In 1970s Paris, Betty Catroux and her husband François form the sparkling couple at the heart of French high society and what used to be called the international jet set.
She was the androgynous model and sweetheart of French designer Yves Saint Laurent, he the self-taught interior designer who transformed the mansions, grand apartments and castles of the super-rich or royal, among them the Rothschilds, Diane von Furstenberg and, later Roman Abramovich.
At the Chez Régine nightclub, the famous hall in the rue de Ponthieu, the imposing 6-foot Betty and her husband, described by a friend as having the air of “playboy of the Riviera”, paid court to Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, or passing Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner.
When the party ended, the Catroux returned home, often in one of his expensive sports cars. And their final return will be in a superb apartment in the former Maeterlinck Palace overlooking the Baie des Anges on the Côte d’Azur in Nice, where François had decided to end his life. It was the best conceived plan; Tragically, the apartment on the Côte d’Azur, the personal culmination of his life’s work and entirely designed for him and his wife, was barely finished when Catroux discovered he had cancer. He passed away in November 2020.
From now on, all of the contents of the property, in which the couple would have spent only a few nights, will be sold in a single auction in tribute to the low-key designer often hailed as one of the most influential decorators of the 21st century.
François Catroux, born in Algeria, was the grandson of General Georges Catroux, a distinguished military hero who met Charles de Gaulle in captivity in Germany during World War I and joined the Free French in London during World War II.
As a child, Catroux was a student in the same Catholic boarding school in Oran as Saint Laurent, who later became his close friend.
He was living in New York, working as a reporter for Elle magazine writing about luxury apartments, when Italian fashion queen Mila Schön asked him to design her showroom in Milan. The result, a laminate spaceship, caused a storm around the world and put Catroux, 30, on the design map.
As an interior designer, Catroux started with the basic elements of ’60s design, plexiglass and steel – but quickly turned to natural materials, wood, leather and cotton, mixing the modern and the comfortable with traditional furniture and art.
Although largely unknown to the general public, he quickly became the decorator of choice for aristocrats, royals and the super rich. He received praise for mixing the old, such as 17th-century Rothschild tapestries, paintings by the masters, and heritage furniture, with modern designs of his own invention.
For Von Furstenberg, a longtime friend, and her husband, Barry Diller, he designed homes in Los Angeles and Connecticut, as well as the interior of their luxury yacht.
He met Betty, whom he described as a “living model” for YSL, when she sent him a drink at Régines, where she also met Saint Laurent. The couple married in 1968.
Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello, now creative director of Saint Laurent, told the New York Times: “Betty likes to say that she was Saint Laurent’s bipolar lookalike, which is a chic and elusive way of expressing their twinning. Through her, he was able to bring his vision to life. Thanks to him, she was able to become herself.
The sale of the contents of the couple’s Riviera house, overseen by Sotheby’s, includes around one hundred lots reflecting the personal taste of François Catroux, including works of contemporary art and objects from Asia and Africa, as well as some by his own creations.
Florent Jeanniard, European head of design and vice-president of Sotheby’s France, declared that the Catroux house was “an unrivaled setting”. “Here, works by great contemporary artists and avant-garde designers mingle with timeless antiques that the decorator has cherished all his life. He loved this place and it suited him, ”he said.
Jeanniard added: “Everything you see inside the apartment is for sale. What is amazing is that this sublime place is Catroux… it was his last great work.
“François wanted to end his days in the sun so they bought this apartment and he designed everything in it. This place and all that it contains is the world of François Catroux. It was almost over when he got sick so they never lived there except a few nights. After his death, it became too painful for Betty to go there, so the family decided to sell it.
“Catroux was best known in France and the United States where he had many clients, but was not a name known to many people. However, he was without a doubt one of the most important decorators of the 21st century and we believe this sale will pay homage to him.