During the next few days, the collector-car world will be concentrated to 18.2 square miles off the northeast coast of Florida for the 28th Annual Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and its litany of ancillary events. Among the latter are opportunities for connoisseurs to buy and sell premiere automobiles—from iconic classics to boundary-breaking hypercars—throughout the weekend. And while most of the major auction-house players are present, Broad Arrow Auctions will make its debut as the official one for the concours, a role long held by RM Sotheby’s.
On Saturday, March 4, Broad Arrow’s principal auctioneer, Lydia Fenet, will oversee the potential sale of more than 100 stellar examples of models ranging from the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL to the Porsche 907 K to the McLaren Senna. And while Fenet is also new to her role at Amelia Island, she’s been center stage as an auctioneer for more than two decades and remains an ambassador for Christie’s. Conversing with Robb Report, Fenet explains the way she found her calling early on, her greatest challenge in the industry and how humor helps her bring stalled bidding back into high gear.
When did your love of cars first develop, and how?
I worked at Christie’s for over 21 years, full time, and I was running the events department in my early 20s. And at that time, Christie’s still had a car department, and we all flew out for an entire week to Pebble Beach. That was really my first introduction to the car world. I had never seen anything like it. I remember thinking “how can this possibly be a job?” as we drove the cars from event to event. It was a really amazing experience, but then I never went back or thought anything of it. When Broad Arrow approached me [last] March to discuss the opportunity to be the principal auctioneer, the first auction I was going to take was Monterey. I had such fond memories that I immediately jumped at the opportunity. That was how it all came together.
What was your path to becoming an auctioneer?
My parents were not art collectors and I didn’t know anything about the auction world, but I had an internship in college and became an auctioneer when I was 24. I tried out; tryouts last about four days and are a little bit like Survivor. You get voted off the island day by day, and then the last one standing really just gets thrown on stage anywhere in the country. I was a lot younger than pretty much everyone, and was one of the only women at that point, and one of the only female charity auctioneers. [Charity auctions] are what I became completely obsessed with and have become what I’m known for in the auctioneering world. I sell anything and everything to anyone. That’s what I like.
What have been some of the greatest challenges on that path?
I think the greatest challenge in my career path was being a woman. I can remember going to auctions in my early days as an auctioneer and having people openly question whether or not I should take the auction or if they should just hand it off to someone else. They weren’t sure I could handle a “noisy room”. This even happened to me in 2018 at an auction in Germany. I had been the lead charity auctioneer at Christie’s for over a decade at that point, and I had someone question whether I could handle a room of 800 people. They said, “We’re just concerned, we’ve had a male auctioneer for 15 years,” and I laughingly told them, “I was on stage with Bruce Springsteen, at Madison Square Garden, in front of 6000 people two nights ago, and that was just fine.”
I’ve always used humor as a way to get around these conversations. I just work, and ultimately the results speak for themselves. That’s why Broad Arrow came to me, because my style works. People make a lot of money when I get on stage, and that makes me feel great about it.
How do you define your style on stage?
My style over 20 years has evolved as I realized that it had to be more performative. It has to be performance. [You] can’t be standing on stage when you’re selling something that someone doesn’t really want, unless you make it fun. You really make it about the audience, which is what I love about car auctions—the audience is ready. If you, as the auctioneer, get up there and are ready to have fun, they will have fun with you.
What do you do if it feels like you’re losing the room?
Humor is where I go every single time. I might say something like, “Remember that this is an auction, so I’m going to need more than one bidder.” It makes people laugh and pay attention. And you can’t be afraid of silence. You can’t be afraid to take that pause, to make that joke and just wait. The car-auction cadence is quite fast, but you don’t have to necessarily fly through it.
How does Broad Arrow differentiate itself in the auction community?
The team itself has decades of experience in the industry, which is so refreshing. And, I will say, one thing I’ve heard time and time again from them is that they’re completely committed to transparency. They want their bidders to trust them, and they want all of their sellers to know they will be well-represented in the auction room as well. They also have the partnership with Hagerty, so the clients benefit from not only the expansive reach, but they can go to all the premier events.
In your opinion, what is the state of the collector-car market at the moment?
I think that the collecting community is always going to love something that’s very rare, if it’s well preserved, if it’s something that is coming from an incredible collection. If a car auction has been very well curated, it’s going to be strong. Obviously, the economy has been up and down. But, at this level, there’s always going to be somebody who’s there to buy, if it’s marketed correctly and the cars are in front of the right people.
Are you seeing a rise in the number of women becoming car collectors?
I’m pretty new to the industry, so I can’t tell you how many women were here before. But I do think it is growing. There are so many events surrounding cars—the rallies and, of course, the racing events—and those are seeing a large rise in women. Hopefully, in the coming year, that will spill over into auctions as well.
Is there a car you covet?
I haven’t purchased a car, I live in Manhattan. But I’m completely obsessed with the Jaguar XK150; I’m drawn to it like a moth to the flame when I walk into a concours. It’s just so sleek and elegant, with flowing lines. It’s very English in its presence.
What advice would you give a youth who wants to be the next you?
The auctioneer has to come out with absolute confidence because that room is their room. It’s almost like an orchestra, you’re in control of it. You set the mood, you set the tone. So, my first piece of advice would be to practice public speaking at every opportunity—it’s the most important part of auctioneering. If you’re in high school, get on a debate team. If you’re in college, stick your hand up for every single presentation, start a YouTube channel. Whatever you can do to get comfortable seeing yourself on screen or getting on stage is going to be the most helpful thing that you can do. And then apply to an auction house, get an internship. That’s how I started and that’s how I learned the language of auctioneering. And it is a very specific language. Just get out there and practice.
Broad Arrow’s Amelia Auction will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 4, at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.