Perfect provenance

Delaney followed  passion for throwing parties to New York

‘My parents love entertaining,  and my grandparents  loved entertaining.’

Lydia Fenet Delaney grew up in Louisiana, but at 35, she is perfectly at home in New York City, where she is senior vice president and international director of strategic partnerships for Christie’s, the international auction house.

“We oversee all large events and sponsorships for Christie’s globally,” said Delaney, who with her husband, Chris Delaney, and baby daughter, Beatrice, were in Baton Rouge for the holidays visiting her parents, Sally and Bob Fenet.

Delaney first came to Christie’s as an intern in business development in the summer of 1998, the year before she graduated from The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.

“At the time, the job was a lot of paper pushing and not very interactive,” said Delaney, who uses her maiden name professionally.

One day, while she was inputting data into spreadsheets, Delaney overheard the head of Christie’s special events section talking about preparations she was making for a Christie’s dinner event that evening. To Delaney, Special Events sounded like the job for her — being paid to do something she really enjoyed. She had grown up in a family that entertained.

“My parents love entertaining, and my grandparents loved entertaining,” she said.

In September 1999, Delaney went to work full time under Lauren Shortt, then head of special events.

“Essentially we oversaw 400 events a year from a small breakfast to large fundraising events,” Delaney said. Five years later, when Shortt left Christie’s, Delaney, then 26, became head of special events.

Her 10 years in Special Events were a whirlwind of black-tie parties, charity galas and dinners. It was excellent training in managing people and logistics.

“I can plan a cocktail party in 15 minutes,” Delaney said.

Then in 2008, the recession hit.

“In 2009, they came to me and said we had to cut a member of the events staff,” said Delaney, who knew that if a staff member were cut, that would be a lost job that would never be reinstated. So Delaney asked those in charge if she could work with her staff to cut expenses rather than staff. The group worked together, and at year’s end, Special Events had made a profit.

In April 2010, Delaney proposed creating a new department to develop partnerships with companies seeking Christie’s resources and expertise in making connections and executing events. The project became Strategic Partnerships with Delaney as international director.

“It’s an agency within Christie’s to work with other luxury brands,” said Delaney, who says she lets potential partners know “what Christie’s has that no other place in the world has, and what we can offer them.”

The result is a new profit center within Christie’s auction business.

“It allows us access to new clients,” Delaney said. “We’re not spending money on events now, and it’s a way to protect my team.”

Delaney is known in New York’s charity circuit for her work as an auctioneer.

“In Special Events, the person responsible for a charity auction sometimes loses his voice or has something come up at the last minute,” she said. Staff members are trained in auctioneering so they can serve as backups in emergencies.

At 24, she tried out and became an auctioneer. “The next day I was on a plane to Kansas City,” said Delaney, who now does about 50 to 75 charity auctions a year and teaches the class on charity auctioneering at Christie’s.

“It is wonderful,” she said. “It teaches you to be an authoritative public speaker. It has been very helpful in my career.”

Right now Delaney is on maternity leave, but she will soon return to her high-power job at Christie’s.

“I feel lucky to have been at Christie’s,” she said. “The company is incredibly friendly to women.”

Her boss is a single mother who encouraged Delaney not to rush back but to take her full leave.

“She was amazing,” Delaney said. “She said, ‘You will come right back. Your place is here.’”

Delaney said she believes that the art market is beginning to rebound from the recession. The market for contemporary art is especially strong.

“A sale of contemporary art recently brought in $412 million in one night,” she said.

Chinese art, wine and antique jewelry are also bringing top dollars.

“Furniture has its audience,” Delaney said. “Good furniture with a strong provenance will always sell.”

Quality is the most important asset in the art world.

“In auction houses things will sell, but now they must be top of their class with a good provenance,” she said.