"I like to collect, but I'm not crazy to own things," said Karl Lagerfeld, the Paris-based couturier. "I'm a fashion person. I'm excited by finding things, but in the end there's an accumulation and I want to get rid of it." He said that was why he was selling his collection of French 20th-century decorative arts on Thursday at Sotheby's in Paris. "I'm buying 21st-century things now," he said. "My three passions are fashion, books and photographs."
Over the last two decades Lagerfeld has auctioned off other collections. In April 2000, for example, he made US$21.3 million selling his 18th-century objets d'art and French furniture at Christie's in Monaco.
He acquired most of his French Art Deco furniture, rugs, lamps and ceramics at three Paris galleries: Jacques de Vos, Anne-Sophie Duval and Galerie Vallois. "These people are the greatest experts in the world," he said. "I've been collecting Art Deco since the 1960s. I like their taste, and I trust them."
One wonders how he finds the time to shop. He continues to design haute couture and ready-to-wear for Chanel, and he does ready-to-wear lines for Fendi and his own label. He photographs his advertising campaigns, does fashion spreads for magazines and shoots album covers for groups like the Rolling Stones. He owns a publishing house called 7L and runs a Paris bookstore by the same name (at 7 Rue de Lille). His library has more than 240,000 volumes.
The Sotheby's sale includes works by lesser-known talents as well as the most famous designers of the 1920s and '30s, including Jacques Adnet, Pierre Lagrain, Paul Dupre-Lafon and Jean-Michel Frank. There are 51 pieces by Frank in the auction. "No gallery has 50 pieces by Frank," Lagerfeld said.
"Frank was a Modernist who was able to combine his love of beautiful materials -- sharkskin, rare woods, vellum -- with his preference for strict, geometric forms," Patricia Bayer writes in Art Deco Interiors (Little, Brown, 1990). In decorating a Paris apartment for Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles, Frank covered the walls of a salon with large squares of glazed parchment to make a sleek but sumptuous background for his rectilinear sofa and chairs. The cabinets were sheathed in straw marquetry.
The Sotheby's auction includes a few Frank classics, like his X-shaped, chiseled-oak Diabolo table from the 1930s. There are two of these tables, each estimated at US$45,000 to US$67,000. A rarer model in the sale is his "pineapple table," a low table of sanded oak raised on stepped, pyramidal legs. Its estimate is US$56,000 to US$90,000.
More amusing are the plaster sconces resembling stylized masks. The brothers Alberto and Diego Giacometti made them for Frank in the 1930s. They look like the face-protectors worn by fencers. The most useful item may be a patinated white plaster lamp with wildly scrolling handles, also made for Frank by the Giacomettis.
Some of Lagerfeld's antiques are quite rare. "A lot of items in the sale are things you don't see very often," said Gerard Widdershoven, the owner of Maison Gerard, an Art Deco gallery in Manhattan. He was referring to works by Jean Besnard (1889-1958), a ceramist whose abstract brown-on-white patterns seem African-inspired.
"I love things that show African influence," Lagerfeld said. "I like the transposing of cultures." Besnard made vases, lamps, animal sculptures and enameled pots.