No designer in the past forty years has been more consistently celebrated or influential than Yves Saint Laurent. Saint Laurent’s, who died in 2008 at 71, was obsessed with Art deco and his two-story Parisian apartment appealed to this. The apartment was originally designed by Christian Bérard and Jean-Michel Frank for an American, which may in part account for its international modernist feel that makes no reference to time or place. Frank and Bérard’s interiors were madly dapper and stylish yet at the same time modern classics, being an ideal background for Saint Laurent’s unabashedly eclectic treasure trove of extraordinary objects new and old, gathered from seemingly every culture with a legitimate claim to high style. Among the masterpieces of design that densely populate the rooms are objects by the greats of Art Déco: Jean Dunand, Eileen Gray, Pierre Chareau, Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, Pierre Legrain and, of course, Christian Bérard. The pieces are offset by well-placed ancient Roman marble torsos or Italian Renaissance bronzes and brought into a more re-cent mode by whimsical zoomorphic furniture designed by Saint Laurent’s longtime friends Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne. There are also touches of the highly personal: framed photos, notes and sketches of friends or people he admires; stacks of books and magazines; vases always filled with his favourite lilies; souvenirs and reminders of friends of earlier days, such as Rudolf Nureyev, Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau. Saint Laurent’s good friend, Paris interior designer Jacques Grange, has helped with the adjustments and changes to the interiors over time. “Jacques surpassed himself in refining the details,” Saint Laurent has pointed out. Pierre Bergé, put the prestigious property on the market on April 19, 2010, asking €23.5 million for the 11-room duplex. It covers 520 square meters, and has a 436-square-meter garden.
Upon entering the apartment on rue de Babylone, the first object encountered was a spectacular over-lifesized Roman marble torso of an athlete, circa 1st–2nd century A.D. The muscular figure was originally standing with his weight on his right leg, with the right arm raised, the left arm lowered. The robust modelling of the musculature, as well as the pose, recall a type identified as the ‘oil-pourer’ traditionally associated with the 5th century B.C. Greek sculptor Polykleitos and his followers. From the raised right hand he would be pouring oil from a vessel into a bowl held in his lowered left hand. The entrée uses the colors associated with the designer’s famous Opium fragrance: red lacquered walls, a recessed gold-leafed oval ceiling and black marble floors. Straight ahead is the Grand Salon, a 70-square-meter, or 750-square-foot, rectangular room
Drawing Room, Le Grand Salon
The grand salon was a sumptuous room, designed for use with a desk, armchairs, side tables and a large sofa. But it was conceived above all as a jewel box in which to display harmoniously and to savour the dazzling masterpieces of modern art that Jacques Doucet had assembled. Between the windows hung a splendid still life by Matisse; to the right of this on the end wall by the corner hung an exceptional study by de Chirico. In the vestibule, at the top of the stairs, was Picasso’s historic Cubist masterpiece – Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
A magnificent pair of vases have, since the early 70s, stood in silent yet potent majesty either side of the long sofa sited against the west wall of the grand salon of Saint Laurent’s rue de Babylone apartment. Ovoid, raised on stepped bases, the vases are of black lacquered metal with the distinctive geometric motifs in red and gold that identify them immediately as the work of Jean Dunand. Furniture, objects, sculptures and paintings were installed in groupings, in layers of colour, texture and form that created an inter-connected succession of secular altars to great artistic sensitivity and creativity.
The grand salon pays homage to the inspiration of Jacques Doucet. Specific pieces – the stool by Pierre Legrain, the pair of banquettes by Miklos and the haunting picture by de Chirico – were in Doucet’s illustrious collection, and for that reason occupy a privileged place in the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
From middle to the right we can see, the 1914–17 Brancusi wooden sculpture Madame L.R., a Gustave Miklos palmwood-and-red-lacquer stool, Picasso’s 1914 still life in oil and sand, Musical Instruments on a Table, above a late Cézanne watercolor of Mont Sainte-Victoire, an Eileen Gray circa 1920 dragon chair estimated, Léger’s classicizing 1921 Cup of Tea (between the windows), and, at right, Vuillard’s circa 1891 Daydreaming Mary and Her Mother. Photograph by Pascal Chevallier.
Music Room, Le Salon de Musique
Off both the entrée and Grand Salon, the Music Room has glossy dark-purple lacquered walls, windows on the courtyard, and it leads to the dining room, which overlooks the garden. An ensemble of fifteen floral bronze mirrors and wall sconces by Claude Lalanne, designed between 1974 and 1985, adorn the lacquered walls of the Salon de Musique. The bronze mirrors reflect tall vases, a red lacquered chair by Jean Dunand, the exceptional sideboard by Eileen Gray or a 1707 terra-cotta Giovanni Antonio Rimondi sculpture positioned on the piano. Throught the space it is possible to see an unique Roman torso in the entrance hall. The main stairway goes from the Music Room to the lower level and to the Cabinet de Curiosities, or treasure room, a theatrical Jacques Grange creation with an inlaid parquet floor that were designed to display Mr. Saint Laurent’s collection of cameos.
Dining Room, Salle à Manger
In the dining room, an Art Deco table by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann is surrounded by 18th centuries Italian Rocco gifted chairs that are reflected in a german mirror from Louis XV. The wall panels in the dining room are hung from floor to ceiling with paintings, art pieces, bronzes and various Louis XIV tapestry realised by the painters Albert Eckhout and Frans Post.
The Library, La Bibliothèque
The Library has the same dimensions and exposure as the Grand Salon on the floor above but the floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases designed by Jacques Grange provide a warmer atmosphere. In the library, opposite the Burne-Jones, a Mondrian provides a contrast with its bold geometry made with blues, reds, yellows and black. In the other side, an panel is framed with an Edward Burne-Jones tapestry, a gift from Mr. Pierre Bergé. Below, on a telephone table it is possible to see the couture house’s original logo, hand-lettered by graphic artist Cassandre in 1961. Also on the lower level is another master suite that had been serving as a television and film screening room. There also are staff accommodations.
The Bedroom, La Chambre
Yves Saint Laurent occupied the larger bedroom on the main floor while Pierre Berge installed himself in a smaller one, on the garden level. The duo decorated their most intimate corner with mirrored fireplaces, Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann chairs, cristal sconces, paintings and art pieces. Yves saint laurent desk lodged on the top a magnifying glass alongside a small leather-bound notebook with a notation “Yves” on the front cover.
Cabinet of curiosities, Cabinet de Curiosités
Before the idea of displaying objects in a museumlike context, the only way to view treasures in courtly society north of the Alps was in the context of a Kunstkammer, literally translated as an ‘art cabinet’. In the 16th and 17th centuries wealthy members of the royal houses of modern day Austria and Germany feverishly collected, and commissioned artists to produce virtuoso works of art in exotic materials for their Kunstkammer. The purpose of these collections was for the fürstliche Reputation und Zier (princely reputation and decoration) as well as the intellectual understanding of the natural world. The diverse group of mounted cameos, rock crystal cups and carved ivory vessels in the Saint Laurent and Bergé collection therefore offers not only a rare glimpse into a modern day Kunstkammer but an even rarer opportunity to possess one.
The Garden, Le Jardin
The white marble terrace designed by the architect Manolis Karantinos can be reached through five French windows in the Library. This are was decorated with armchairs in the form of birds by Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne. A walk around the garden of leafy trees, shrubbery, bamboo and white roses included views of an adjacent private park, which increases the duplex’s feeling of privacy.
The last Days of a Mythical Address
In July 2008, Pierre Bergé announced that he would be selling their collection—amounting to some 800 lots—through Christie’s, in conjunction with his own auction house, Pierre Bergé & Associates. The empire-building entrepreneur believes Saint Laurent, with whom he had a pacs (civil union), would not have approved of his plan to liquidate their collection. But, Bergé says: “I decided to sell everything because the collection doesn’t exist if he doesn’t exist. After Yves’s death, to conserve the collection makes no sense. It will go away just like that. We all would very much like to attend our own funeral; of course, we can’t. But we can attend the funeral of a collection. It’s the end. It’s over. Economically, it’s impossible to do again. At my age, you don’t start a new collection, or buy wine too young, or plant small trees.
Sale of The Century: The YSL Auction
Like Saint Laurent’s kingly funeral, the three-day, five-session auction, that tooked place in February 23 to 25, 2009, at Paris’s Grand Palais, was a full-blown international cultural phenomenon. The result of the sale was an astounding €374 million – the Gray chair alone brought just over $28 million.
READ ALSO: Francois Catroux Interiors