By day, Lydia Fenet heads up strategic partnerships at Christie’s Auction House, and by night she’s raising money for nonprofits as one of the world’s leading auctioneers. She’s also about to release her first book, The Most Powerful Woman in the Room is You. Here, Lydia shares her super fast hair and makeup routine (which takes seven minutes!) and the trick she uses to feel confident in front of a 1,000-seat audience…
When I imagine a day in the life of an auctioneer, I realize I only have the movie version in my head. What’s a typical day actually like?
One thing I always clarify is that, at Christie’s, you can’t only be an auctioneer. You have to have a full-time job here, as well. I’m the Global Head of Strategic Partnerships, so the bulk of my day is spent pitching, brainstorming and meeting with brands to talk about how we can work together. If I have an auction that night, I’ll get on the phone with the organization to talk through the lot (the items up for auction) and make sure I have an understanding of what I’m selling. And I’ll ask if they have any fun anecdotes that I can bring up on stage.
Ooh, like what?
Like, I was the auctioneer for Rihanna’s Diamond Ball, and one of the lots was an incredible house rental in Costa Rica — which, they told me, also came with access to a submarine! So that night at the auction, the bidding got to a high number — then stalled. And I said, ‘Did I mention that there’s a submarine that comes with the property?’ And suddenly the amount almost doubled. Sometimes it’s just knowing how to drop these points in to get people to spend that extra dollar.
So, how do you switch from workday mode to auction mode?
Well, first I transition to my job at home: mom. I hang out with my kids — Beatrice, Henry and Eloise — in the evening, and then I get ready once the baby is asleep for the night. At this point, I’ve figured out a go-to look, so I can get ready and out the door in less than 20 minutes. I have an arsenal of cocktail dresses that I wear for auctions. If the event is black tie, I might get something from Rent the Runway or borrow from a friend, but I never wear a full-length gown on stage because it’s restrictive and I need to be able to move. And I never wear silk because it’ll show if I perspire, and an auctioneer who can’t raise her arms is going to have a hard time doing her job! I stick to dark colors and lined dresses so I don’t have to worry (I use Secret antiperspirant, as well). I usually wear dresses, even offstage. I’m almost six feet tall, and they didn’t make tall jeans until I was in my teens, so I never got into wearing pants.
Do you have a go-to makeup look?
Yes. Pretty much everything is Laura Mercier: I put on their tinted moisturizer, then the Matte Radiance Baked Powder, and the eyeliner in Black Gold. I use a NARS blush in Outlaw, and MAC Bold & Bad Lash mascara. I put my lipstick in my purse because there’s no point putting it on until I get to the event. I like MAC lipstick in Brave, or Clé de Peau in Dragon Red. The whole look takes between six and seven minutes.
Wow! Including hair?
Yes. Since my hair is already clean, I’ll just curl it quickly before running out the door. I use Fekkai Full Blown Volume shampoo and conditioner, or R+Co Smoothing Shampoo, which feels glossy. I’ll tell you, the one hairspray I ABSOLUTELY love is the Shu Uemura Texture Wave. I once did an auction where they had a hair and makeup team, and they used it on me right before I went on stage to smooth my hair down. It was a miracle! I never used hairspray myself before that, because it always felt sticky. But with this stuff you don’t even feel it!
Any special treatments?
I do have eyelash extensions. That’s my biggest trick. They last for months, and give your eyes a real pop, which is really helpful on stage. I get them done at Ebenezer in midtown Manhattan, and it’s my favorite thing. They give you a massage when you’re there and I always fall asleep — which they’ve always been really sweet about, especially when I was pregnant.
Is there anything else you do to feel comfortable on stage? On Instagram, you said that when in doubt you wear a red dress.
Always. It’s not just red, either. I remember going to the Clinique counter when I was 12 or 13 and, you know, they would assign you a color type: winter, summer, spring or autumn. Because I have very dark features, they told me I was a ‘true winter,’ meaning I should go for bright reds, hot pinks, canary yellow — very bold colors. That was like the moment I’d been waiting for. I thought, ‘All right, here we go!’ Those colors make you feel vibrant, like you’re not afraid to be seen and stand out. Clothes are a kind of armor, that way. I mean, even the cover of my book is hot pink and red.
It doesn’t sound like you have a lot of downtime on days like this, between work, home and then going on stage. Any pointers on keeping your energy up?
Part of it is that I do have a high energy level, frankly. But I’m also a big believer in exercise. I had a coach in high school who told me to try not to take more than two days off from exercise, because after that you’ll start to feel a noticeable difference in your endurance. It really stuck with me. I used to run religiously before I had 100 things to do every day. But I still try to fit movement in at some point, even if it’s just getting off the subway a few stops early and walking the rest of the way home. Anytime I need more energy, I use exercise because the lift is so huge for me. Also, when I get tired, I try to remind myself that it’s okay to be tired. I’ll tell myself: Just go. You’ll pick up once you get there.
You must be pumped with adrenaline after doing an auction. What do you do to wind down for the night?
I’ve never been a great sleeper, and I struggled with terrible insomnia as a kid. My parents would put me to bed at 6:30 and I’d be up until 11. I read to fill the time. To this day, there’s nothing I love more than being in bed with a book. I’ll read a chapter until I literally can’t keep my eyes open.
You’ve talked about learning to get comfortable with rejection, as a necessary part of your job. Do you have any pointers on that?
You just have to brace yourself. Rejection never goes away. Even writing this book, I was reaching out to all these powerful, high-profile women to contribute quotes about what they’d learned in their careers. I remember one of them turned me down early on — someone I really wanted to include – and I got that terrible feeling everyone feels when they get rejected. But I remember thinking: Good. Now you know what that feels like, and the next one won’t be so bad. Ultimately, all of us are going to get rejected, but the key is remembering that they’re not rejecting YOU personally. They’re rejecting a scenario, or something that they’re not interested in at this time. But there will be other times. So, don’t think of it as a door that’s been closed. Think of it as a momentary pause. Rejection happens to me every day of my life. It doesn’t feel good, but at the same time, if you don’t ask you never find out an answer. So, you might as well put yourself out there and try.
You clearly work incredibly hard, but looking at the amazing career you’ve built, do you ever have pinch-me moments?
All the time. I remember walking through Manhattan on a beautiful day a couple years ago, when I was pregnant with my third child. I looked up and saw the window of my first apartment. I burst into tears. I’m sure that pregnancy hormones were partly to blame, but looking at that window took me back to my first years in New York, sitting in that apartment and wishing that I knew more people and had somewhere to go (other than work). Standing on that street all those years later, feeling fulfilled personally and professionally, it was so overwhelming. Overwhelming and empowering at the same time.
Thank you so much, Lydia!
P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, including an immigration lawyer and a podcast host.
(First photo and eighth photo by Stephen Speranza for the New York Times. All other photos courtesy of Lydia Fenet.)