in demand for Chanel goods, prices will only increase.

Pontus Silfverstolpe, co-founder of Barnebys, says “It’s normal to see an increase in the market just after a famous designer has passed away.”

He continues, “Even though the boom for fashion and vintage goods took place in 2014, when the Chinese market was at its hungriest, in general we have seen an increase in interest and prices for fashion and vintage over the last few years. In particular, handbags have increased in price as well as bijouterie from the biggest fashion houses like Chanel, Hermès, Dior and Gucci.”

When it comes to demand for fashion and vintage, a lot of this interest is coming from Asia. Pontus Silfverstolpe says, “The increased prices have been driven by the demand from the Asian market, especially China, but also by an American and European audience which is increasinglyhappy to buy things online and on the secondhand market.”

When an artist, designer, architect, activist, actor or comedian dies, we see that death affect society at large: celebrities speak out about their personal connection with the person, social media posts are published, in memoriam articles are written, videos are posted, awards and foundations are dedicated to that name, and, eventually, anniversaries are celebrated.

And then there’s the trending searches for the person who’s passed away and the a strange brutal truth – the increase in the value of his or her goods.
It’s common to see an increase in the value of items attributed to a person who’s recently passed away, and there are several reasons for this. When an artist dies, you’re able to assess his or her oeuvre in its entirety: there’s no question of where their style will go next. When it comes to Pablo Picasso, we don’t wonder what he’ll produce in a month’s time: will Picasso make a false move or, perhaps even worse, will he overproduce works (so that supply outstrips demand), causing his work to devalue? No, of course this won’t happen, as Picasso died in 1973 and he therefore won’t be producing further work any time soon.


So, strange as it may seem death has commercial consequences for those in the public eye.


Barnebys Group is the world’s leading search service for arts, design, antiquities and collectibles and was founded in 2011. As an aggregator it is host to more than 2,000 auction houses internationally and offers more than a million objects for sale on any one day.