François Catroux, Decorator of Choice for Aristocrats, Dies at 83

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François Catroux, a glamorous designer for the Rothschild family, Russian oligarchs, Greek and Arab princesses, fashion designers, media moguls and South American billionaires — what used to be known as the jet set — died on Nov. 8 in a hospital in Paris. He was 83.

The cause was a brain tumor, said his wife, Betty Catroux.

Mr. Catroux was movie-star handsome with a perennial tan and a taste for expensive sports cars, the grandson of a noted French general and a Spanish heiress, and a high school friend of Yves Saint Laurent. Along with his wife, Ms. Catroux, the lanky androgyne beauty who was Mr. Saint Laurent’s muse and playmate, the Algerian-born Mr. Catroux was at the center of Paris’s glittering 1970s-era social scene, a complicated fantasia at which art, fashion and money collided.

Mr. Catroux was self-taught, with a sophisticated eye, and his first design job, when he was 30, was for Mila Schön, a stalwart of Italian fashion, who in 1967 asked him to design her showroom in a Milanese palazzo.

He turned it into a white laminate spaceship, Stanley Kubrick by way of Eero Saarinen, “a futuristic, minimalistic theater in the round for fashion — exactly right for the times,” wrote David Netto, the interior designer and writer, in his 2016 monograph about Mr. Catroux, “delivered by an ingénue and it caused a sensation in the design world.”

So did the apartment he shared with Ms. Catroux on the Quai de Béthune, a neo-futuristic playground made from vinyl, leather, plexiglass and steel, and photographed by Horst P. Horst for Vogue, with the couple dressed, rather terrifyingly, in matching Saint Laurent khaki, and sprawled on a vinyl banquette.

“My apartment happened during the French revolutionary year of 1968,” he told Mr. Netto, “when everyone was against everything — and without knowing it myself, I was against everything too. Against things, so for two years I thought only of volumes and levels, without any furniture … cushions instead of a sofa, a cube for a coffee table …”

“It was a boule de neige — it snowballed from there,” Mr. Catroux told James Reginato of Vanity Fair. “Voilà, my career started.”

For Diane von Furstenberg, a friend of five decades, and her husband, Barry Diller, he designed houses in Los Angeles and Connecticut, as well as their megayacht, Eos.

“He had that military side, so things were very precise and symmetrical. He liked things in pairs,” Ms. Von Furstenberg said in a phone interview, “but everything was very cozy, too, that very grand coziness which was never pretentious, a luxury just for you, not to show off.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Catroux is survived by their daughters, Maxime and Daphné, and two grandchildren.

He met Ms. Catroux at a nightclub in Paris, when she had the bartender send him a drink; she met Mr. Saint Laurent the same way, though it was the designer who sent her a drink. She often said she was very clever in managing both men.

While for decades Ms. Catroux and Mr. Saint Laurent careened in and out of trouble — their shared benders and stints in rehabs were renowned — Mr. Catroux was at work every day, bright and early.

“The truth is, it was a huge love affair,” said Mr. Netto. “She was this mysterious person who could not be captured and he was perfect for her because he didn’t need that from her. I think he just adored her cat power. He was devoted to her and she set the terms.”

“They were like Adam and Eve,” said Mr. Cox, “the eternal couple.

“I knew she was the one for me immediately,” Mr. Catroux told Mr. Reginato of Vanity Fair in 2016. “If I missed this one, there was nobody else. I couldn’t miss this one. We’ve been together for 50 years. No regrets. But she’s not something … normal. She’s a special case.”

Ms. Catroux would agree.

“I’m not interested in fashion and I’m not interested in design and I got the two geniuses on the subject,” she said in a phone interview. “I could live in an empty room as long as there was a bottle of wine and good music. But I know what’s beautiful. I was so lucky. It’s been a fairy tale life.”



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