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Vogue décoration March 1988 - The cult of objects (Gérard Badin)

198803 - Vogue decoration
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Opposite page, Art Brut work in front of a painting by P. Valentiner (1976).

Gérard Babin

His style is eclectic, as are his highly original fashion designs. But Gérard Babin's taste for the baroque remains as balanced as the dome of the Invalides opposite his windows.

Born near Cognac, Gérard Babin is proud of his landed origins: "My parents were estate managers, so we lived in superb residences that did not belong to us. There was no running water, no toilets, and sometimes the floor was made of dirt. I knew communal schools with a stove that we lit in the morning. All this only changed in the 1950s. No doubt, like one of Mauriac's heroes, he read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and the novels of Loti, whose extravagant Turkish house rises up from its minaret in Rochefort. The adventures of the beautiful Aziyadé, however, made him dream less than those of Lucien de Rubempré, the ambitious young man who set out from Angoulême to conquer the capital:

"As far back as I can remember, I knew, like him, that one day I would go to Paris. As far back as I can remember, I knew, like him, that one day I would go to Paris. I arrived there at the age of eighteen, with a scholarship, to enrol in the Faculty of Letters. In fact, I worked straight away, alternately as a waiter, insurance agent and medical visitor. I was fascinated by the city, its museums, and especially the Clignancourt flea market, where I spent everything I earned.

In 1968, he set up a shop with a partner, François Houei, to sell leather clothes. In 1977, he opened his own fashion house. He was very successful in Italy and the United States, where his treatment of unusual materials (snake, crocodile, ostrich) and especially fur was appreciated. His flat, located in a beautiful 1930s building, is eclectic and baroque, reflecting his personality.

In the entrance hall, a huge screen upholstered in late 18th century Chinese wallpaper for the English market is enthroned. In front of the illuminated scene from the Celestial Empire, an Indian chest is topped by a naive sculpture by Canadian Nathalie Fortier, Venetian floor lamps light up blue paper circles by Polish artist Baran, and a rhinoceros skull has taken up residence under a Louis XV console.

Is it the quest for subtle "elective affinities" that guides our host? That would be to ignore his modesty: "I don't care about the size or rarity of objects. I only buy them for my pleasure. It's up to them to manage to live together. But as opportunities are becoming rare today, he is turning more and more to modern painting, "where you can still have fun without breaking the bank". His first purchase, when he was twenty years old, was a painting by Hélène Perdriat from Charente, dated 1922. More recently, he obtained a small work by the constructivist Mantsouroff by exchanging it for a crocodile coat!

He is delighted to be able to frequent the New York galleries again, because of the falling dollar, and finding no more room to hang the paintings, he piles them up along the corridors. Furniture, in comparison, is less of a concern. This is not to say that they don't take up space: the two Senufo beds in the living room are as king-sized as their origin. In this room, there is also a hanging by the Californian Christopher Hill between two church columns, a sofa by Mallet-Stevens, a cloth cutter's table with an Indian horse on wheels, two medallions inherited from a malacologist and, among other 1900 portraits, a beautiful lady by La Gandara in front of a little man swinging naively on his concrete swing.

The dining room occupies a strategic position, in the very centre of the house. Gérard Babin, who comes from a gourmet province, loves to cook, and you can enjoy the good old dishes of his region under the terracotta replica of the nymph of the Rambouillet cave, sitting naked on a goat in front of a Chinese lacquer screen. As for the bedrooms, they are used to store the owner's latest finds. In his room, a "deuil-de-la-reine" chest of drawers stands next to a 1930 Michelin Bibendum and dozens of paintings brought back from the flea market. In another, a neo-classical English chair is in dialogue with a 1920s factory model.

Is this a game of passion, as Maurice Rheims says (quoted by Jean Baudrillard in Le système des objets) about the taste for collecting? Gérard Babin denies it: "I wouldn't mind selling everything," he says, "I'd end up sleeping on a fur in my studio.

However, while he admires Japanese interiors and is capable of living in an empty room, he immediately adds: "But it's impossible; in poverty, I'd be doing the dustbins! "-




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