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Christie's Parisian Yves St. Laurent Auction
Recently I had the privilege to visit the apartment of Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé at 55 rue de Babylone in Paris. As all the reports attest, it is a remarkable place full of the best quality objects, paintings, and decorative arts. Numerous objects stood out for me, like an Eileen Gray sideboard lacquered by the designer in silver when she was an apprentice to a Japanese master; the dark aubergine walls covered with giant contemporary gilt mirrors by Claude and François-Xavier LaLanne; and a Louis XIV Limoges enamel surrounded by colored gem stones. There is also the large Brancusi sculpture in wood, the Mondrian paintings in original condition, the Goyas that rivals those at the Met…the list goes on.
I was there as a guest of my client, the auction house Christie’s, who is conducting a sale of the collections. The best lots are now on view at the Grand Palais. The relatively minor lots—the things a director at Christie’s explained we might be able to afford—will be sold in the fall. The current sale started on February 23rd and is estimated to bring in approximately 400 million dollars.
I was at the apartment with my partner Rick Ellis, who is a collector himself as well as a leading stylist, both of food and interiors. We poured over the items with an acute eye and shared a rare moment where we both thought nothing we saw was bad. It was all good. A client from London upon seeing the array agreed, remarking "you know it simply isn’t worth collecting anymore. One will never be able to do what YSL did. Money isn’t the answer and no money could duplicate that magnificent heap." In reply, I deadpanned, "lack of money rarely stops true collectors."
I paid particular attention to the architecture which was largely executed in the 1920’s, while much of the decoration was from the 1970’s. Several rooms have dark shiny walls and two are paneled with limed oak, both styles of which were archetypal of the protracted 20th-century taste for Art Deco—a taste that badly suffered from overuse in the 1980’s. However, seeing and appreciating these rooms now, it is important to understand that St. Laurent and Bergé were leaders of this revival. Furthermore, their examples are so brilliant that they have a timeless quality.
As a decorator living with a collector, I studied with special interest the successful arrangements of so many different kinds of works of art and decoration in a concentrated space. Every organizational device was used. Virtually every tabletop was composed of various collections of objects. Smaller tables were tiered below for other groupings. Symmetry, supposedly to instill calm in the agitated St. Laurent, was fully employed. Like objects were brought together—there was an entire table of silver Rhinish cups—and disparate objects contrasted. A fetish-like interest in lighting was ingeniously used. Myriad lamps, projectors, even custom light bulbs appeared throughout the apartment. I noticed in the front hall a perfectly placed projector, camouflaged in gold leaf to match the ceiling.
I left the apartment in awe. After a double espresso, I began a long analysis of the rooms with Rick and a group of friends who also visited the apartment. Of course we all opined about what we liked best and what we would take, given the option. During this type of conjecture, I always think of that vintage TV program, Supermarket Sweepstakes, where contestants ran around a grocery store grabbing as much as they could in a short time.
Then, removing this image from my head and, with proper reverence, I said the apartment was great, but in the end it was all so good, so beautifully decorated and arranged that it lacked any humor. Rick disagreed and mentioned the Roman marble of the naked torso flanked by Burne-Jones’ angels in the William Morris tapestry. Reconsidering, I thought of the Warhol portraits of their beloved dog, Moujik, lined up on the floor, at dog-eye level and just the good humor of all those collections so artfully piled around. I concluded that along with a brilliant eye, you have to have a sense of humor to live like this.
All images courtesy Christie’s Images, Ltd. 2009.