How many times, for a writer, does fortune smile and drop a great story in your lap? The answer, at least in my case, is not very often. Great stories don’t just drop. They have to be shaken loose from their hiding places—or, what is sometimes even more difficult, recognized when hiding in plain sight.
It took me four years to write a book about the great French decorator François Catroux. This may sound like a straightforward proposition, but the seeds of the project were planted in 1987, when I was 17 years old. That’s when I walked into Diane von Furstenberg’s Catroux-decorated Paris apartment, on the rue de Seine, as a guest of her daughter, Tatiana. I was transfixed. Twenty-three years later, when I spotted Catroux at a Hollywood party, I dashed across the room to introduce myself and ask if I could write about his work. With genuine friendliness, he said, “Come to Paris and we’ll talk!”
I did go, and the article I wrote - about the Paris apartment he and Betty shared and their country home in Provence - was published in The Wall Street Journal in December 2011. Subsequently, an editor at Rizzoli inquired about whether M. Catroux would ever be interested in doing a book. Francois was not by nature interested in self-promotion, and it took him nearly two years to say yes.
'Catroux is the missing link between the old and the new'
A word about who François Catroux is and why he is important, especially to the young designers and collectors today who may think that grooviness begins and ends with David Hicks and Pierre Paulin (or, equally, to those interested in the formality and historicism of Emilio Terry and Henri Samuel). Catroux is the missing link between the old and the new. He began his career in 1967 with a futuristic complex for fashion designer Mila Schön in Milan. During the following decades he was consistent in his innovations—and distinctly inconsistent in the styles in which they have been expressed. Without formal training, Catroux began as a modernist, but by the late ’70s he emerged as one of the most graceful proponents of that era’s revival of tradition. Late in his career, he returned to designing in a modern vein, notably collaborating again, this time in Beverly Hills, with Diane Von Furstenberg and Barry Diller, for a highly original take on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Like his late friend Yves Saint Laurent, Catroux both reflected and shaped his times. Although his work has been well chronicled in magazines, the diversity and brilliance of his oeuvre had never been fully appraised. I needed to do that.
As with all great stories, there are secrets, and most of these may never be told—not in my book (which is about a body of work and its position in design history) or in any book, except perhaps one by Catroux’s wife, Betty, should she ever choose to write it. There are also regrets, on my part, that several of Catroux’s best mid-career projects for the Patiño and Rothschild families were not included in our monograph. This was François’s decision, which I had to accept, because he was adamant from the beginning that he have final cut.
The last phase of the project involved several afternoons spent sequestered in Catroux’s room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, going over the captions. At the end, I wanted to say “Thank you for trusting me to share the story of your stupendous career” or words to that effect - but a phone rang, and the usual polite good-byes came out instead. Of course if he could read this, he would know just how grateful I am to have had the chance to come to know him and tell his story. The story of objects and their journeys, however, never ends. Anyone lucky enough to participate in the Sotheby’s auction will become part of this story, big or small, and in taking home a piece of his taste a savvy collector indeed.