In 1970s Paris, Betty Catroux and her husband, François, were the glittering couple at the heart of French high society and what used to be known as the international jet set.
She was the androgynous model and darling of the French designer Yves Saint Laurent, he the self-taught interior decorator who transformed the mansions, grand apartments and chateaux of the super-rich or royal, among them the Rothschilds, Diane von Furstenberg and, later, Roman Abramovich.
At Chez Régine nightclub, the celebrated venue on the rue de Ponthieu, the towering 6ft Betty and her husband, described by one friend as having the air of “a Riviera playboy”, held court with the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, or visiting Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner.
When the partying ended, the Catroux returned home, often in one of his expensive sports cars. And their ultimate homecoming was to be to a superb apartment in the former Maeterlinck Palace overlooking the Baie des Anges on the French Riviera at Nice, where François had decided he would end his days. It was a best-laid plan; tragically the Côte d’Azur flat, a personal culmination of his life’s work and designed entirely for him and his wife, was barely completed when Catroux discovered he had cancer. He died in November 2020.
Now the entire contents of the property, in which the couple are said to have spent only a handful of nights, are to be sold off in a single auction as a tribute to the discreet designer often hailed as one of the most influential decorators of the 21st century.
François Catroux, born in Algeria, was the grandson of the Gen Georges Catroux, a distinguished military hero who met Charles de Gaulle while in captivity in Germany during the first world war and joined the Free French in London during the second.
As a boy, Catroux was a pupil at the same Roman Catholic boarding school in Oran as Saint Laurent, who later became his close friend.
He was living in New York, working as a journalist for Elle magazine writing about luxury apartments, when the Italian fashion queen Mila Schön asked him to design her Milan showroom. The result, a laminate spaceship, caused a storm worldwide and put the 30-year-old Catroux on the design map.
As an interior designer, Catroux started with the staples of sixties design, Plexiglas and steel – but quickly moved to natural materials, wood, leather and cotton, mixing the modern and comfortable with traditional furniture and art.
While largely unknown to the general public, he quickly became the decorator of choice for aristocrats, royals and the super wealthy. He earned plaudits for mixing old, such as the Rothschild’s 17th century 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 houses in Los Angeles and Connecticut, as well as the interior of their luxury yacht.
He met Betty, whom he described as a “living mannequin” for YSL, when she sent him a drink in Régines, where she also met Saint Laurent. The couple married in 1968.
The Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello, now the creative director of Saint Laurent, told the New York Times: “Betty likes to say she was the bipolar double of Saint Laurent, which is a chic and elusive way of expressing their twinning. Through her, he was able to give life to his vision. Thanks to him, she was able to become herself.”
The sale of the contents of the couple’s Riviera home, overseen by Sotheby’s, includes about 100 lots reflecting François Catroux’s personal taste, including contemporary artworks and items from Asia and Africa, as well as some of his own creations.
Florent Jeanniard, European head of design and vice-president of Sotheby’s France, said the Catroux’s home was an “unmatched setting”. “Here, works by great contemporary artists and cutting-edge designers mingled with timeless antiques that the decorator treasured for his entire life. He loved this place and it suited him,” he said.
Jeanniard added: “Everything you see inside the apartment is up for sale. The amazing thing 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 everything in it is François Catroux’s universe. It was almost finished when he became ill so they never lived there apart from a few nights. After he died, it became too painful for Betty to go there, so the family has decided to sell it.
“Catroux was best known in France and the United States where he had many clients, but was not a well-known name to many people. However, he was without doubt one of the most important decorators of the 21st century and we believe this sale will be a tribute to him.”