Decorex Blog

24 Mar 2014 11:02
Sarah Hyde

The private life of Yves Saint Laurent comes to our attention this week as the first of two biopics about the couturier was released on Friday. Our guest writer Sarah Hyde takes a brief look at the film, and explores the wonderful Jacques Grange interiors synonymous with this legend of couture.

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An emotional portrayal of the beginning of the couture house, the newly released film shows Yves Saint Laurent’s tumultuous relationship with  Pierre Bergé.  It is a celebration of Saint Laurent’s genius but also a painful revelation about his emotional vulnerability and fragile mental health. At times, the likeness of Pierre Niney to Yves Saint Laurent is uncanny, as is the brutal honesty concerning the nature of the relationship between Saint Laurent and Bergé.

The clothes in the film are wonderful, authentic and very beautiful.  The interiors in Paris, however, are not. The original Paris apartment and its contents were sold in 2008 in the famous Christie's sale, and sadly the ones in the film are in no way comparable to the beautiful, luxurious and glamorous surroundings that Yves Saint Laurent, Bergé and Jacques Grange created which formed the real life film set of this epic, tragic, romance. The book The private life of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé is perhaps one of the best ways to really see this style, and remember it in its true glory before memory and film merge and create their own version of the truth.

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Cover of The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Berge

Jacques Grange was 21 when he began working for Saint Laurent and Bergé. He had an impeccable pedigree, having attended both the Ecole Boulle and Ecole Camondo. His taste was formed by friendship and association with such luminaries as Marie de Noailles, Madelaine Castaing, Henri Samuel and the Rothschilds. These great minds came together to discuss concepts of “taste “ and “beauty” exploring ideas as a dialogue, drawing out and sharing thoughts that collectively brought about an ever greater expression of visual beauty and style. Grange learnt from the very best and took this knowledge, of the importance of dialogue, into his work with his clients. Working with Saint Laurent was undoubtedly a wonderful opportunity.

“Yves deepened my knowledge of colour, sharpened my perception of it. But I am also amazed by the unbelievable number of objects, pieces of furniture, paintings, tapestries, carpets and drawing and sculpture to come into Yves and Pierre’s hands, which they managed to hang on to, because we are talking about true collectors who collect with a concern for literacy and historical knowledge and also a taste for excellence and for sharing. Their homes seem to be haunted by countless story book characters” – Jacques Grange

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The Dacha Grange created for Saint Laurent at Chateau Gabriel

In the apartment in Rue de Babylone objects were layered and brought together in a unique juxtaposition. Ancient Greek statues, Modern Masterpieces, Augsburg Silver, Cameos, William Morris tapestries and great works of Modernism all came together creating a very rich and opulent mise en scene for the groundbreaking couturier. Inspired initially by Marie de Noailles and perhaps a little by the apartment of “Coco” Gabrielle Chanel, their apartment developed a personality of its own, glorying in its own self-conscious brilliance. The combination of old master paintings, with a Warhol portrait of their dog Moujik cohabiting happily with seventeenth century reliquaries, was groundbreaking. This juxtaposition embraced the triumphs of modernity in the form of Eileen Grey and Mondrian and supported them with objects with serious historical gravitas.

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This was the ideal environment for Betty Catroux to lounge in her smoking and faire des bêtises with her dear friend.  A place to challenge conventional ideas of style, gender and sexuality and party with true jet-set abandon. It embodies the true French style of the early seventies that seemingly embraced the revolutionary changes of 1968 in a very loose and chic way, maintaining, perhaps for its own self respect, the perfectionism that is so uniquely French. It is perhaps a shame that it was not frozen in time and preserved as a museum.

“After all, decorating an apartment, house, workshop, or even office, generally means executing a portrait of its occupant. An interior that is totally successful reveals the character, roots, profession and hidden desires of a person with far more accuracy than handwriting analysis or an astrological horoscope.” - Pierre Passebon, author of Jacques Grange Interiors

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A party scene taken from the Yves Saint Laurent film

True to Passebon’s ideas of seeing a person’s personality through their decorative scheme, the differing personalities of Saint Laurent and Bergé become increasingly clear as their relationship continued. This is expressed in their interior style almost as much as they fight and yet desperate need to stay together in the film.

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Library in Rue de Babylone, photography by Ivan Terestchenko

Pierre Bergé is classical, his choice of style emanates tradition and classical power where as the taste of Saint Laurent is often based on narrative fantasy. Saint Laurent is a different character in every home. In his bachelor apartment he interested in tribal art, reflected in a simple, clear tonality. In Château Gabriel, their shared country retreat near Deauville, he is a character from Proust in a Belle Epoque world that is claustrophobically cushioned and cluttered. In the fabulous dacha conceived there as a little folly and an escape from the big house, he is perhaps a White Russian or a Cossack. One can only imagine how much the design of this room influenced his wonderful Russian Ballet collection.  In his workroom he is a scientist sporting a white coat with modern minimalism. In his office he is a maître couturier in a gilt-and-eau-de-Nil universe. Not surprising, considering his childhood in Algeria, it is perhaps in Morocco where he is most of all at home with colour and light.

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The Entrance Hall at Villa Marjorelle, photography by Ivan Terestchenko

Bergé is more consistent in his interior style - although significantly he did not employ Grange in his own apartment in Rue Bonaparte - and the same themes always return, power, classicism, knowledge, ownership and appropriation.

It is impossible to talk about Jacques Grange without discussing the work that he did for Yves Saint Laurent but this work does not define Grange; he is a little more elusive than that. The work is never about him but always returns to the client.  A charming projection of their taste, choice and perhaps most importantly aspiration which is then passed through Grange's prism and emerges splendid, light, harmonious and perhaps a little more inspired and beautiful than at the outset.

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Cover of Jacques Grange Interiors by Pierre Passebon

When reading this book one cannot help but be impressed by the art collections of Grange’s clients. In one apartment alone, there is a Jackson Pollock and fabulous Cy Twombly. In another, there is a Bacon triptych and a double Warhol silver Elvis. In another, there is a stunning Fontana. Grange is an expert at working with serious collectors.  Putting his ego to one side, he places these important art works centre stage, gently reinforcing them with colour, shape or light, giving them the space that they need. In the instance of a huge and magnificently intense Yves Klein two-meter wide blue canvas, he simply provides white curtains, a pair of modernist armchairs with a brilliantly subtle but deeply luxurious white quilted suede sofa, reinforcing the art work and its splendor with a discreet but decadent luxury. It is all very clever stuff.

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The lair of an aesthete and collector in London from Jacques Grange Interiors by Pierre Passebon,
photography by Marianne Haas

There is no “Grange look” and his work is only distinguishable in its subtlety, the sensitivity in the arrangement of the objects, the quality of the individual elements.  There are the discreet clues in the style of upholstery, the use of beautiful silk velvets and clever use of upholstery nails or, for example, the covering of the sofa feet. The element that really gives us a clue that this is the master’s work, aside from the subtle and ingenious linking between objects, that is as loose or as tight as the client's demands but never totalitarian, symmetrical or enforced, is the incredible use of space around the objects and pieces of furniture and the sense of harmony that this creates. There is a wonderful sensitivity about this that is perhaps the only truly discernable “consistent element” in his oeuvre.

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A classic 1920s apartment on Park Avenue in New York from Jacques Grange Interiors by Pierre Passebon, photography by François Halard

In his own apartment at the Palais Royal, the former home of Collette, he achieves a much more romantic narrative, perhaps revealing the secrets of his own heart. If this book achieves nothing else, it reminds the reader that this sensitivity and subtlety is so much more intelligent and appealing than rolled out luxury or faux classicism and symmetry. This is not a look that you can copy. It is an entire approach and a definitive way of life.

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