The Epic Saga Of Yves Saint Laurent’s Possibly-Stolen Sketches

If anything can blow all of the Hedi Slimane drama out of the water, it’s this convoluted dispute over a multi-million dollar collection of Yves Saint Laurent‘s original sketches and writings. This has to be one of the greatest mysteries fashion has seen in a long time.

WWD today broke the twisted tale, spanning across the Atlantic and embroiling a whole host of powerful players in fashion, art, and business, all over a very valuable pile of paper that may or may not have been stolen out of Saint Laurent’s former apartment. Here’s the lowdown:

The Goods:
250 drawings, covering 40 years of the designer’s career, the earliest pieces dating from 1952 and the latest through 1992, including a large number of erotic drawings — though how pornographic the sketches are is unknown.. According to the representative of the current owner, the collection includes:

a Helmut Newton photograph, “a wonderful drawing of Saint Laurent’s mother” that he did at the age of 16, a self-portrait where he pictured himself with “death’s head,” a 32-to-36 page journal from his days in Marrakech and a 40-page homage to Maria Callas from her days in Paris when she was at the center of the homosexual scene of Europe. There is also a painting that Andy Warhol did of Saint Laurent’s dogs during a visit with him in Paris.

The cache is valued at 12 million euros, or $15.5 million at current exchange. Without the 120 to 140 erotic drawings, the collection would be worth 5 million and 10 million euros, or $6.5 million to $12.9 million.

The Players:
Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime lover and business partner.
Fabrice Thomas, Saint Laurent’s former lover in the early 1990s, who knew the designer from a young age and for some time acted as his driver.
An unnamed German businessman, as well as a second businessman serving as a manager.
Louis Geiger, Swiss-based “trustee and friend” of the unnamed businessman
Alain Coblance: Bergé’s NYC-based lawyer

What Geiger says happened: Geiger, speaking on behalf of the current owner of the collection, insists that the goods were not stolen, calling Bergé’s claims “absolute nonsense.” The drawings, he says, first came in to Thomas’ possession when he and Yves were “parting ways.” The designer told Thomas to check if the atelier staff still needed them, and if not, then they would be his to keep. They then changed hands to the unnamed European businessman in a transaction that was “part gift, part sold,” when he provided Thomas with “a job, a car and a new life,” as he is apparently wont to do. Geiger paints a picture of the businessman as a luxury goods specialist who, “if you would like to have a castle here or there, he can arrange that. Or if you would like to buy a special type of Rolls-Royce.…” There are reportedly “sworn and legalized documents” granting him ownership.

What Bergé’s says happened: He has been approached on numerous occasions by people wanting to sell him the collection for an “extortionlike price,” however Bergé maintains that the collection of drawings were stolen from the Paris apartment he shared with Saint Laurent, and thus will not consider the purchase. “Believe me,” he assures WWD, “it would have been impossible for Yves to have given someone 300 sketches. Maybe one or two, but 300? Surely not.” His lawyer is also convinced they know the culprit: “There is no doubt that we know the circumstances. We know who it is.” Coblance says that a complaint was filed in the Paris tribunal in November 2011, though reporters could not find a record of such.

What makes this mess even more complicated: A small Swiss finance and investment company called Zupp Finance has an online listing for a portfolio that sounds a whole lot like the hotly-contested one currently belonging to the businessman. They are offering a 400-item portfolio of original YSL illustrations and other possessions valued at $8.9 million at current exchange. According to their website:

“The works was [sic] given separately as gifts from YSL to his intimate partner Fabrice, some pages are dedicated to him, who buildup this collection.” The document continues, “The collection has been changed by legal way the ownership. The collection is free for sale with no rights of any third party. In the sales contract will be confirmed that the collection is of ‘noncriminal origin.’”

WWD was given the run-around by the company, and could not obtain any comment. Neither Geiger nor Bergé’s lawyer had ever heard of Zupp Finance, so this is poses quite the conundrum.

Further complicating the situation is Paris-based publisher Bazar Edition‘s plans to release a book of Saint Laurent’s erotic drawings within the next two years. Bergé, for his part, says: “I intend to empty every possibility I have to avoid any exhibitions and publication of the sketches,” not for prudish reasons, he insists, but simply because they were stolen.

The possible outcomes:

  • Geiger and co. will exhibit the drawings. They are considering Japan, San Francisco, Berlin, and New York, though, as he tells WWD, “we will be very careful.”
  • They will sell the entire collection. “If we get a good offer for a sale, why not?” offers Geiger.
  • Bergé will succeed in re-obtaining the set, after which they will likely go unseen by the public.
  • Something else entirely. This is such a convoluted situation, quite frankly we’d be surprised if it had any kind of simple resolution.

And there you have it, folks. See below for some of the sketches in question, obtained by the super-sleuths at WWD:


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