The king of French high decoration, from Saint Laurent or Lagerfeld to Carolina de Monaco: “I find more pleasure in action than in possession.  I buy something almost every day”

Jacques Grange walks agile at 77 years old. It’s not easy to sit him down on his cute 1940s fuchsia tufted sofa: gallery owners, journalists and designers who stroll through the PAD Paris antiques fair constantly interrupt this interview to greet the king of French high decoration. Grange was the first who dared to pairing Louis XV antiques with pop works and is behind all the houses of Yves Saint Laurent, the Lauders, Carolina de Monaco, François Pinault Pinault, Valentino or Karl Lagerfeld. We talked to him about Yves, Warhol, New York in the seventies, rich Greek shipowners, his Parisian apartment in the Palais Royal where Colette lived, auctions and, above all, antiques, his great weakness.

Yves Saint Laurent was key in his life. “I dropped out of high school to study at École Bule and Camondo because I was very interested in decoration, and I asked a friend to introduce me to Henri Samuel [el histórico interiorista francés] to make a scholarship with him. I think it was 1962. Everything arrived at the same time: antiques, design, decoration… creation, in short. I was only 24 years old, but I was very lucky and was able to convince people with enormous artistic talent, like Yves Saint Laurent, for whom I created three houses and his house of couture, so that they would let me do it. I learned a lot from him, he was the best colorist in the world of fashion”, recalls Grange, noting that it was not he who chose the pieces, but rather his partner and partner, Pierre Bergé. “He made a preselection for Yves, which he finally said yes or no. I advised, Pierre executed and Yves decided on everything aesthetic. It was always like this. As for the decoration, everything he wanted was done. Like when we built a lake at the Château Gabriel in Benerville-sur-Mer. When Yves took a bath he found it small and, although Bergé grunted and resisted, we ended up changing him”.

The interior designer affirms that Saint-Laurent was not difficult. He would give her a theme for the interiors, without going into details, and let her research it. “The first time I worked for him was in his studio, and he asked me to set it like an Antonioni film. Easy, huh?” he says wryly. “I asked his assistant for help, so that he could explain his tastes to me, I did the work, he was happy and he never left me. He said ‘Let’s call Jacques, I adore him’, c’est mignon! I made her sewing houses in Paris, New York, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and with pleasure. It was very funny”. When the designer died, Bergé, still his partner but now a former partner, got rid of the huge collection they had amassed together. Grange, who had helped to compose it, went to that historic Christie’s auction (in which almost 400 million euros were raised) “looking for something for myself and for clients. I bought myself a seat, a bedside table, a plaque… memories of him. For some clients I got the sublime collection of mirrors by Claude Lalanne, a table by Jean-Michel Frank…”.

Jacques Grange poses for ICON Design at the Pierre Passebon 'stand' at PAD Paris.
Jacques Grange poses for ICON Design at the Pierre Passebon ‘stand’ at PAD Paris.Audoin Desforges

He himself starred in a resounding monographic sale, Jacques Grange Collectionneur, at Sotheby’s in 2017. The total raised was €28 million. In it he got rid of picasso, sugimotos, klee, Magrittes and works by design royalty such as Jean-Michel Frank, Jean Royère or Eileen Gray. “It amuses me to see that my gaze was accurate, that these pieces have been revalued, and to have not only a reputation as a decorator –and he says that word without complexes, although others avoid it because they consider it frivolous–, but also as a collector”. She affirms that what moves her is curiosity. “That’s why I’m so eclectic in my purchases. My favorite is the design of the XX but I am open to contemporary creation. I also love the French 18th century, especially the painted Louis XVI furniture or the turn-of-the-century mahogany ones: the neoclassical ones, not the gilt ones,” she specifies. He started very young. “In the seventies I met the Lalannes, but I couldn’t afford their pieces, so I offered them to my clients.” Until the bar cabinet was bought Les Autruches: a fantasy kitsch by François-Xavier Lalanne, two metal and Sèvres porcelain ostriches whose bodies hide bottles and accessories. It was the most expensive piece, it cost just over 6 million euros. “I have no attachment to objects. I find more pleasure in action than in possession. I buy something almost every day,” she says.

These purchases were possible thanks to his success as an interior designer. “I have had a very consistent career. When I had already done many things in Paris, I went to the United States and succeeded. I was lucky they introduced Ronald Lauder [de la famosa casa cosmética], president of MoMA and a great art collector, who commissioned me several times and opened the door to New York high society for me. You have to have a hand, passion, work hard… and be lucky, right? Her introduction was made by Nathalie Valentine, the youngest daughter of Marie Laure de Noailles, whom she says was the great muse of her youth. “I was having dinner in Venice with her and had just bought a fantastic piece of Jean-Michel Frank furniture. [el inventor del lujo despojado en los años veinte]. I teased her by telling her that she would never pay me what I asked for, that only someone like Ronald Lauder would. And she answered me very seriously: ‘Tomorrow I’ll have breakfast with him, I’ll introduce him to you’. And, indeed, she introduced me to him, she came to Paris, bought me the furniture and invited me to go to the United States to work for him. Although he already knew my name: we had fought over a desk by Robert Mallet-Stevens designed for the Villa Noailles in Hyères, which was up for auction in New York and I wanted it as a souvenir, so I bid and bid, it had gone way up to that my room contact on the phone told me: ‘Jacques, give it up, your opponent is not going to stop.’ It was Lauder, who bought it and asked who it was that had made him pay so dearly.”

Yves Saint Laurent's couture house decorated by Jacques Grange in 1994.
Yves Saint Laurent’s couture house decorated by Jacques Grange in 1994. Pascal CHEVALLIER (Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Grange hates consoles and chests of drawers, even though he admires Pierre Le Tan’s booth gallery owner Pierre Passebon, his partner for years, where we photograph him and where the interview takes place. “I never use them. They are too bourgeois,” she says in a flirtatious whisper. In his pantheon of gods, the omnipresent Jean-Michel Frank. “It refined everything, it was a before and after. He also loved the modernity of Pierre Chareau and the French Modern Movement of the 1930s, Mallet-Stevens… ”. From this twenty-third edition of the PAD, the installation of the Laffanour gallery remains, full of original pieces by Isamu Noguchi; with the furniture of the late illustrator Pierre Le-Tan and with a seat from Studio Mumbai in the groundbreaking Maniera gallery.

The conversation continues peppered with names of the jet pre-digital, such as Paloma Picasso (“my best friend”), Pauline Karpidas (“when she married the owner, the gallery owner Alexandre Iolas told her: ‘You have to wear Saint Laurent and decorate your house with Jacques’), Giovanni Volpi, Willy Rizzo, Sol LeWitt… “Every day they ask me to write my memoirs,” he sighs with amusement. And he ends the interview impatiently. “Allez, in fact the photo?

Pierre Bergé and Jacques Grange at a dinner in Paris in 2016.
Pierre Bergé and Jacques Grange at a dinner in Paris in 2016.Luc Castel (Getty Images)

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