February 20, 2009

The "Sale of the Century" - Yves Saint Laurent at Christie's, Paris

When Yves Saint Laurent died last year at the age of 71, France, and indeed the world, mourned the loss of a fashion guru. This month, less than a year after his passing, Christie's will honor his memory with an auction extravaganza, billed the "Sale of the Century", at the Grand Palais in Paris. The event will be stupendous with Christie's pulling out all the stops to promote the auction in a style that would make the master proud.

But let's back up a little bit. Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born the oldest child to wealthy parents in Oran, Algeria. As a boy he showed a talent for the theater and later became entranced with costume and fashion design. He submitted his fashion sketches to various contents and did quite well, capturing the attention of Michel de Brunhoff, editor of Paris Vogue and eventually earning him a position at the pre-eminent haute couturier Christian Dior.

When Dior dropped dead of a massive heart attack in 1957 he had already ensured the continuation of the House by naming the 21 year old Yves Saint Laurent as head designer. His first collection was a smash hit starring the "trapeze dress", but subsequent presentations did not garner the same adoration from the press. He was conscripted into the Algerian War of Independence in 1960 but served only 20 days before suffering a mental breakdown for which he was treated with electroshock therapy and drugs. After his release from the hospital, Yves Saint Laurent and his lover, industrialist Pierre Bergé, started their own couture house in 1962 and the rest is fashion history.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé
55, rue de Babylone

The new company, "YSL", was fashion-forward to say the least. Creations such as the "Safari Look", tight pants with thigh high boots and, of course, the tuxedo inspired "Le Smoking" suit, remain icons in the annals of 20th Century fashion. Saint Laurent was the first designer to present a pret-a-porter line and the first to use black models in runway shows.

Though the romantic relationship between Saint Laurent and Bergé cooled and they split in 1976, the two remained close friends and business partners for the rest of Saint Laurent's life. They maintained separate apartments on the rue Bonaparte and the rue Babylone in Paris, and had homes in Marrakech, Tangier, Deauville and Saint Rémy. They were united by many bonds, but perhaps the strongest was their mutual love of collecting, a passion they pursued in perfect harmony for 50 years.

It is this massive collection that will be sold in a week long spectacle hosted by Christie's under the gigantic glass nave of the Grand Palais. 733 lots comprising treasures in the areas of antiquities, old master paintings and drawings, 19th Century paintings and drawings, modern art, silver, art deco furniture, rococo furniture, bronze sculpture, 16th Century enamels and Asian art. The names are a veritable who's who in art and design - Hals, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Cézanne, Degas, Matisse, Duchamp, Picasso, Brancusi, Leger and Mondrian together with Qing Dynasty, Louis XV, Sèvres, Limoges, Jean Dunand, Jean Michel Frank, and Eileen Gray, to mention just a few.

Given the sheer volume of material and the pre-sale estimate of $233-375 million, one wonders how a sale of this magnitude will fare under the current global economic slowdown. Nevertheless, Christie's is sparing no expense in promoting this event with previews of select pieces in showrooms around the world, a museum worthy installation in the enormous and beautiful Grand Palais, and a catalog weighing in at 44 lbs and the size of a microwave ($400 and sold out in a matter of hours). The previews are open to the public starting today and there is no question that there will be long lines of curious spectators. The auction marathon begins on the 23rd and Christies is promising heater lamps and red blankets to keep potential bidders warm in the chill of the giant atrium. It will be interesting to see how hot the bidding gets! Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Hi Georgina - Thanks for the write-up. I scrolled through a few pages of the catalog on the Christie's website before boggling! I trust you'll be at the Grand Palais to snap up some choice tidbits for your eager customers?

Georgina Kelman said...

Thanks for the comment, Anonymous - do I know you?