How to own a piece of Catherine Deneuve's vintage YSL collection

The actress is auctioning her treasure trove of Yves Saint Laurent outfits online between January 23 and 30

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"These are the creations of such a talented man who only designed clothes to beautify women." This is how Catherine Deneuve, the feted French actress, describes the clothes she is about to part with at auction. All made for her by her great friend and favourite designer Yves Saint Laurent, the collection has been amassed over a period of 40-odd years. Now divided into 300 lots, it will all go under the hammer at Christie's in two sales from tomorrow to January 30.

The relationship between fashion and cinema is well documented. Think Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn, or Marilyn Monroe and Chanel No 5. Salvatore Ferragamo earned his reputation making shoes for Hollywood stars, and Giorgio Armani was introduced to a wider audience by dressing Richard Gere in American Gigolo.

So in 1965, when a young Deneuve met the world-famous designer, it signalled the beginning of another muse and artist relationship that would last until Saint Laurent's death in 2008. Barely in her 20s, the French actress met him when she was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth. Her then husband, British photographer David Bailey, suggested she contact the designer to request a gown for the event.

Yves Saint Laurent and Catherine Deneuve in 1982. Courtesy of Christie's
Yves Saint Laurent and Catherine Deneuve in 1982. Courtesy of Christie's

Having made an appointment, Deneuve arrived at the YSL atelier on Rue Spontini clutching, as she describes "a photograph of his ­Russian collection from the previous year". He agreed to make the requested dress for her, and she then suggested he create the clothes for her soon-to-begin-filming movie Belle de Jour.

"I was only 20 years old when I had the privilege of receiving access to this world of luxury, to train my eye and my taste by his side," Deneuve explains. The wardrobe that Saint ­Laurent went on to make for the film was stark and chic, and remains a ­reference point to this day. "He dressed me several times for films, and I believe that Belle de Jour owes a great deal to him."

Despite both having a reputation for being aloof and offhand, the pair became firm friends, seemingly bonded by a mutual fragility. "His supreme gravitas during the fittings alongside his shy charm outside the atelier made all the years we shared so enchanting – our silent complicity, our crazy laughter and our melancholy brought us together," says the actress.

The collection offers items from haute couture and ready-to-wear, and even some pieces that were custom-made for Deneuve, giving a unique glimpse into the lives and careers of both her and Saint Laurent. One full-length evening suit in dazzling red and pink, for example (from the haute couture spring-summer 1989 collection) was worn by Deneuve to the 1993 Golden Globes, where her film Indochine collected an award for Best Foreign Film. It is estimated to sell at auction for between €1,000 and €1,500 (up to Dh6,300). Another couture gown, made from exquisitely draped gold lurex velvet, was worn to the 2000 Oscars ­ceremony, in which her film East/West (directed by Regis Wargnier) was nominated for Best ­International Film.

Elsewhere, pieces are markers of the notoriously delicate ­designer's periods of creativity, such as a cowl neck leopard print from ­autumn-winter 1992. During the time when he was locked in ­emotional turmoil, he still produced this dress in the most exuberant of animal prints.

Of course, no conversation about Saint Laurent is complete without mentioning Le Smoking, the sharply tailored tuxedo suit that he created for women. As his muse, Deneuve was one of the first women to wear one for the 20th anniversary celebration of the house of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. It was at this event the actress is reported to have told the designer that "my most beautiful love affair is with you". Included in the sale this month is a black wool jacket and trousers made especially for her, which is estimated to sell for up to Dh6,300.

The star of the collection has to be a short beaded couture gown from 1969. Concocted as a watery floral (as if seen through a rain-­covered windowpane), it's beautiful in its subtlety, with beaded flowers picked out in tones of alabaster and peach. Deneuve wore this to meet director Alfred Hitchcock in the company of Philippe Noiret and Francois ­Truffaut, and it's estimated to sell for up to Dh12,600.

Such is the provenance of each piece – and the unique lure of its history – that the sale has been described by Francois de Ricqles, president of Christie's France, as bringing together "one of the most famous French actors and one of the most illustrious French designers". Unusually for a fashion sale, half of the collection will be sold only online, until January 30, while the second half will go under the hammer at Christie's Paris on Thursday.

As for why the actress has decided to sell her collection now, her reason is entirely relatable, even if her charmed lifestyle is not. “I am ­leaving my house in Normandy where I kept this wardrobe [and] not without a certain sadness.”


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