Woman Around Town: Lydia Fenet—
Wielding the Gavel for a Good Cause

Successful New York City women have a lot to live up to. Many hold impressive titles at the nation’s top companies. They are experts in traveling the world while making the city their personal stomping ground. Some spend nights in black tie gowns, schmoozing with celebrities and ending up in the New York Times’ style pages.

As the International Director of Strategic Partnerships, SVP, and a benefit auctioneer for Christie’s Auction House, Lydia Fenet gets to live this every day. She heads a new department of her own creation, regularly travels internationally for business and for pleasure, and sometimes works with celebrities for worthy causes—once auctioning off an outing with Gwyneth Paltrow to spontaneously raise an additional $12,000 for charity.

“I use planes like others use mopeds,” says Fenet. Just this year alone she has been to eight countries, some of them twice.

Fenet has a welcoming face with soft classic features and an easy smile. At first, she may be intimidating. She stands taller than six feet in chic garb and heels, regularly commanding audiences with a personality worthy of late-night talk show hosts. However, her appeal comes from the genuineness of her character, her humility and how intently she can listen to a stranger who has just approached her.

Despite the endless string of black tie dresses, she’s feistier than she looks. After leaving a Chelsea auction one night, she fought for both her pride and Judith Leiber handbag when a group of teenagers tried to mug her. “Not only did she walk away with her belongings intact, but she also lectured them on good manners,” describes Alexandra Lebenthal, a longtime friend.

Fenet started at Christie’s as a summer intern in the business development department, inputting data into spreadsheets. Her interest sparked one day when she overheard Lauren Shortt, then Head of Special Events, rushing down to a cocktail party at the galleries.

“I applied for an internship in the events department the next summer and never left,” Fenet said. She started there full-time in September 1999 right after college.

Working directly under Shortt, the two laughed together all day and ran more than 300 events nationwide each year. The new job did come with its downsides, however, as Fenet worked 12-hour days and adjusted to being without her friends.

“New York forces you to push every boundary within yourself—your intelligence, your patience, your wit, your athleticism—in an effort to be the best and most interesting person you can be,” Fenet said, recalling the experience.

When Shortt left five years later, Fenet took over as the Head of Events at age 26. She worked in that capacity until April 2010, when she felt she needed a bigger challenge. She proposed launching and heading a new department that creates partnerships with companies wanting to utilize Christie’s events and resources. More than a year later, she has successfully created a new revenue stream for the company while growing her department to operate on the international level.

“I think it all boils down to the fact that I have a very high energy level,” Fenet said. “An interactive job where I am surrounded by intelligent people, beautiful art and challenged to multi-task throughout the day is my idea of heaven!”

Understandably, Fenet describes life at Christie’s in one word: hectic. One of her team members loves to tell the story of her frantically trying to finish a strategic partnership document at her desk, while wearing a massive red Angel Sanchez ball gown.

She starts work at 8:45 a.m. each day, managing several partnerships with contacts from around the globe. After working a full workday, Fenet often takes charity auctions in the evenings for no extra pay. She has been taking these auctions for years and enjoys going beyond the 9-to-5 schedule for good causes.

She also holds a leadership role at New Yorkers For Children, an organization that raises private funds to help the foster care youth in the city. According to Shortt, Fenet was the first auctioneer to conduct a live auction at their gala and brought in around $150,000 in less than ten minutes.

Christie’s charity auctions are unlike the cut-and-dry art auctions most people think about. The auctioneer is given more leeway to incorporate his or her personality onstage, which often adds a lively, performance quality to the event.

“The ability to connect with a room full of people, while getting them to give money and buy things that they may not have known they wanted, is a remarkable skill,” said Lebenthal.

Shortt adds, “I am certain her participation significantly and positively impacts the success of the auctions.”

When watching an auction headed by Fenet, this isn’t far from the truth. She’s engaging to say the least, making people spend thousands of dollars with one perfectly timed joke and a smile. After one event alone, I watched person after person congratulate her on a job well done. Multiply that by all of the auctions she takes every year, and that’s hundreds of pats on her back.

When Fenet is not running to auctions, she spends time running up and down the West Side Highway and watching her favorite show, NBC’s The Biggest Loser. She loves enjoying the city with her friends and husband, Chris Delaney, whom she married earlier this year in a four-day New Orleans celebration. For their honeymoon, the couple went sky diving on their first day in New Zealand.

When asked about the advice she’d give to young women embarking on their careers, Fenet said: “Roll up your sleeves. Do anything and everything that is asked of you. Be the first person in and the last person out. Do something that you enjoy—no matter what the paycheck. If you love what you do, you will find a way to make it profitable.”

“She is the kind of girl that every girl needs as a friend,” said Mary Giuliani, who’s known Fenet since her early days at Christie’s. “She is the girl who will go on a roller coaster with you but will yell at you if you try to close your eyes at the top.”

With her charm and growing track record, Fenet is already quite comfortable at the top.

Woman Around Town’s Questions

Favorite Place to Eat: Gramercy Tavern—especially during the fall!
Favorite Place to Shop: The Meatpacking District. Tons of shops and restaurants to stop for a coffee/quick snack/cocktail before using the High Line as my personal interstate back to Chelsea.
Favorite New York Sight: Running down the West Side Highway in the evening towards Battery Park City with the incredible view of the Statue of Liberty and then back up this West Side Highway to Chelsea with the skyline of the city against the sky.
Favorite New York Moment: The Young Fellows of the Frick Ball two years ago. All of my friends left the Frick after the ball dressed in black tie and walked outside into the most amazing blizzard. The city was covered in snow and the streets were empty. It felt like a scene out of a movie.
What You Love About New York: The constant evolution of the city. I have lived here for 12 years and I love walking through neighborhoods that I used to live in or visit often only to find that they are completely different.