Tuesday 23 January 2018

'I have Madonna's knickers, Eric Clapton's guitar and 15 George Michael costumes'

Laurence Carpenter (36) is the owner of Pop Icons. He is a dealer of high-end music memorabilia, including several George Michael costumes and Madonna's knickers

Laurence Carpenter is the owner of Pop Icons. Photo: David Conachy
Laurence Carpenter is the owner of Pop Icons. Photo: David Conachy
Laurence has 15 George Michael costumes
Pete Townshend studio and stage used guitar. Credit: Popicons

Ciara Dwyer

I get up at 8am every day. I live in Dundrum with my girlfriend, Gerlinde. She is Austrian. We met in a nightclub five years ago. She has a full-time job, so she is gone early in the morning. For breakfast, I have porridge and coffee.

I cycle to work every morning. I work in a shared office space in Harold's Cross. I like having people around me. Before this, I tried working from home, but it didn't work. I got cabin fever. I can go in to the office whenever I feel like it. Some days I work for an hour; other days, four hours. I'm self-employed. In 2010, I set up my own company called Pop Icons. I'm a dealer, and I specialise in high-end music memorabilia. The logic behind selling the high-end stuff is that instead of selling 1,000 autographs, I sell one guitar and make even more money. It's very efficient. I have Madonna's knickers and Eric Clapton's guitar. Typically, it's costumes worn by famous people, and instruments, too.

It all started when I'd cycle into town from Tallaght with my dad every Saturday morning. We'd go to a place called The Hill. It was a scruffy kind of market, but my dad loved it. He'd walk around looking for collectibles. Money was tight. He was a labourer; this was his hobby. Then he got some auction catalogues with entertainment memorabilia. I noticed that it was very valuable.

I think collecting is a male-oriented thing. Maybe women are more in touch with their emotions, but men need something physical to hold onto. It used to be perceived as quite nerdy, but all that changed after films like Spider-Man and X-Men came out. Aged 16, I was into Star Wars. I'd buy the toys but I wouldn't open the packs. In order to hold their value, they needed to be in pristine condition. I'd put them on display at home. Later on, I used to collect records and concert posters. I was buying limited editions, but I was acutely aware of the expensive memorabilia ­- unique pieces - but you needed capital to buy them, and I just didn't have it. Collecting is very materialistic. So I decided to get out of my bedroom and live my life more. I haven't collected since.

Pete Townshend studio and stage used guitar. Credit: Popicons
Pete Townshend studio and stage used guitar. Credit: Popicons

When Michael Jackson passed away, I went on the internet to look for Michael Jackson memorabilia. It was just an old habit. Later on, there was an auction, and some of the items sold for a lot of money. I had just left a job with a good salary. It didn't make any sense to leave, as I had a bank loan. But I needed peace of mind. I was doing whatever I could to get the money together. I bought a limited-edition signed Michael Jackson print for $500 in an auction, and sold it on eBay for $4,000. That was my light-bulb moment. For the next six months, I concentrated on buying Michael Jackson memorabilia. In the beginning, people thought I was crazy. I was showing them two Michael Jackson hats I'd bought for $2,000 and telling them that I was going to sell them for $70,000. I always had belief in myself. I shipped them over to an auction in LA and they sold for over $100,000. That allowed me to clear my debts and still have money in the bank. In order to sell at a high-end auction, you have to have proof that your items are authentic.­

I make two types of investments, long-term and short-term, and I only deal in iconic artists. There are contemporary ones like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, and legendary ones like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. If I buy something from Katy Perry, I need to sell it within a year or two, whereas I'll hold onto Madonna's jacket for another 20 years, as it will increase in value. A good time to buy something is when the artist hasn't released an album; when there is nothing happening in their career. I buy a lot of items that were donated to charity auctions and from people who have bought them there. I could be up at 4am, bidding on the phone. The ideal time to sell is when an artist passes away. It sounds morbid, and I'm a bit embarrassed saying it, but it's the truth.

Laurence has 15 George Michael costumes
Laurence has 15 George Michael costumes

I own one of the biggest collections of George Michael's costumes - I have 15. After he died, I bought the leather jacket he wore in the Faith video. You'd buy a nice new car for the price of the jacket, and hopefully, I can sell it for the price of a nice house. All of those items are going on sale this year at auction. This is the time to sell them. I bought them because I was a fan. I concentrate on artists I like. I have a David Bowie collection, and I'll be selling the items directly to private collectors - A-list celebrities, Lotto winners and individuals who are willing to pay. That cuts out the commission from auction houses. I have very few items at home. Instead, some stuff is on loan - on display in exhibitions, such as the Grammy Museum. This adds to the value. Also, I have a storage unit in LA. If I buy something in America, I leave it in America; otherwise I'd have to pay import and export tax. Also, the less shipping the better, because it reduces the risk of the item getting lost.

People buy these items to put on display in their homes. They never wear them. Usually, they buy because of their story. If someone is a huge fan of Madonna and one of her songs strikes a chord with some key moment in their life, they feel a bond with the artist. This is their way of getting closer to them.

Passion drives me to find things. The thrill is in the hunt. It can be tricky deciding on the opportune time to sell and where. I only have one chance to sell. I love doing the deal. The business side of my life has given me freedom and flexibility to do whatever I want. In the beginning, it was scary and I had awful tension headaches, but now I'm more comfortable in my own skin. I enjoy my life. I was at the Grammys and I saw Rihanna and Nicky Minaj. I have some of their costumes. I remember thinking, 'What would happen if I told them, "I have your knickers at home"?' That'd be weird.

See popicons.com

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