Keni Valenti x Bluefly Throws a Vintage Sale Extravaganza

by Wendy Sy Photographed by Gerardo Somoza for and Sylvain Gaboury/PMC.
Friday, October 26, 2018

Vintage fashion collector Keni Valenti wore a bright red scarf to the opening of “Black & Blue,” his exhibition/sale with Bluefly at Phillips auction house on Monday. “It’s for good luck,” says Valenti, who recently turned 60 and has spent his career working as a designer, stylist, collector, and historian.

Displayed on blue mannequins throughout the space—open until October 27—are mostly black garments and accessories for women and men. “Because as only a former designer can tell you, the best of the best of the best of truly great fashion is invariably designed in black,” notes the exhibition’s curator, Jeff McKay. Pieces include a 1990 Chanel Couture dress suit for $12,000; a ’70s Givenchy evening ballgown for $4,500; an ’80s Thierry Mugler jumpsuit for $2,800; and a pair of Balenciaga sunglasses for $495. “This is just a small assortment of the collection. We have way more and are going to put them up on the website [where the pieces will be available until sold],” says Yann Tanini, president of Bluefly, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “He personally has more than 20,000 pieces and remembers everything about them, which is crazy.”

If you’re wondering about the rest of Valenti’s collection, it’s a “couture jungle” that’s all safely stored in a temperature-controlled setting that fills up half of his house in Joshua Tree, California. “I buy things that have historical value to me,” he says. “Clothing has a life of its own. And it can rot, so you have to treat it like gold.”

“He continually surprises me,” says Alexis Clarbour, director of branding and business development at Bluefly. “Listen, I love vintage. Everyone loves vintage. But I think of Keni as a pioneer and visionary. He does things before everyone else and when he does, he goes all the way. There’s no halfway.”

But before Valenti was called “The King of Vintage” by W magazine, or “The next Halston” according to TIME magazine, he was a boy growing up in Queens, New York. At age 15, he moved to the city and lived with different people in the East Village, West Village, NoHo, SoHo and all over uptown before winding up in Tribeca where he had an apartment for many years. His career was kicked off by a chance encounter with Betsey Johnson at the famed Mudd Club on White Street. It opened up an opportunity to work as her assistant for her first fashion show, thus, leading him to become a rising star in the industry.

Milan-based brand Fiorucci soon came calling and there, Valenti took on the role as an accessories designer. Following the advice of buyers from Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, the creative decided to opened up his own store, in 1983. It carried American designs mostly in denim, plaid, and chambray. Valenti would later sell the store to a Japanese investor who worked with him to cultivate his lifestyle brand. He moved to Japan and Paris before returning back to New York and delved straight into designing for notables, becoming the go-to that everyone in the industry depended on for vintage couture.

“The World Trade Center disaster took me out of the city and that’s when I moved to Florida and focused on my museum,” says Valenti. In Wynwood, Miami, he opened up the Museum of Fashion and produced 28 curated shows, one of which was inspired by the Little Haiti neighborhood. “At a fashion school, I met a young Haitian student and asked if she would like to do a show on the voodoo religion and dress the mannequins as saints and spirits. Her uncle was a voodoo priest and gave me this red scarf around my neck,” says Valenti. “It’s a nice religion. They believe in positive things just like any other religion but Hollywood in the ‘50s made it scary.”

To go with the poppy accessory, Valenti wore Dior aviator sunglasses from the ‘70s, a black After Six tuxedo jacket from the ‘60s with the words “Ghetto Child” embellished on the back (an ode to the song title of the same name by the Spinners), vintage Policeman black pants and cowboy boots with army soles.

It was after Miami that Valenti moved to Joshua Tree, California, seven years ago. “I feel like this is homecoming because I haven’t been in New York for a while. The timing’s just right to sell [this collection] and let the world have it,” he says. All of the pieces on display at Phillips and on Bluefly’s website is currently up for bid, except for one: a ‘50s Dior A-line dress that is actually not in black, but a cream and blue floral print with a sweetheart neckline. The true reason why it’s meant only for display is because the inside bustier needs restoration. “I don’t want to sell it when it’s not perfect, but by all means, make an offer if you want,” says Valenti. “He’ll sell anything for the right price,” says Clarbour. And auctions move fast—so going, going…get it before it’s gone!


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