The Mystery of the Saint Laurent Sketches

More than four years after the designer's death, an international dispute about a 400-item portfolio of his drawings and personal items is swirling.

By and
with contributions from Melissa Drier, Miles Socha
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Geiger insisted that Thomas transferred ownership of similar works to the German businessman and claimed that the exchange was entirely on the up-and-up. Thomas also signed over the rights to his biography with the collection, because he wanted to close the Saint Laurent period in his life, Geiger said. The aim is to sell the art and the rights to the biography together.

“The collection was not stolen. Pierre Bergé told that story, but it is absolute nonsense. He knows very well it was not stolen,” Geiger said. “It’s bad theater, what they do.”

Geiger said that Bergé’s Paris-based law firm, Cabinet Pierrat, has approached Geiger, the current owner and a second German businessman whom he declined to identify but is serving as a manager. Geiger declined to specify what, if any, legal action has been taken by either party. Bergé’s Paris-based lawyer, Emmanuel Pierrat, also declined comment.

One of the other partners at the law firm, Julien Fournier, said via e-mail, “Unfortunately, we regret not to be able to give you any information about our clients; as lawyers [we] are bound by professional secrecy and all information is strictly confidential.”

Fournier also declined to say where and when the complaint or lawsuit was filed. “The Paris Bar rules are very strict, and prevent lawyers from giving any information concerning our clients on any subject,” Fournier wrote.

Asked if Cabinet Pierrat is working on his behalf, Bergé could not say for certain. As for whether his legal team is nearing a resolution or decision of some kind, Bergé said, “I don’t think so.”

Thomas first got to know Saint Laurent when he was “a little child,” since both of his parents worked for the designer, Geiger claimed. He also worked for the designer at one point as a driver, Geiger said. “Fabrice knew him as a driver, as a friend, as a boy,” Geiger said of Thomas’ relationship with the late designer.

Thomas did not become romantically involved with Saint Laurent until 1990, and the relationship lasted for at least two years, he said. After they split up, Thomas met the current owner, who allegedly gave him a new course in life. Geiger described the owner as a European businessman who specializes in luxury goods. He said, “If you would like to have a castle here or there, he can arrange that. Or if you would like to buy a special type of Rolls-Royce.…”

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As for how Thomas became acquainted with the businessman, who divides his time between Switzerland, France, Germany and other countries, Geiger said they met in 1992 or 1993, in the south of France, where Thomas opened an antique store after he left Saint Laurent.

When Geiger was first approached by the current owner about the collection, he said he was not interested. “This was not my world. I could tell you about Holbein and van Dyck. I had studied this more,” he said.

But the vastness of the portfolio and Thomas’ detailed written descriptions about each item helped sway his interest. The portfolio, Geiger explained, covers a 40-year stretch of the designer’s life, with items from as early as 1952 and through 1992. Among the pieces are a Helmut Newton photograph, “a wonderful drawing of Saint Laurent’s mother” that he did at the age of 16, a self-portrait where he pictured himself with “death’s head,” a 32-to-36 page journal from his days in Marrakech and a 40-page homage to Maria Callas from her days in Paris when she was at the center of the homosexual scene of Europe. There is also a painting that Andy Warhol did of Saint Laurent’s dogs during a visit with him in Paris. The Pop artist jumped on a plane to France after speaking on the phone with the designer and learning that he was under the weather, Geiger said. Saint Laurent touched up Warhol’s gift with his own artistry, he added.

Geiger claims the entire portfolio has been valued by four different parties at as much as 12 million euros, or $15.5 million at current exchange, and without the 120 to 140 erotic drawings, it would be worth between 5 million and 10 million euros, or $6.5 million to $12.9 million. He claimed to have a written assessment in the current owner’s name from the Monaco bank where the collection was stored for years, although he declined to identify the bank. There are about 250 drawings, with some done on both sides of one piece of paper.

The way Geiger tells the story, when Thomas and Saint Laurent were parting ways, the designer advised Thomas to check with the person in the atelier who was overseeing the archives to see if that person needed the 400-item cache. If the drawings were no longer needed, then they would be Thomas’ to keep, Geiger said.

The portfolio’s current owner, Geiger and the German-born, Geneva-based businessman who is acting as the manager expect to reach a resolution about whether they will exhibit the collection or sell it within the next few weeks. Japan is among the locations being considered for an exhibition, since Saint Laurent is such “a big name there,” Geiger said. “San Francisco, Berlin, New York — there are a lot of possibilities, but we will be very careful. There is no need for us to do anything.”

That said, the European trio might wind up selling the collection in its entirety. “Both [exhibiting and selling] are possibilities,” Geiger said. “If we get a good offer for a sale, why not?”

If the situation weren’t murky enough, there is yet another interested party. Zupp Finance, a little-known Swiss finance trading and investment company, has a listing on its Web site for a 400-item portfolio of Saint Laurent sketches and other personal possessions it values at about $8.9 million based on current exchange rates. Based in Brunnen, Switzerland, the company is said to be “a finance trading and investment company with an active presence in Europe, Russia and Africa.”

Dated Feb. 26, 2012, a document listed on Zupp Finance AG’s site last month claims to be a certificate of authenticity for the YSL materials, which have an asking price of 6.8 million euros, or $8.8 million at current exchange. It also states the work was made from 1952 to 1992. In addition to 100-plus erotic drawings, the collection listed on the Zupp Web site is said to include a journal from Marrakech, a 30-page homage to Maria Callas, a drawing of Saint Laurent’s mother and drawings for fashion, theater, stage and ballet, among other things.

“The works was [sic] given separately as gifts from YSL to his intimate partner Fabrice, some pages are dedicated to him, who buildup this collection.” The document continues, “The collection has been changed by legal way the ownership. The collection is free for sale with no rights of any third party. In the sales contract will be confirmed that the collection is of ‘noncriminal origin.’”

It also claims to be “the biggest and [most] comprehensive collection in private property with works by one of the important fashion designer and artist [sic] of the 20th century.” (Zupp Finance has since updated its Web site to add a security measure that requires interested parties to provide their name and e-mail address to access additional listings.)

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