I came across this article about Francois Catroux Design House. He specializes in discerning clients where money is no object. Take a look at this path and upcoming book this fall.
The Secrets of François Catroux, the Über-Rich’s Favorite Interior Designer
David Geffen’s $54 million penthouse, a new Saudi royal palace, Barry Diller’s 305-foot yacht—all share the rarefied touch of designer François Catroux. With a major book on his work set to be published, James Reginato discovers the high-style life of Catroux and his wife, Betty.
BY JAMES REGINATOSEPTEMBER 2016
The Catroux in 2004 at home in Paris, in front of a 1995 portrait of Betty, by Philippe de
François Catroux has been the decorator of choice for aristocrats, moguls, fashion queens, royals, and oligarchs alike since 1968, when he opened his Paris office. His clients over the years have included Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Leslie and Abigail Wexner, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Princess Firyal of Jordan, and Roman Abramovich, to name a few. With his 80th birthday approaching in December, Catroux is still reeling in the most coveted new clients and jobs. A young member of the Saudi royal family recently asked Catroux to design a palace for him in Riyadh, and David Geffen just tapped him to decorate his new, $54 million, 12,000-square-foot duplex penthouse on Fifth Avenue, in New York, in collaboration with the cutting-edge architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “It is remarkable that he is, at his age, as contemporary as he is,” said Geffen, by phone from his boat, Rising Sun, in waters off the South of France.
After he bought the apartment, Geffen e-mailed Catroux, asking to discuss the possibility of his taking on the job. The two hit it off right away. “I immediately understood him. I was very impressed by his houses,” says Catroux. “He knows exactly what he wants and is very focused on what the house should be. It’s immediately yes or no. He is very strict in his taste, and he’s got a fantastic eye for paintings.”
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“I thought it would be great to work with him, and so far so good,” says Geffen. “He is incredibly talented. If you look at what he has done, they are as diverse as they can be, but always quite beautiful and quite elegant. He is very conscious of trying to make something that you are going to like rather than something he’s going to like. And he’s an incredibly charming man—a wonderful guy.”
While Catroux is thus on that short list of interior designers who cater to the world’s super-rich, he is the one of that group whose name is probably least known to the general public. (Even as he and his fashion-icon wife, Betty, have been fixtures in rarefied social circles.) He never much bothered with self-promotion. Bucking trends followed by some of his peers in recent years, he has never decorated the lobby of a splashy new condominium, paraded around in leather bondage gear, or, perhaps most surprisingly, published a book of his work. Until now—in October, François Catroux (Rizzoli) appears, with stunning photographs of major projects the designer has completed for some of the previously named clients and others.
Given his career, it is surprising, really, that Catroux has not previously published a book. “I have been asked to do books for years, of course. I didn’t feel the necessity. One more book from a decorator—who wants to read that?,” he explains, in his office on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a petite duplex down the street from Hermès, where he has been located since 1977. His 8-person staff there is a skeleton crew compared with the 160 or so currently employed by Peter Marino. But experience trumps numbers. “Three of my people have been with me since 1975,” he says boastfully. “They are so good they each do the work of 15 people.”
David Netto, a Los Angeles-based decorator who is also a design journalist, pursued Catroux for nearly two years before he finally persuaded him to overcome his belief that, as Catroux says, “the people who needed to know knew,” and do this book, for which Netto wrote the text. “The career of François Catroux is the great untold story in design,” Netto says.
Betty and François Catroux at their Paris apartment, 1970.
By Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast Archive/Getty Images.
Born and brought up in French colonial Algeria, François Catroux never spent a day in any school studying design; he credits his paternal grandfather, Georges, a distinguished military hero, with opening his eyes to beautiful décor. The elder Catroux, born in 1877 in Limoges, France, began his army career as an attaché in Algeria, where he married a Spanish heiress, Marie. Their son, André—François’s father—later managed the considerable properties Marie inherited there, including a vineyard in Mascara, in northwestern Algeria.
While commanding a battalion on France’s Western Front during World War I, Georges Catroux was taken prisoner by the Germans. In captivity, he met Charles de Gaulle, then a young infantry captain, with whom he became close. At the outbreak of World War II, he broke with the Vichy government and left for London, where he joined de Gaulle in the Free French movement. As a five-star general, he was the highest-ranking officer in the French Army to switch sides. Following the war, he became a diplomat, serving as ambassador to the U.S.S.R. from 1945 to 1948. The Place du Général Catroux, in Paris’s 17th Arrondissement, was named for him in 1977.
In 1948, when he was 12, François was sent to the Collège du Sacre Coeur boarding school in Oran, where one of his classmates was Yves Saint Laurent (though the future fashion superstar was a day student). Catroux, who had one brother, Jean, now deceased, rebelled at an early age against what he describes as the “very provincial” taste of his colonialist parents: “When I was five, I was already changing the decoration of my room. When my parents were away, I would move the furniture around in the house. The minute I could leave, I did.”
At 14, he transferred to a boarding school in France, which was the end of his formal education. “I am completely self-taught,” he says.
Thanks to his well-connected grandfather and his wives (there were eventually three), the young Catroux was exposed to the finer things. “They were the first ones to show me good-quality architecture and design,” says François. “They took me to the best houses in Paris . . . the Rothschilds, the Dreyfuses . . . I saw room after room.”
But it was a trip to “the New World,” as François describes it, that sealed the direction of his life. “It was the answer to everything,” he says about New York, where he landed in 1963, at age 27, armed with introductions from his grandparents, and stayed at the elegant East 52nd Street town house of “Captain” Edward Molyneux, the British fashion designer.
“I stayed six months and met everyone,” he recalls, rattling off names: “Mary Lasker, Kitty Miller, Elsie Woodward, Babe Paley. . . . Through Kitty I met Billy Baldwin, who took me to Cole Porter. I didn’t find him very charming at all. But I was very impressed by his apartment in the Waldorf Towers. He was living in a very grand way.”
Much more sympathique was Pamela Hayward (formerly Churchill; later, Harriman). Catroux helicoptered with Pamela and her then husband, Leland, the producer, to the couple’s house in Mount Kisco for weekends.
“She was born chic and was a real perfectionist,” says Catroux. “She always had a pad and paper at the table during meals, to make a note if the servants had done anything wrong.”
But the place that impressed him most was Philip Johnson’s iconic house in New Canaan, where the architect invited him to spend weekends after they met at a party. “I was crazy about the Glass House,” Catroux says. “Philip was lovely.”
Back in Paris, Catroux worked as a freelance editor at French Elle, for which he scouted out stylish houses for the magazine to photograph. One evening at a friend’s apartment on the Left Bank, he was recounting his views on design to Mila Schön, then an influential Italian fashion designer. “Would you like to design my palazzo in Milan?” she asked him.
It was the turning point in his life. He moved to Milan for three months and locked himself in a hotel room with tracing paper, on which he designed the volumes of the space.
He created a minimalist, futuristic showroom for the couturière that caused a sensation when it was unveiled and appeared on the January 1968 cover of L’Oeil, the prestigious arts journal.
“It was a boule de neige—it snowballed from there,” he has said. “Voilà, my career started.”
In February 1970, Vogue published Horst’s photos of the wildly modern apartment on the Quai de Béthune that Catroux had just done for himself and Betty, whom he had met in Paris in 1967 and married later that year in Cap-Ferrat, and who would soon become the best friend and muse of Yves Saint Laurent (more about which later). The apartment, as Netto observes in his introduction, was a powerful mixture of influences ranging from NASA and Stanley Kubrick to David Hicks.
“It was all very new what François was doing then . . . and what he still does,” says Marquise Jackie de Ravenel, a longtime Paris taste arbiter. “He was very innovative. He did things that were truly modernistic long before anybody else did. He used materials like stainless steel, plastic, and bronze that were not fashionable then. He was very ahead of his time.”
“He has no peer,” Barry Diller says. “I’ve never seen a thing François has ever done that is not both original and perfect.”
Catroux received the ultimate seal of approval in the mid-70s, when he was hired by Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, then the undisputed queen bee of Parisian society. Catroux helped Rothschild, with whom he became close friends, decorate a lodge at Ferrières, her massive château outside Paris (site of her celebrated Surrealist Ball in 1972), as well as portions of Hôtel Lambert, the 17th-century hôtel particulier that is one of the city’s most spectacular private residences. After her marriage to Baron Guy de Rothschild, Marie-Hélène, who was of Dutch and Egyptian extraction, became one of the fiercest exponents of the Goût Rothschild, that ultra-opulent style of decoration. A modernist at heart, Catroux learned to appreciate and work in this ornate 19th-century idiom, even if it wasn’t his cup of tea.
“Rothschild taste is not my taste,” he says. “The Rothschilds are only interested in their taste; they are sure that what they have is the best—and it’s true. Not just objets, but art . . . you have a Rembrandt and a Frans Hals combined with this décor.”
In the 80s, internationally, many of the new robber barons of finance and their wives tried to emulate this 19th-century look at home. A mistake, Catroux says. “In the 80s, everybody wanted to be ‘rich,’ ” he says with a moan. “Only Rothschilds can do Rothschild Style. . . . It looks ridiculous when others try to do it, especially in New York, where you usually don’t have high ceilings and the right proportions.”
Attempts to copy this look, Catroux says, entailed a lot of “cheating” with “all those tassels and lampshades . . . with second-rate furniture and fabrics. . . . It was awful. That was the 80s.”
Ultimately, Catroux hit his stride professionally through his re-interpretations of 18th-century neoclassicism. “It is much more strict and pure, much nearer to modernism,” he says. “I love taking the 18th century and modernizing it—mixing it with a contemporary attitude. In a today way.”
Catroux first honed this look in two apartments he did in 1975 in the gleaming, brand-new Olympic Tower, in New York—one for Chilean tin magnate Antenor Patiño and his wife, Beatriz, and another for couturière Hélène Rochas. Catroux visited the tower while it was still under construction, riding up in a temporary exterior elevator in howling winds with Rochas and Aristotle Onassis, the building’s owner, to inspect her 45th-floor aerie.
“The Rothschilds and the Patiños were the ones who convinced me that classical, beautiful objects were something not to be missed,” Catroux says.
Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg’s Catroux-decorated Beverly Hills house, 2012.
Photograph by François Halard.
MONEY IS NO OBJET
“C’est très jolie!” exclaims Catroux on a recent morning as he makes his rounds to some of his suppliers and favorite sources, chauffeured by Miguel, his driver, in his black Mercedes sedan. At L’Arc en Seine, a fashionable dealer of 20th-century furniture on the Left Bank, he spots a bureau plat—a writing table—designed by Jean-Michel Frank. This item is so jolie, I learn, it costs $1 million.
“C’est superbe,” he coos when he gets to the palatial mansion that houses Galerie J. Kugel, one of the city’s most venerable antiquaires, and notices a monumental 18th-century French bookcase ($3 million).
At Sotheby’s, where items from an upcoming design sale have just gone on view, his eye is drawn to a patinated bronze table by Diego Giacometti (estimated sale price: $78,000 to $111,000). “That would be good for David,” he says in a memo-to-self fashion. (Whoever purchased the piece at the auction, seven days later, paid more than $483,000.)
Is it difficult to get a client to spend a million bucks on a bureau plat?, I ask as we speed to the next destination. “No, no, no,” he says offhandedly. “It’s not hard at all. They want the best quality.”
Recent global financial upheaval notwithstanding? “No, no, no,” he repeats. “It hasn’t changed anything.”
So much is confirmed when we arrive at the revered house of Lesage, which is famed for the exquisite, painstaking, handstitched embroidery it executes for haute couture gowns. Here it can take hundreds of hours to embellish a gown for a designer such as Chanel (which purchased Lesage in 2002).
Catroux uses the house to embellish the custom curtains and upholstered furniture he designs. This kind of labor, he says, starts at $2,000 per meter for the simplest designs. The maximum costs? “There’s no limit,” he says. Still, it sounds as if it would be hard to top one sofa he designed not long ago, on which Lesage used gold filigree to embroider Chinese motifs. Cost of the couch: $750,000. “It’s the price of a couple of Chanel dresses,” Catroux explains, dismissing my disbelief.
This is not to say that he doesn’t occasionally encounter some price resistance from clients—the husbands. But the wives usually overcome that. “The husband is always happy with what they have,” Catroux explains. “Then the wife sees that her friend has a better apartment. So she goes to work on her husband.
“ ‘Why change?’ the husband asks.
“So she finds a new apartment and then says to him, ‘Darling, it’s in perfect condition—there’s nothing to do to it.’ The second day she says to the decorator, ‘Change everything.’ Then it’s up to her to convince the husband. ‘No, darling, it’s not good enough.’ ”
In decorating, Catroux notes, there is a division of labor between the sexes. “I never deal with the both of them—it doesn’t exist,” he says. If it floats or flies, it’s the husband he deals with: “For a boat or an airplane, it’s only the man,” he explains. “She doesn’t have a thing to say.”
(An exception, he later points out, was the case last year when one wife decided she didn’t like the location of the lavatory on the jet her husband had ordered. “ ‘I don’t want the loo to be on the left; I want it to be on the right,’ ” Catroux recalls her saying. “So I went to Gulfstream in Savannah. The cost to make the change was two and a half million dollars.” In the end, the husband nixed the move.)
One of Catroux’s repeat wings-and-sails customers is Leslie Wexner, the billionaire founder of Limited Brands (now L Brands). “When we did the first plane, he said to me, ‘What do you think it should look like?’ ” recalls Wexner. “I said, ‘How about like a Paris apartment?’ He said, ‘I get the idea.’ ”
Catroux obviously fulfilled his mandate. Over the past three decades, Wexner has commissioned him to design the interiors of about 10 more aircraft. (Catroux can’t remember the exact number.)
When it comes to boats, Catroux says, “this is a man’s topic. [A boat] is the toy of a very rich man, and there’s no limit. Anything you propose which is good they accept, whatever the price.
“They love it. It’s a passion for these tycoons. All of a sudden, when they are on the boat they become the maître de la maison—they are more refined than the ladies. They think of everything—the best wines, the best cigars. They go more deeply into the details than the ladies.”
Catroux received arguably the greatest nautical commission of the 90s from Wexner. “The Limitless was my first big boat,” the designer has said.
Indeed, the 316-foot Limitless, built at the German shipmaker Lürssen, was the largest American-owned private yacht when it was launched, in 1997. She is also one of the fastest and most sophisticated super-yachts ever built. Then capable of reaching 25 knots, she was the first yacht to feature a unique combination of diesel and electric propulsion—by two engines of 5,346 kilowatts each—and can journey from Nice to New York in seven days. Coordinating working drawings for every aspect of a boat’s interior—lamps, upholstery, carpets, furniture, paneling, and millwork details—with those of the naval architect is a highly challenging assignment.
“It takes three years to build [a yacht],” Catroux explains. “During those three years everything technical changes—they invent new switches, new circuits . . . so you have to adapt your plans constantly.”
“François is the most prepared and efficient designer, architect, or decorator I have ever worked with,” says Wexner. “I have never seen anyone work at this kind of efficiency and speed. It’s virtually magic.
“His taste is continuously evolving because he is, fundamentally, curious,” Wexner continues. “When you are curious, you are always learning and energized.”
Mogul Barry Diller praises the combination of style and comfort that Catroux brought to his three-masted schooner, Eos, which was also built at Lürssen and which launched in 2006. Measuring 305 feet long, she is one of the world’s largest private sailing yachts.
“Boats are challenging to design,” says Diller. “On a boat, you need to be comfortable, but on most boats there is nowhere to sit, to sink back. There are endless places to sink back on this boat.”
“He has no peer,” Diller adds about Catroux. “He is the most creative, the most fun to work with, and he’s flawless—I’ve never seen a thing François has ever done that is not both original and perfect, particularly symmetrically.”
Before taking on Eos, Catroux had done two apartments in Paris for Diller’s wife, Diane von Furstenberg, one of his closest friends, who wrote the foreword to the new book. He has since decorated a house for the couple in Beverly Hills, and he is currently designing an addition to their country house in Litchfield County, Connecticut.
In her foreword, von Furstenberg extols his “disciplined grandeur” and “grand coziness.”
“He’s an architect who understands the way people want to live,” she elaborates to me. “He is obsessed with symmetry, which I think comes from the military background in his family.”
The Santo Domingos’ Paris apartment, 2002.
Photograph by François Halard.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Catroux clients tend to remain Catroux clients, and their offspring follow suit. “It starts with the parents,” he says, citing the example of Beatrice Santo Domingo and her late husband, Julio Mario, the Colombian billionaire, for whom, he says, he has done places “everywhere”: New York, Paris, Madrid, and Colombia. A few years ago, he did a large duplex apartment in the family’s spectacular 18th-century hôtel particulier in Paris for their son Andrés and his wife, Lauren. He is just starting work on a house in Notting Hill, in London, for the couple’s other son, Alejandro, and his new bride, Lady Charlotte Wellesley, a daughter of the Duke of Wellington.
“The Santo Domingos—they have taste, class, no vulgarity . . . real chic,” he says. “Lauren’s taste is totally different from Beatrice’s. [Lauren] is a case! She covers a lot of ground. I see her as future queen of New York.”
He has also done houses for three daughters and a son of Greek shipping magnate George Livanos and his wife, Lita, whose house in London he has worked on. “The kids want to do different things than their parents, but they come from the same culture,” Catroux says, explaining his success in this area.
For nearly a half-century, Betty and François Catroux have been one of Paris society’s most storied couples.
Catroux’s four-decade association with the family of Duty Free Shops co-founder Robert Miller and his wife, Chantal, for whom he has designed residences in New York, Hong Kong, and Gstaad, continues full strength and on into the next generation. “I was six and a half when I first met him,” says their daughter, Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece. “He was doing a house for my parents on the Île Saint-Louis, in Paris, and I remember him driving down the quai in a Bentley. He was fabulous, with this beautiful mane of hair and wonderful sense of style.” Catroux has completed a mansion in London and a country house in Gloucestershire for the princess and her husband, Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece, and their five children, and he is finishing an extremely contemporary new house in the Bahamas for Chantal and Robert. “It is more than modern—it is Zen,” says the decorator. “Everything is white, white, white. Chantal has completely changed her taste. She doesn’t want to hear about Kugel anymore,” referring to the august Parisian antiquaire.
“She is a dream,” he continues. “She always re-invents herself, never does the same house twice, with a great sense of quality and originality. When she likes something, there is no limit.”
“From childhood your early memories and first impressions remain very powerful, and I wanted the calm, serene atmosphere and color palette I remembered,” says Marie-Chantal. “But my mother’s houses are very different from my houses. François gets me. He understands what I want. He is very good at finding your personality and expressing it.
“Everything is perfect,” she continues. “You’ve never seen anything as well made as what you get from François.
“And,” adds the Crown Princess of Greece, “Betty is a hoot.”
A MATCH MADE IN REGINE’S
For nearly a half-century, Betty and François Catroux have been one of Paris society’s most storied couples. The romance began one evening in 1967, when François tried to put down some francs for a drink at Regine’s. “ ‘It’s been paid for,’ ” François recalls the bartender telling him.
“I didn’t pay for it,” interjects Betty when the story of how they first “cruised” each other comes up over dinner with her husband on a recent evening at Le Voltaire. “I told the barman, ‘Give him a drink.’ They were begging me to go to nightclubs then. Everything was free.” Well, it was—if you were Betty Saint, as she was then. With a long mane of straight platinum hair and legs that didn’t stop, she was one of the original “It girls.”
“I knew she was the one for me immediately,” says François. “If I missed this one, there was nobody else. I couldn’t miss this one.
“We’ve been together for 50 years,” he continues. “No regrets. But she’s not something . . . normal. She’s a special case.”
Details of her parentage and birth in Rio de Janeiro have been somewhat blurry in press accounts over the years. Tonight, she opens dinner with a bit of a bang, by announcing, “I was illegitimate.”
When Betty was four years old, her mother, Carmen, a daughter of Italian émigrés, ended a short marriage to a Brazilian gentleman and took her to Paris—“in her suitcase,” Betty has said previously. In France, Carmen married Daniel Saint, a wealthy entrepreneur, whose last name Betty took.
As she grew up, Betty received occasional visits from someone who was, she was told, a family friend. “A man who looked like Peter O’Toole, stayed at the Ritz, took me to tea, and was very nice,” she says. “When I was around 12 or 13, I guessed it,” she continues. “I was his spitting image.”
Her real father was Elim O’Shaughnessy, a Yale-educated American diplomat who had also dated such other beauties as Babe Paley and Pauline de Rothschild. (He was also the father of V.F. contributing editor Elise O’Shaughnessy.) He had met Carmen when he was posted in South America. He died in 1966 at the age of 59. “When Babe met me, she couldn’t believe it,” adds Betty. “I looked exactly like her great love. She and I had a divine relationship until she died.”
The only thing Betty won’t divulge is her age. “It won’t come out of my mouth!” she says. But when she was 17, in the early 60s, Betty started modeling for Coco Chanel. Six feet tall (the same height as François), Betty towered over the runway. “I was the baby of the house,” she says. “Chanel adored me. Through her, I learned cynicism. She was totally cynical. She said horrors about everyone. And she was right. But she was charming.”
Betty met Yves Saint Laurent at Regine’s just a few months after she had met François in much the same fashion. Saint Laurent and Betty’s bond was immediate and intense as well. “He probably felt I was like him—disturbed, neurotic,” she says. “We were alike.” Betty’s figure, along with her personality, made her “a living mannequin” for Saint Laurent, as François says.
“Betty personified the ideal woman for Yves,” confirms Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime partner and a major French industrialist, by phone from Tangier.
For decades, the designer and his muse talked incessantly, daily. About what?, I ask. “Ourselves!” she answers quickly. “Not very interesting. Never a word about fashion.”
She laughs about her reputation as a style icon. “I hate fashion!” she says. Even as she became synonymous with Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking—a man’s tuxedo adapted to a woman’s body—“Yves always had a feminine touch,” Betty says. “He made the woman come out.
“Now I am all man—thanks to Hedi [Slimane],” she adds. “I’ve dressed like a man since he came to Saint Laurent.” Since Slimane’s departure, in April, from the house, where he was creative director, she is “desperate,” she says. “My closet is a museum of Yves and a museum of Hedi.”
It has been reported that Betty and Yves entered rehab together on occasion for their respective drug problems. “Many times!,” Betty confirms cheerily as she sips a nice white Burgundy. She describes their stays as “Great fun!,” where they were both “wanting to go out and re-start again.”
“They shared the same taste for living and having a good time. They were both very naughty,” says Bergé jocularly.
Eight years after Saint Laurent died in her arms, Betty offers some revisionist history. “Everyone thinks Yves was the sweetie pie and Pierre was the tough one. It was the opposite. Pierre is a very human and caring person. He bleeds. He suffered. Yves did suffer—about himself.”
With Yves and many other members of their golden circle gone, the Catroux continue to be a source of fascination and reverence for younger generations of the style-conscious. They are the beau ideal of glamour—and they are still kicking.
“They are an essential reference from the 70s, but they are still a very inspiring couple,” says writer and producer Olivier Widmaier Picasso, a grandson of the artist. “When you see them they talk about interesting topics—not like bourgeois socialites,” he says, pronouncing “bourgeois” with visceral disdain.
“They come from the world of the real jet set, when people traveled from Paris to New York on the Concorde for lunch, without the need to post pictures on Facebook or Instagram. They don’t need a selfie,” he says. “This is the real chic. They still maintain an elegance.”
But there’s a secret to this ultimate style couple. They are homebodies, who only occasionally venture out at night from their apartment on the Rue de Lille, where they have lived since 1992 and which François is currently renovating. According to François, they curtailed their social activities about a decade ago. “We haven’t been to a disco in 20 years,” adds Betty.
And they are grandparents. “Don’t talk about that!” says Betty with a shriek. According to many friends, however, they dote on Vivien, 10, and Alexandre, 12, the children of their daughter, Daphné, who handles cultural exhibitions at Dior. The couple’s other child, Maxime, an editor at the distinguished art-book publisher Flammarion, recently married her girlfriend of nearly 20 years, in a small ceremony (attended by Pierre Bergé and a few other close friends and family) at Paris’s City Hall that made François and Betty “delighted and proud,” Betty says. “I’ve got the most fabulous children and grandchildren.”
Conventional parents clearly they were not. (“I told my children, ‘I don’t like children,’ ” Betty recalls telling her girls when they were young.) But they were devoted. “Miraculously, with an alternative notion of family,” says Maxime, speaking for her and her sister, “they conveyed their sense of humor, beauty, culture, and love to us.”
When not in Paris, François and Betty are generally alone together at Les Ramades, a 16th-century stone house in the Lourmarins region of Provence, on 10 lush acres, which they bought in 1990.
Houseguests, according to François, are “very few,” and these are invited only in July and August. “That’s it,” he says.
“They have the manners of people who don’t need to prove anything,” says Baroness Hélène de Ludinghausen. “If he doesn’t like someone, he doesn’t bother. He’s never been an ass-kisser.”
“We love to be alone together, with our two cats,” says François. “We’re madly in love with our cats.”
That would be Mic and Mac, a pair of blue-gray Burmese, who were born in Oklahoma. François flew to Tulsa to pick them up from the breeder of his previous cat, Bleuy, who was tragically run over by a car. “I was in tears,” he says about the accident.
Otherwise, his great pleasure on weekends is speeding down the Provençal roads in his black Aston Martin Vanquish convertible, or one of his two Mercedes-AMG convertible sports cars (one black, the other matte gray).
But Monday morning it is back to work. When the subject of retirement is brought up, he laughs off the idea.
“I wouldn’t know what to do. I feel 26. I don’t see my age—except when I look in the mirror.”
Nobody else seems to see his age, either. “It’s shocking how he both looks and acts lots of decades younger than he is,” says Barry Diller. “He ain’t stuck.”
Selected photographs from François Catroux, by David Netto, to be published in October by Rizzoli New York; © 2016 by the publisher.