Antenna: The ‘beautiful love affair’ between Catherine Deneuve and YSL

The iconic French actor’s wardrobe of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture pieces, made specially for her over 40 years, sells for €900,625 at auction in Paris during Haute Couture Fashion Week. Meredith Etherington-Smith looks at highlights


Catherine Deneuve, wearing a black wool smoking jacket and trousers by YSL, poses with Yves Saint Laurent in a shoot by photographer Helmut Newton (foreground left), 16 November 1981. The shoot marked the 20th anniversary of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house. Photo: Bruno Bachelet/Paris Match via Getty Images

For nearly half a century Catherine Deneuve, the luminous, award-winning film star, and Yves Saint Laurent, the world-renowned fashion designer, were close friends. In 2002, at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of Saint Laurent’s career in haute couture, the French actor told him, ‘My most beautiful love affair is with you.’

At his fashion shows, Deneuve always sat front and centre in the private clients’ row, supporting her friend and wearing his couture designs, which he made especially for her. The star was his first customer at his new Prêt-à-Porter store, Rive Gauche, when it opened in 1967, and remained Saint Laurent’s muse until his death in 2008.

On 24 January in Paris, during Haute Couture Fashion Week, Christie’s held a five-hour-long auction of 129 haute couture ensembles made by Yves Saint Laurent for his favourite private client. Every lot was sold, with the sale realising a total of €900,625/$1,025,581. Ahead of the auction 4,500 visitors attended the preview. A special online sale, in which 140 further lots are offered, continues until 30 January.

Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent at the 20th anniversary celebrations of YSL at the Lido in Paris in 1982. Photograph: Getty Images

A black wool smoking jacket and trousers, Haute Couture circa 1982. Sold for €20,000 on 24 January at Christie’s in Paris

The star and the couturier originally met in 1965 through the suggestion of Deneuve’s husband at the time, the photographer David Bailey. ‘I was invited to be presented to Queen Elizabeth,’ she remembers, ‘and my husband suggested that I ask Yves Saint Laurent for an evening dress.’

The 22-year-old arrived at Saint Laurent’s couture atelier on rue Spontini in Paris clutching a photo from his Russian collection from the previous year, which he agreed to recreate for her. That long white crepe dress with a panel of red embroidery proved to be the start of a long collaboration and an intimate friendship, which extended well beyond his last couture show in 2002.

Catherine Deneuve, in a beaded evening dress from YSL’s Spring/Summer 1969 couture show, meets Alfred Hitchcock in 1969. Photograph: Getty Images

A beaded evening dress, Spring/Summer 1969. Sold for €42,500 on 24 January at Christie’s in Paris

The pair’s relationship crossed over into Deneuve’s film career when Saint Laurent designed the costumes for one of the actor’s most celebrated films, Louis Buñuel’s 1967 classic, Belle de Jour, followed by La Sirène du Mississipi (Mississipi Mermaid), directed by François Truffaut in 1969.

Among the highlights from the collection — which includes coats, suits, dresses and accessories — was a beaded evening dress from YSL’s 1969 Spring/Summer couture show, which was worn by Deneuve when she met Alfred Hitchcock that same year, in the company of François Truffaut. The dress was later exhibited in the Yves Saint Laurent retrospective in 1993 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

‘We write to each other often,’ the designer told Elle  magazine in 1992. ‘I call her “Catherine, my sweet”, and she sends me pale-coloured roses.’ At the designer’s funeral at the Saint Roch church close to the Louvre in 2008, Deneuve read a poem by Walt Whitman, which was relayed to the 1,000-strong crowd outside via a giant screen.

‘His consummate gravitas during the fittings, together with his shy charm outside the atelier, made all the years we shared together so enchanting,’ says Deneuve. ‘Our silent complicity, our crazy laughter and our melancholy brought us together.

‘I had the privilege of being given access to this world of luxury, to train my eye and my taste by his side. He dressed me several times in films and I think that Belle de Jour, in particular, owes a great deal to him.’

Catherine Deneuve wearing a YSL blue chiffon evening dress at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997. Photograph: Getty Images

An evening gown in draped silk mousseline, Spring-Summer 1997. Sold for €8,125 on 24 January at Christie’s in Paris

Catherine Deneuve is now selling her house in Normandy where she has kept this unique, private collection of Yves Saint-Laurent couture and accessories. ‘These are the clothes of such a talented man who only designed clothes to beautify women,’ she says of her parting from these cherished creations.

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The top lot of the auction was a haute couture evening ensemble from the Russian Collection designed by Saint Laurent in 1977/78. Selling for €52,500, it realised 10 times its high estimate. 

Other highlights included a gold lurex velvet-draped YSL couture evening dress (sold for €21,250) worn to the Oscars in 2000; a sublime evening printed gazar ensemble created for the 1989 Spring-Summer collection (sold for €3,000), which was worn by Deneuve when she received the Golden Globe for the Best Foreign Film with Indochine  in January 1993; and a blue chiffon evening dress from YSL’s 1997 haute couture Autumn/Winter collection (sold for €8,125) that the actor wore to the 1997 Cannes film festival (above).

The online auction of Catherine Deneuve’s wardrobe continues until midnight 30 January.

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