Last week, the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent acquired a group of couture items belonging to one of the designer’s close friends and top clients, French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire, during an online auction of her wardrobe at Christie’s in Paris. Bidding for the auction ended on January 26.
The foundation, which was established in 2002 upon the late designer’s retirement, purchased eight items for a total of €16,250 ($19,550). The entire collection of the dancer, who died this past July, sold for €161,000 ($194,000).
Saint Laurent first met Jeanmaire in 1956 while he was working for Dior in Paris. In 1962, he went on to found his namesake couture label, taking on the dancer as one of his top clients. He dressed Jeanmaire for various stage appearances, among them her 1961 performance of Mon Truc en Plumes, and in 1963, he dressed her for the musical Spectacle Zizi Jeanmaire.
Saint Laurent’s extravagant stage costumes made for the dancer merged styles associated with burlesque and classical ballet. His daily wardrobe for her was more understated, however—it featured mainly neutrals, and a low-key variation on Saint Laurent’s signature safari jacket. “Her costume for music halls were very exuberant in a way, but in real life the garments that were auctioned are extremely simple,” said Olivier Flaviano, the foundation’s collections director.
The Paris-based foundation’s 7,000-item collection largely consists of the designer’s prototypes made throughout his four-decade-long career, as well as sketches and archival material pertaining to Saint Laurent’s design process. In the 1960s, Saint Laurent was among the first designers in his generation to save runway originals. Typically, these garments were sold to clients or given to models following their public debut.
The museum’s acquisition will be added to its existing collection of 66 costumes designed for Jeanmaire. Among the lots the museum purchased from the Christie’s sale was a couture gold and silver metal embroidered cocktail dress designed between 1966 and 1967. The foundation purchased the work—a rare early prototype—for €3,000 ($3,600). According to Flaviano, the purchase filled a gap in the permanent collection’s timeline. “We had a lot of the last collections, but only a few of the first,” said Flaviano on the decision to bid for the 1966 design.
The foundation also purchased a black jacket embroidered with a gold double Z (a reference to the performer’s initials), originally made with the brand’s logo. “It is one of the only times where Saint Laurent actually used the logo on the garment—it was very unusual to do that,” said Flaviano.
Another was a nude monochrome Saharan set worn by model Betty Catroux, one of Saint Laurent’s muses, in Vogue Paris in March 1969. The design recalls Saint Laurent’s practice of borrowing from male dress codes in the postwar era, which he then began incorporating into women’s fashion.
Saint Laurent couture has captivated at auction before. In January 2019, Christie’s sold 149 items from the collection of one of the designer’s top private clients, Catherine Deneuve, which brought in $1 million.
Flaviano said that the foundation makes acquisitions like the present ones at Christie’s to diversify its permanent holdings. The goal is “to recall not only Yves Saint Laurent’s work, but also the history of the house.” According to the director, Saint Laurent’s work for Zizi Jeanmaire also informs an understudied segment of the designer’s career. “We have to study how Yves Saint Laurent was approaching theatre and how the approach was different from his couture.”