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 will auction close to 130 of the haute couture ensembles YSL made for his favourite private client, along
with several Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche pieces, with around 170 further lots offered in a special online sale (23-30
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.
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 — is 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 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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Other highlights include a gold lurex velvet-drapedYSL couture evening dress (estimate: €2,000-3,000) worn to
the Oscars in 2000; a sublime evening printed gazar ensemble
created for the 1989 Spring-Summer collection (estimate:
€1,000-1,500), 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’s1997 haute couture Autumn/ Winter collection (€2,000-3,000)
that the actor wore to the 1997 Cannes film festival (above).
The collection will be on view at Christie’s in Paris from 18-24 January.