The interior decorator François Catroux led a fairy-tale existence. Movie-star looks, the grandson of a noted French general, married to Betty Catroux - Yves Saint Laurent’s very blond and beautiful muse - his clients included Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Roman Abramovich, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, David Geffen, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, Beatrice Santo Domingo and Leslie Wexner. From 1967, François and Betty Catroux - a striking, androgynous fashion icon - were Paris’s mythical couple.
“Having designed all my interiors, François provided me with so much happiness,”
The landscape gardener, and Pierre Bergé’s widower Madison Cox, recalls Francois Catroux’s rigor and discipline. “Even though he looked like a tanned playboy of the French Riviera, he was unbelievably serious and industrious when you worked with him".
A Stunning Duplex By The Mediterranean
Madison Cox met the Catrouxes in 1977. “Madison was the only person to know and stay at our apartment by the sea,” Betty declared. Catroux is referring to her late husband’s final creation, a stunning duplex apartment in the Palais Maeterlinck that has just been put on the market. Designed in 1913 by the renowned British architect W. H. Romaine-Walker and his partner Gilbert H Jenkins – the duo behind London's Tate Gallery extensions - the statuesque neo-classical building towers over the Mediterranean, situated between Nice and Beaulieu-Sur-Mer.
“He was fulfilling his fantasy of owning a place in the Midi," recalls Betty. "He wanted to end his years, living by the sea.”
“Yves [Saint-Laurent] was the same,” notes Cox. Like François Catroux, his old schoolfriend from Oran, Algeria, designer Yves Saint-Laurent was born and grew up by the Mediterranean, in North Africa and was compulsively drawn to it, throughout his life.
A Ravishing Little Church
Betty Catroux recalls “the ravishing little church” in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and how their wedding clothes were borrowed. “We had no money,” she says. “It was winter, Cardin’s André Oliver lent me a black and white fur coat and François wore Georges Feruch’s Mao-collar jacket.” The following year, her husband’s career suddenly exploded and flourished when he transformed a Milanese palazzo into Mila Schon’s futuristic and minimalist showroom.
Fou Rires Toute La Journée
When questioned on her fabled relationship with Saint Laurent, it was “fou rires toute la journée.” The charismatic couturier, however, sought her out, not vice-versa. “Because if you called Yves and asked how he felt, he always said, ‘très mal’ and that put me off,” she says. Curiously, they discussed themselves but never talked about fashion. “That subject doesn’t remotely interest me,” she says. Yet to Pierre Bergé’s mind, “Betty personified the ideal woman for Yves.” No doubt, this explains the 400 couture pieces that Catroux recently gifted to the Bergé/Saint Laurent Foundation. “Incredibly generous, most of them have only been worn once,” says Cox.
Car Clash: "I Detest Cars"
As was his way, François Catroux designed a dressing room for his couture. “He was so precise and organized and I’m not,” she says. “How do I arrange my jeans and t-shirts? I throw them in the cupboard.” Nor could they agree on his weakness for sports cars. Catroux owned a black Aston Martin Vanquish convertible and two Mercedes-AMG convertible sports cars. “I refused to get inside one of them,” Betty Catroux says. “I detest cars and if they’re flashy, I die. Utter shame.” To her horror, François Catroux would drive them through Lourmarin, the delightful village next to Les Ramades, their then house in Provence. “The roof would be down, and the music would be blaring,” she says.
Art For Love's Sake
However, Catroux appreciated his curiosity in contemporary art and his relentless passion for every period. “That sculpture was his last purchase,” she says, pointing to Tony Cragg’s abstract form, standing opposite Lalanne’s bronze monkey. Cox recalls a West Coast trip. “François was checking out the galleries in East Los Angeles, he was so open-minded,” he says.
Regarding the sale of all the belongings, Catroux feels no attachment but only pride in her husband’s choice. “Everything is marvelous, but I agree with Pierre (Bergé), it’s good to sell and breathe new life into beautiful objects,” she says. “Really, it’s put me in the best mood.”