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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Pierre Bergé

Photo By Dominique Maitre

Reached by WWD, Zupp Finance’s chief executive officer, Richard Kuechler, declined comment, deferring further questions to the firm’s chief operating officer, Werner Mueller, whom he said was in the company’s Sierra Leone office. In addition to art, renewable energies, oil, steel and real estate, Zupp Finance purportedly works in diamonds and gold from that location.

Mueller did not respond to e-mail requests for comment. Repeated phone calls to Zupp’s three offices were unanswered, and the company did not have voice mail.

Bergé’s New York-based lawyer Coblence said he had not heard of Zupp Finance and was unaware of its Saint Laurent listing.

As for Zupp Finance, Geiger said, “It has nothing to do with us. I know nothing behind this company.”

Whether Zupp’s Saint Laurent collection exists or is authentic remains to be seen, but the asking price may be inflated. During a phone interview, Patricia Frost, international specialist in fashion and textiles for Christie’s, said she had been shown a collection of Saint Laurent sketches, including many erotic ones, twice in the past 10 years. The auction house passed on the prospect, questioning the commercial value of such risqué material. After being informed that a WWD reporter had recently seen digital images of what appeared to be authentic, signed Saint Laurent sketches, Frost was reminded of the ones she reviewed in the past.

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“Maybe that’s what has resurfaced,” Frost said. The works were presented by two different parties, one being “an Italian gentleman,” but Frost declined to name either. “We had to tell them that this was not going to be a commercial opportunity for us.”

The erotic nature of the work was not “really open-auction material,” Frost said. “It’s just a question of what you want to put up onstage. Some were not quite pornographic, but they would have been difficult for us to publish. We publish [catalogues] in so many different countries internationally,” noting that Christie’s is respectful of the various cultures in each.

Having drawn thousands of sketches in his 72-year life, Saint Laurent illustrations extended beyond fashion to film, theater, ballet and erotica. “He was terrifically prolific. He drew every day of his life,” she said. “His fashion illustrations that are connected to a specific collection are the most valuable. Sketches from his Russian collection are the most coveted. One of those sketches could go for up to a couple thousand pounds. Whereas, something from the Eighties might only bring 100 to 150 [pounds at auction]. There is a big range.

“It is quite a niche market for things of his that aren’t fashion-related,” Frost said. “It will be very interesting to see if it does go up, and if people are interested.”

Saint Laurent devotees and art fans alike were certainly interested when the massive art collection that the designer and Bergé compiled went under the gavel at Christie’s in 2009. Trumpeted as “the sale of the century,” the three-day auction generated $484 million in sales. But it was not without controversy. At that time, two bronze sculptures that had disappeared from China nearly 150 years ago — and were demanded back by Beijing — sold for millions.

Further complicating the sketches situation is that the Paris-based publisher Bazar Edition plans to release a book of Saint Laurent’s erotic drawings in the fall of 2013 or in 2014. Founder and chief executive officer Thomas Doustaly said via e-mail last month that he first heard about the erotic drawings “a long time ago” from his “close friend” Bergé. “When I founded my publishing house, it was one of the reasons to do so — to publish this amazing ensemble of drawings from the Sixties, Seventies and the Eighties. Mr. Bergé is the owner of the rights of all of Mr. Yves Saint Laurent’s works.”

When the yet-to-be-named tome launches, it will have worldwide distribution rather than a debut in France, Doustaly said.

Whether that project will come to fruition remains to be seen.

Coblence, Bergé’s New York-based lawyer, said, “Pierre Bergé is going to do everything he can to obtain these to prevent them from being published. He is going to recover these possessions because they have been stolen. He has no moral judgment or inhibitions about publishing erotic drawings, but those drawings have been stolen.”

And considering Saint Laurent’s freewheeling lifestyle, just how risqué the drawings are is open to interpretation. In a Q&A with Bianca Jagger in Interview magazine in 1973, she asked the designer flat out about his interest in porn.

Jagger said, “Pornography — does it excite you?”

Saint-Laurent responded, “Pornography? I don’t know what that is. Pornography, eroticism, love, it’s all the same to me.”

Forty years after that exchange, the creative class seems to be just as curious as ever about the designer and his work. Pat Cleveland, who was part of the Paris scene with the designer then, can understand why. “It was like a giant watering hole, with all the elephants, giraffes and lions. Everybody was partying together and would end up in the same places. That was when everybody was so free. Now when you get to be famous, you have to have an entourage,” she said. “The first time I saw Yves, he was getting out of his black VW Beetle and was walking to his building. He used to drive himself and leave the doors unlocked.”

While the legal wrangling over the late designer’s portfolio continues, new Saint Laurent-inspired films are in the works. Documentary filmmaker Loïc Prigent has wrapped up “Yves Saint Laurent: Le Dernier Defile” (“The Last Fashion Show”), which is scheduled to air on French-German TV station Arte in late February. Bergé, Violetta Sanchez and the head of Saint Laurent’s atelier, Monsieur Jean-Pierre, were among the handful of people Prigent interviewed for the film, which he hopes will provide both a historical and inside-the-house point of view. Anchored, as the film is, on the designer’s work, it also reveals a bit of his personality. “He didn’t ever say goodbye to Monsieur Jean-Pierre or to Violetta, because he didn’t want to say goodbye,” Prigent said. “So that was sweet and bittersweet at the same time.”

Noting that two fictional feature films about Saint Laurent are being developed by directors Bertrand Bonello and Jalil Lespert, Prigent said the French remain intrigued by the late designer’s life. “I guess he’s really a great legend. His life is really fascinating to people. They like the idea that he was kind of a poet who had a nervous breakdown. They really love his weaknesses.”

Prigent, whose film credits include backstage looks at Sonia Rykiel and Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, said of his most recent project, “The documentary that I have done is not about that at all. I’m always interested in the actual work. I am never interested in the private life.”


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