Storytelling Through Data: The Fascinating Collection of Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé

A Designers Eye on the Market

Yves Saint Laurent, the iconic fashion designer who repeatedly stole the show runway upon runway, is still invariably the most celebrated designer of our time. Yet, what turns our head has nothing to do with the couturier's designs. It's the story our data tells of his and Pierre Bergé's collection of fine art, furniture and antiquities, still making headlines even seven years after its record-breaking sale at Christie's.

Toward the end of the late noughties when the world was experiencing the Great Recession, the art and antiquities market particularly seemed on edge. Nations around the globe found their economies shrinking, giving this market considerable concern. That is, until the end of February 2009 when Christie's held the record-breaking sale, Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé. The three-day, nearly 700-lot sale was estimated to bring in €274 million.

Using Data to Answer Your Questions

How can data tell the story of this incredible sale and its effect on the art market? To begin with, you need a data source that provides raw data and the ability to query this data on multiple levels. And of course, you need to start with a question.

In this case, we wanted to know how the overall art market in France performed over the past nine years, especially during the Great Recession. We didn't want to strip out any of the major outliers, didn't want to smooth the data to reduce volatility. We wanted a true representation of how the market looked in its most raw state. The below graph represents the market during this nine-year period. Do you see that massive spike in early 2009? It's glaringly obvious. Even though we knew of this sale, it still made us do a double take and wonder if it really could have been the sole contributor.

Understanding the Data

Knowing of this famous sale makes it easy for us to explain the anomaly. However, what's interesting is what happens to this picture when you start applying statistical techniques. To compare, we next looked at the central 50%. This trims the data to eliminate the major outliers, in this case the top and bottom 25% of sales.

By stripping away these outliers, you can see two things: the spike, although still considerable, is significantly reduced (with an index number of 15,083 down from 39,572) and the rest of the period indicates a slightly more volatile market.

It's not uncommon for data providers to apply statistical techniques prior to making it accessible to the masses. Smoothing is a technique that reduces the volatility of the data yielding yet another picture.

Although this doesn't give the appearance of a particularly volatile market, applying a 14-month moving average does show a high sales streak from early 2009 through the middle of 2010. This is a far cry from the singular spike seen in the original graph. It actually smooths the data within the specified time frame and shows less volatility. Looking at the above image, one might extrapolate that there was a series of high value auctions throughout 2009 and early 2010 rather than a single fantastical one in early 2009.

So, what happens to the data when we apply both trimming and smoothing techniques?

You can see by the trend line that the overall movement during this same time frame is fairly consistent, regardless of the starting value. However, when applying both trimming and smoothing techniques, the information you're left with is remarkably different to the original report. What perception are you left with now?

Storytelling Through Data

The various graphical representations of the data lead you to make assumptions that may or may not be helpful. Applying different statistical techniques didn't change the data. It didn't make it wrong. It did however, change the perception of the data.

When using data to understand any market it's crucial to start with an understanding of the data you're using. Knowing which techniques, if any, have already been applied is a good start to understanding the data. Without this knowledge and the ability to look at the same data from different perspectives, it's difficult to tell an accurate story. The answers you arrive at could be derived from a muted understanding of the data. Or worse, they could lead you to wrongly interpret patterns and anomalies, potentially with catastrophic results.

Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé

The duplex at 55 Rue de Babylone and a small apartment on the Rue Bonaparte were adorned with glorious works of art by the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Giorgio de Chirico. Lot upon lot of antiquities blanketed the amazing pieces of Art Deco furniture that filled their homes. The Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé collection was out of this world. At a time when the economic climate was still considerably unstable, the sale of this private collection seemed it might breath new hope into an otherwise nervous market. What was estimated to yield €274 million, the famous three-day sale instead exceeded expectations by nearly €100 million.

Did this astounding sale provide an injection of economic relief that would lead to a revival for the luxury investment market, restoring confidence during this uneasy time? We'll leave you with the data to make that determination for yourself.

What can be said with utmost certainty is that Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, through the grace of provenance, will forever be a part of those glorious pieces of art, furniture and antiques, and the central figures of an astonishing story.