LONDON — Meredith Etherington-Smith, the larger-than-life journalist, editor, biographer and marketeer who worked at the intersection of art and fashion, has died at age 73 of a heart attack.
Her big hair, oversize glasses, fat pearls and lust for life were matched by a vigorous intellect and deep knowledge of fine art, fashion, antiques and fine jewelry — and how they all fed each other.
Etherington-Smith, who died on Jan. 25, began her career as the London editor of Vogue Paris, and was the only female editor of GQ in the U.S. After returning to the U.K. she wrote for a variety of national and international newspapers, including Women’s Wear Daily and its at the time sister publication W, and later moved on to become the features editor of Harpers & Queen before swiveling her gaze to the world of fine art.
She founded Art Fortnight magazine, edited ArtReview and spent the latter part of her career at Christie’s, where her roles included global chief marketing officer and editor in chief of Christie’s Magazine.
Until her death this week, she penned the Antenna column for the magazine, remembering her old pal Karl Lagerfeld, reflecting on the friendship of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy or revealing Margaret Thatcher’s wardrobe secrets.
“Meredith was a vibrant and truly original force of creativity,” said Amy Wexler, chief marketing officer at Christie’s. “Chic, knowledgeable, adventurous and generous, her legacy lives on at Christie’s. Many of the talented people she championed are part of the global marketing and communications team today and we are all grateful to her for what she contributed personally and professionally.”
Christie’s said in a tribute posted online that during the Nineties, Etherington-Smith was instrumental in reinventing how the auction house presented itself and the objects in its care. “She used her skills as a journalist and communicator to turn auctions into major, newsworthy moments, and to cement Christie’s reputation as the premier destination for private collectors.”
Etherington-Smith was a creative contributor to many of the house’s highest profile auctions of the last 30 years, working directly with Princess Diana on the charity auction of her clothes in 1997; curating the 1999 sale of Marilyn Monroe’s clothing and personal effects, and the 2011 auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe and jewelry.
“Finding the collection in a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, was like unearthing Tutankhamun’s tomb,” said Etherington-Smith, adding that Taylor was a true collector of fashion in the days when stars actually bought their own clothes. “This was the working wardrobe of a star,” she said of the auction’s trove.
During her career she also wrote a number of books, including “The ‘It’ Girls,” about the fashion designer Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon and her novelist sister Elinor Glyn.
She also wrote “Axel Vervoordt: The Story of a Style,” about the Dutch antiques dealer, collector and interior decorator, while her biography of Salvador Dalí, “The Persistence of Memory,” was translated into 12 languages.
In 2007, she penned the first book on Laurence Graff, “The Most Fabulous Jewels in the World.”
“From his very early life, he’s had a remarkable sense of observation, of places, of details. For Graff, it’s always about the client.”
Graff described her as: “A wonderful lady and a beautiful writer. Not only a pleasure, but also fun to work with. My heartfelt condolences go to all her family at this sad time.”
Her old friend Jasper Conran described Etherington-Smith as “the most stylish woman I think that I have ever met. An amazon, she adored clothes and wore them with a casual insouciance that was shockingly chic. She collected and wore marvellous vintage designs, and would swing out of the house kitted out in pearls and Poiret or a Balenciaga suit slung about with furs, and sometimes a sea of fluid navy blue Jean Muir jersey, pink lipstick and flaming red hair. All this combined with a really throaty, conspiratorial laugh and a brilliantly acute eye for all things that spoke of style. It made her a wildly attractive person to be with. She was without a doubt a quintessentially British woman, one whom we will not see the likes of again. I will miss her greatly.”
In its tribute on the company’s web site, Christie’s posted an image of Etherington-Smith. She has a black bouffant as big as the Ritz and a triple rope of pearls around her neck. The photo was shot by her pal Lagerfeld, and summed up this grande dame of arts and letters.
“Meredith had style, vision and a formidable presence. Never one for introversion, her smoky, commanding voice often announced her impending arrival at [Christie’s] King Street. ‘That’s 50 years of smoking I’m afraid,’ she once explained of her distinctive baritone.”
That baritone voice will be missed by more than Etherington-Smith’s work colleagues. The fashion stylist Charlotte Pilcher recalled the first time she met Etherington-Smith.
“What a fabulous stepmother to inherit back in the early Eighties at the age of 17. My twin sister Kate and I had just left an all girls boarding school in the country, to be introduced by our father [Jeremy Pilcher] to ‘Minkie’ with her flame red hair, immaculate red manicure, and red lips, smoking, with her marvellous baritone voice wearing a red polka dot Claude Montana silk suit,” Pilcher said.
She added that despite her stepmother’s heart and kidney problems over the past year or so, she worked from home, right up until her death.
Etherington-Smith is survived by her husband Jeremy Pilcher; her younger brother Kenny Dups; twin stepdaughters Kate Hunter and Charlotte Pilcher, and five stepgrandchildren.
The family is planning a service of thanksgiving and celebration for family and friends at Chelsea Old Church in London on April 23.