Catherine Deneuve Shares Her Treasure Trove of Yves Saint Laurent in Christie's Auction

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Catherine Deneuve

Among the pieces are the gowns that the French actress wore to the Academy Awards in 1993 and 2000 and a teal dress worn at Cannes in 1997.

In 1965, Catherine Deneuve was going to meet Queen Elizabeth II alongside her then-husband, photographer David Bailey. To solve the “what to wear to meet the Queen” conundrum, Bailey suggested she visit the young couturier Yves Saint Laurent, who had opened his namesake label just four years earlier after helming Christian Dior. It was love at first dress for the two, and a friendship and business relationship between the actress and Saint Laurent lived on for four decades.

But all good things must come to an end, and the decision of Deneuve to sell her grand (read: hard-to-keep-up) Normandy estate, which housed the extensive collection of Yves Saint Laurent, left the actress with a very practical problem of no longer having the space to store them.

Fortunately, Christie’s had plenty of room and was given the over 265 lots by Deneuve to be auctioned online and live in Paris beginning next Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. On display for the press at the auction house on Avenue Matignon, the over 330-piece collection reveals the distinct lens through which the actress curated the master designer's work. 

Contrary to popular belief, the auction is not chock-full of iconic film pieces, such as the bar-setting ensembles she wore in Belle du Jour, Mississippi Mermaid and The Hunger — the latter of which catapulted Deneuve to cult status in the lesbian and goth worlds. Instead, the auction is the French icon’s personal collection that she purchased mainly for special events, including her too-many-to-count awards show appearances.

But, as her life was in the movies, Deneuve is seen wearing the pieces while talking to industry great Alfred Hitchcock, fellow celebrities Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Seymour and, oddly enough, Bjork, among others. According to Christie’s curatorial staff, the Catherine Deneuve Yves Saint Laurent auction follows in fashion importance the auctions of Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn, which they also sold.

Central to the pre-auction exhibit, of course, is the Le Smoking room, since so many of Deneuve’s YSL ensembles revolved around the iconic style the Algerian-born designer was known for. In particular, one smoking look worn to the 20th anniversary party of YSL at the Lido in 1985 seems to be created especially for the actress, as its provenance in any other collection is untraceable. The live auction focuses on 120 pieces of haute couture, while the remaining lots will be online.

Yves Saint Laurent was also about color, and an entire room is dedicated to Elsa Schiaparelli-influenced pink and black pieces, while another space, called Tutti-Frutti, demonstrates a rainbow of intensely colored YSL creations that Deneuve wore. Among them is a teal chiffon dress she donned at Cannes in 1997.

Gathering the information on the goods was a bit of a treasure hunt, according to Foundation Pierre Berge and Musée Yves Saint Laurent consultant Olivier Châtenet, who was part of an expert team who put the auction together. (Dominique Déroche, Lionel Gosset, Camille de Foresta and Patricia Frost also comprised the team.) “Normally the tag of the dress leads you to the sales records," said Châtenet. "Ms. Deneuve had at least three personal sales people at YSL and, when they went to search for these, we realized that some were missing. So, in these cases it was really difficult to identify the piece.”

Among the treasures found was a gold velvet Lurex dress worn at the 2000 Academy Awards when the film East-West was nominated; a sequin dress from 1969 that Deneuve wore to an awards ceremony where she met Hitchcock; and the black strapless silk chiffon gown trimmed with pink ostrich feathers as seen on the actress at the Academy Awards in 1993, when Indochine won best foreign film honors.

The team struck gold when a chiffon top from Saint Laurent’s famous Ballet Russes collection was located in the attic and, by chance, the coordinating skirt was found in Deneuve's Paris apartment closet. Some of the treasures were found and then lost again, such as a trench coat that the actress donated but claimed back, after having second thoughts.

According to Châtenet, one of the most surprising discoveries about Deneuve's tastes was the amount of color that the actress embraced, as the image of her in black so prevails. As they say, you can tell so much about a person from their clothes.

The auction at Christie's at 9 Avenue Montaigne in Paris is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the online auction starts Wednesday.