Mammoth Saint Laurent sale kicks off

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From pots and pans to spectacular crystal chandeliers, 1,200 bits and pieces from the plush homes of late fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge went under the hammer Tuesday.

Held in a Paris theatre just off the Champs Elysees boulevard, the four-day auction attracted hundreds of dealers as well as seekers of YSL memorabilia.

"It's great stuff," said antique dealer Thierry Blanchard at a pre-auction viewing. "They're well-chosen pieces that reflect their style."

Last February, Berge auctioned off one of the world's great private art collections, amassed over half a century with his late partner Saint Laurent.

The second sale is of more minor decorative and personal pieces, but is still expected to raise between three to four million euros (4.5 to six million dollars), with proceeds going to campaigns against HIV-AIDS.

"We're looking at a Napoleonic-era sofa. It belonged to Saint Laurent, so it's unique," said one half of a well-heeled Swiss couple as the auction got underway.

Almost 18 months after the couturier's death in June last year, the couple's Moroccan seaside home overlooking the Gibraltar Straits as well as Saint Laurent's vast Paris flat with garden are still on the market.

Most items going under the hammer from November 17 to 20 are from the pair's weekend hideaway on the French coast - chairs, carpets, vases and assorted knick-knacks amassed in the three-storey Chateau Gabriel on the Normandy coast that they acquired in the early 1980s.

The style-setting pair, at once design enthusiasts, art buffs and literati, redecorated the mansion in a style inspired by novelist Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time", late 19th century Bavarian castles and decors from Luchino Visconti.

A Dutch 19th century brass chandelier worth 30,000 euros (54,000 dollars) along with reading lamps, boxes, pipes and side-tables accessible to YSL fans at a mere couple of hundred euros each are among 300 bits and pieces up for grabs on the first day of the auction.

The remainder of the 1,185 objects, including Saint Laurent's last Mercedes-Benz automobile and his Hermes luggage, are from the pair's Paris flats and offices.

Among those items, which will close the sale, is the most expensive - a Fernand Leger gouache estimated at between 60,000 and 70,000 euros (90,000 and 105,000 dollars).

This second auction bears little comparison however with the February event dubbed the biggest private art sale in history.

In spite of the crisis, records tumbled at the February sale as hundreds of well-heeled buyers clamoured for rare Art Deco pieces, old silver, and especially works by the likes of Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian and Brancusi.

In all, the blockbuster sale of the 700-item YSL/Berge collection fetched a whopping 342 million euros (491 million dollars), making Saint Laurent the top-earning dead celebrity of 2009, ahead of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, according to Forbes.

"There are no masterpieces this time, we're not expecting to break market records," Francois de Ricqles, deputy president of Christie's France, told AFP ahead of the sale.

Berge, a business tycoon and arts patron who was Saint Laurent's lover and business partner, opted to sell all after the death at 71 of the fashion czar who put women in trousers.

"I hope that everything we loved so passionately will find a home with other collectors. That is the way with works of art," Berge said at the time, adding that he was selling "without regret and without nostalgia."

He said last month he would offer the entire proceeds of the November follow-up sale to fight AIDS, along with part of the benefits from the February auction.

"It is a misconception to think AIDS is like other illnesses," Berge, who is 78, said. "We are not at the end of the tunnel, we are travelling further down the tunnel."

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