interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
artwork by VINCENT DARRÉ
photography by JULIEN DRACH
every house, from the floor to the ceiling, from the books to the décor, is full of love stories, like ghosts from the past.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What place does love hold in your life?
VINCENT DARRÉ — I’m a bit like Edith Piaf: without love, you’re nothing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, it’s fundamental to you.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. I think that, without love, we don’t exist. In life, there are two kinds of love: the way the person who loves you looks at you and the way other people look at you and your work. We need both. I think people who’ve never had a great “love affair” don’t know what life is, and people who’ve never truly been recognized for their work will likely end up bitter. Fulfilment comes from those two things.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, there’s intimacy, the private relationship, secret love, and then there’s the public’s view of you.
VINCENT DARRÉ — It’s less the public than friends and work. I myself happen to be passionate, and these are two kinds of passion that can help you along and keep you balanced. If you lose in love, you find salvation in your work. And you let your work slide a little when you fall in love.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, what do you think of the link between sex and love?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Whenever you talk about love with your friends, some will say: “Not me. I only do sex. I couldn’t care less about love.” Others will say the opposite: “Me, I don’t care if we don’t fuck as long as we’re in love.” I myself don’t think that’s possible. I think we need to fuck and be in love. The two go together. It’s vital, a thing that keeps you alive. I think we fuck much better with people we’re in love with. Some think the opposite. Not me. Because when you love, the distance between you and your lover vanishes. I say it all the time. I ask people, “Do you know where your head and your feet are when you fuck?” When you don’t know anymore, that’s when you’ve really succeeded. It’s not always that good, of course, but fucking is still very important for a couple. But after 13 or 14 years, people start to get tired of it. Even before… Not me, though. Never! It’s weird…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is love vital?
VINCENT DARRÉ — It was very painful when the man I loved died of AIDS. I grieved for seven years. Apparently, it takes seven years to get over a real love affair. Later, I met a narcissistic pervert. It was the first time I’d suffered again in all that time. I’d complain to a very close friend: “It’s horrible. I’m in pain. So much pain.” She replied, “Yes, but he shows you that you’re alive.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — But isn’t it better to be alone?
VINCENT DARRÉ — In fact, when you love, it’s because you’re alive. I’ve often felt like I was someone people looked at and found amusing, someone who was interesting and surprising, but I actually don’t like that. You become a character. Without a love life, you become completely frustrated, like Karl Lagerfeld. Karl hadn’t fucked in 25 years when I met him in ’95, not since the 1970s. He had no problem just telling me: “I haven’t fucked in 25 years.” But he wouldn’t complain about it. You have to be very courageous to live a life where you’re an object. He’d become a public object. Not a sexual object, but an object he’d fashioned after his own notion of himself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There was Jacques de Bascher, though.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes, but it was cerebral with Bascher. They never did anything naughty, as Arielle Dombasle would say. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — A public object. So, he would take his libido, all of his intellect, and pour it into his work.
VINCENT DARRÉ — And into his photos. Karl would photograph nude men. I asked him if he got any pleasure out of it. “Oh no,” he’d say. “It’s abstract.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you were saying that you could never just be a character. You’re seen as the eternal Parisian young man: surprising, interesting, bubbly. But if that’s all you are…
VINCENT DARRÉ — If you’re not in a love affair, it means you’re nothing but an envelope. When I was working in fashion and attending the dinners, I worried a lot that people would see me and not know what I did because I worked for Karl or for other people, and it was pretty hard to figure out what my job was. It wasn’t my work. It was Karl’s. I helped. You provide ideas and inspiration, but it’s not you directly. And now it’s marvelous to run into people and have them tell me they love my work. You think to yourself that you’re loved or admired for something you yourself have created. You’ve fashioned a universe. And mine is pretty crazy by comparison with most things. And I have totally different people coming to see me. That gets me right in the heart. It’s a sort of love where you never go all the way.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, in your work, you take the inspiration that love gives you and transfer it to your objects, your furniture, and your creations?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Everything I do, I do by instinct, without thinking. I think when you lose your unawareness you lose your ability to express something that you could never consciously express. People live in fear. I’m lucky enough to have no fear. I draw like the Surrealists practicing automatic writing. I think without thinking. Everything I decide I also manage to do. It’s much harder in love because in your work you’re alone and can conquer your own fear — rather than your fear plus that of the other person. And in a love affair, you play all your cards, but you have to be very careful. It’s not a business meeting, where you might manage to seduce people because you’ve got nothing to lose and don’t care. You do it and amuse yourself at the same time. In love, you might lose your sense of humor. Maybe that’s it…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Indeed, you’re faced with the other person’s fear.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. The fear of getting involved. You’re faced with alienation, annihilation, the perils of death.
OLIVIER ZAHM — The fear of facing an alterity, a difference.
VINCENT DARRÉ — All of my own love affairs have been cases of love at first sight. I think it should be reciprocal, immediate, permanent.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You agree with Lacan’s unambiguous statement that love is reciprocal?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. I can’t stand rivalry, domination, servitude, annihilation, and humiliation. I think it’s a very, very bad sign once that sets in. I’m romantic. In the 1980s, while everyone else was fucking, I was waiting for Prince Charming. I missed out on some great orgies, but it’s no big deal. We lived like children in the 1980s. We were living on top of one another, and as soon as someone fell in love, everyone else got jealous. So, we preferred to fuck among ourselves. We’d go home to one another’s houses and sleep in the same bed. We were all fuck buddies, and it was childish. But when I experienced my first love, they all had a fit. They said to me: “He’s not all that beautiful. He doesn’t speak French. You don’t understand a word he’s saying.” Everyone took a shot at him.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What was your great love affair?
VINCENT DARRÉ — I think in life we’re allowed three great love affairs. I’ve already had two. I had an affair with a Greek I met at [the restaurant] Le Privilège, at the Palace. This was back in the 1980s, when I was waiting for Prince Charming. Then I had a second one 10 years later. That’s been over now for five years, and I hope I’ve still got one left to live. I’m scared I’ll reach my expiration date and squander my last chance. [Laughs] But the idea of never again having a love affair could lead to my death. I don’t think I could live out my life without another love affair. I don’t know how people who live without love get by. I know a few, and it makes me very sad.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Right. They’ve given up or run out of hope.
VINCENT DARRÉ — There are some who’ve never really had a love affair. There are people who torture themselves, who’d rather make excuses. It could be fear, too, because in love you run the risk of giving yourself over. You run the risk of collapse, pain, and loss.
OLIVIER ZAHM — From that point of view, is love a revelation of the self?
VINCENT DARRÉ — I love perfection in all things. I also love things that are cobbled together. One doesn’t rule out the other. But I think love becomes uninteresting once it degrades. And because I’ve been through a very painful affair, where I had to face the illness and death of my partner, I think I demand the same strength in love. If the person can’t face fears, anxieties, and misfortunes, then I start to get contemptuous.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s the most important thing in love?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Words — even more than sex! I’d never understood that words are very important because I lived with a Greek I used to fight with all the time, who’d insult me, call me a pedo, and grab me by the hair. We’d fight — it was super fun — but it was very Mediterranean. Later in life, I came to understand the importance of words. You don’t realize it at first when you hear something that chills you to the bone, but it eats at you later.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You have to hear the words, and then they endure.
VINCENT DARRÉ — It’s amazing when people say they’ve left someone because the person said something that left them chilled to the bone. It’s extraordinary, the power of a word to destroy everything.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Would you mind going back to the notion of contempt? There’s a sudden disappointment in the relationship, such that you can never go back. And now you have to accept the loss.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes, and later you come to regret it. But it’s nothing serious because I’m very proud. It’s a matter of self-esteem, too. I’d rather have a whole than a half. But afterward, if the two people can get past it, it’s marvelous. Those are the couples that last. I very much admire couples that last for years.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, because they’ve actually accepted that they won’t necessarily be whole.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Or else they’ve accepted weaknesses and won’t let them become a source of rancor. They do something with them, create something else, for example.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your Greek friend died of AIDS?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. And it was terrible because Greeks fear death. For a while, we could see he was faring very badly, but he’d never want to do a blood test. They thought he was depressed, so they gave him antidepressants. Then one day his face was paralyzed. They gave him Lexomil because he had a hell of an expression, but when we understood it was facial paralysis, we took him to the Hôpital Américain. There we learned that he had AIDS, and I asked the doctor not to tell him when he woke up. I knew he wouldn’t want to keep on living if he knew, so I kept it from him for six years. I told him the drugs were for encephalitis, and I had to live with him in seclusion so as not to run into people who’d tell him that those drugs were prescribed to people who were HIV positive. There were five people in the know, and I was shut in with him for six years. He felt better sometimes, and we’d take a holiday. Other times, he’d fall sick again, and we’d stay shut in.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Now that you’ve focused on furniture and interior decoration, does your sense of love as an exquisite thing serve you in your work, help you perceive spaces or come up with ideas?
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. As you were saying, I have friends, so I like to do places where you receive people. That’s what I did on Rue Royale. I did a place where I wanted people to gather, that I wanted people to see. Many in this profession show their own work and not other people’s. What interests me, though, is to show my work as if it were at my house, and mix it with the work of other people I know, people I meet whose work I like. I find that interesting because they’re families, and it reveals more of your own spirit.
OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s also a sort of trust you build up with the people you like to gather with. When we did the Club le Montana together. Well, it was you who ended up handling the whole thing, but there’s an interaction with the person who commissions you.
VINCENT DARRÉ — That’s the fun part. It’s a dialogue. Otherwise, you’re just turning in circles. The fun part is doing the Montana together. You didn’t want it to look new, and you were absolutely right. Later I did that other Parisian club, Le Serpent à Plumes. When you do a place that’s going to be open to the public it has to come off both as a discovery and as a place that’s always been there. Besides, my mother was in the Montana when she was an existentialist. There was a memory. I like it when life’s randomness makes for…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Things just cross.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Yes. There are accidents and encounters. It’s like love. You’re lucky enough to meet people and fall in love with them. Friendship is a kind of love, too. For example, Nicolas Lefebvre, whom I find magnificent and elegant — and I like his objects. You go to his apartment, and it’s totally abandoned, with his objects set in empty rooms, and you think to yourself: this guy’s magical. You fall in love with his work and with him.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You can be in love platonically. And that is your link with Surrealism. Love was very important to French Surrealists.
VINCENT DARRÉ — Surrealist love happened by chance, through play, on the streets, in the cafés. It’s Nadja. It’s Georges Bataille. They approached women for their flamboyance. I think our era doesn’t allow that anymore. Those were genuine cases of love at first sight. You think, “How marvelous!” And Dora Maar goes to the Deux Magots, sees Picasso from a distance, and to draw his attention takes a knife and plants it between her fingers. Of course, he falls in love with her instantly. You read about their encounters, and every time you think to yourself that in our era we pass it all by because today people hook into the Internet. Nothing’s left to chance. You need courage to go up to someone and talk to them. I remember my heart leaping into my throat as I thought, “My God, I’m going to have to go over there.”