Channeling Yves Saint Laurent

Every time a fashion designer sends a model down the catwalk in a peasant blouse, safari jacket, or a man’s tuxedo, they pay homage the genius of Yves Saint Laurent. But the couturier was equally gifted in the arena of decor, nabbing some of the best talent and trends over the past 50 years and continuing to influence designers today (think dark woods, exotic global touches, ’30s Art Deco). As Saint Laurent famously asserted: “Fashions fade, style is eternal.”

The Left Bank apartment that Saint Laurent shared with Pierre Bergé, his life-long partner, is a reflection of an incredible eye. Following YSL’s death in 2008, Bergé auctioned the collection of 700 objets and art in their Parisian apartment for an astounding $484 million. Here are some points on capturing Saint Laurent’s eclectic look (sans sarcophagus).

Cultivate your passions. Great style doesn’t just happen, it’s a layered approach to surrounding yourself with items that speak to you. In the case of Saint Laurent, his voracious collecting was a form of creative inspiration; witness the Old Master drawings, a rare Eileen Gray dragon chair (centre), surrealistic fancies and Renaissance bronzes. And be prepared to sweat the small details. A butler adjusts the curtains by interior designer Jacques Grange, who helped polish the decor as the apartment’s rooms became denser. “Jacques surpassed himself in refining the details,” Saint Laurent explained. “The stitching on the draperies, the quilting on the bedspread, are marvelous.”

Find a style mentor. Saint Laurent and Bergé cited Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, an avante–garde French aristocrat, as a major decor influence. Early pictures of her salon show a modernist box with parchment walls and straw marquetry furniture by Jean-Michel Frank. Her portrait by Balthus and paintings were hung on chains or thick knotted rope. She juxtaposed items no one thought to combine and clustered seating in comfortable groups. Saint Laurent paid close attention, placing African sculpture in the midst of European masterpieces.

Head for the woods. The walls of 55 Rue de Babylone were clad in sleek oak panelling, with brass radiators. It doesn’t matter that the heady wood tones in this den don’t match, they impart a richness that transcends trends. Other natural materials such as leather, brass and suede, conjure up the ’70s heyday of YSL’s safari chic and Marrakesh-inspired collections.

Make it personal. The library is overflowing with framed photos (including Warhol portraits of Saint Laurent’s French bulldog, Moujik), notes and sketches; stacks of books and magazines; souvenirs and reminders of friends such as Rudolf Nureyev, Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau. “Nobody can imagine my capacity for solitude,” he said. “For somebody like me, who can’t stop accumulating objects, the absence of them is an oddity.”

Cultivate fantasy. Saint Laurent had a flair for sumptuous, theatrical and extravagant spaces, even outdoors. In his Parisian parterre, a marble bust conjures a film set by Jean Cocteau. “I like my garden to be peopled with statues,” the designer has said. “I like it to be mysterious — like the garden in Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête.” The marble bird chair is by a favourite artist known for his witty surrealist animal sculptures, François-Xavier Lalanne.

Collect original art. Investment value aside (the Matisse behind YSL fetched a staggering $45 million, the highest price ever recorded at an auction for a work by this artist), art is an edifying addition to interiors. It also fulfilled YSL’s love for colour and put him in the class of his role model, Marie-Laure de Noailles, of one of the greatest art patrons in the world.

Photo credits:
1. Vanity Fair
2, 4, 5. Vanity Fair, photography by Pascal Chevallier
3. Wall Street Journal
6. Architectural Digest, photography by Pascal Hinous & Marianne Haas
7. 20 Little Cities

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