As the founder and CEO of vente-privée, the $2.3 billion flash sale web site that set the precedent for companies like Gilt Groupe, 51-year-old entrepreneur Jacques Antoine-Granjon doesn’t have many regrets.
Yet there’s one that he cannot shake. “I’ve only sold three artworks in my life,” he says, referring to his vast, beloved art collection, “three Basquiats; and I’m still crying that I sold them.”
Though lacking in Basquiats, the Marseille-born businessman has made quite a life for himself. He’s known in Paris for driving flashy cars (a red Bentley is a favorite), frequenting Michelin-starred restaurants, and wearing exaggeratedly pointy custom loafers. He has shaggy rock star hair to his shoulders, and a predilection for leather jackets. His billionaire friends call him “Louis XIV.” France’s Top Chef winner is the company’s resident chef. And vente-privée recently crossed the Atlantic, debuting in the United States. But before all of it, Antoine-Granjon was an aspiring art collector with a discerning eye. After a childhood spent visiting museums in New York and Paris, he bought his first piece in his early twenties–a painting of a yellow dog by the Russian-born painter Igor Andreev. Since, he’s developed a taste for vibrant, surreal and sometimes cheekily garish art, perhaps best characterized in the David LaChapelle Last Supper photograph displayed in two places at vente-privée’s Paris headquarters.
Situated in a cavernous former printing press, the offices boast over 100 works from Antoine-Granjon’s sprawling collection. Many pieces play on the company’s beginnings as a clothing retailer (vente-privée now sells everything from lawnmowers to original albums by the likes of Iggy Pop, recorded in studios on-site): An enormous David Mach gorilla made of woven clothing hangers watches over the main entrance; Sylvie Fleury’s Gold-Plated Shopping Cart rotates slowly on a mirrored platform; and a cube-shaped CESAR sculpture called Cardboard Compression made of crushed shipping boxes rests in the lobby. Visitors might also recognize Jenny Holzer’s I Watch You, or an Andres Serrano in the same telltale yellow hue as the artist’s infamous Piss Christ (1987). The collection also showcases several Rankin photographs including HM Queen Elizabeth II.
Antoine-Granjon isn’t immune to championing certain artists, either: During our interview he buzzed with excitement about Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, whose work decorates the lobby and VIP conference room. The collector even recruited him to shoot an ad for vente-privée. “Erwin Olaf for me is incredible,” he says. “[His work is] about sadness, separation, desire, depression, about women and men–I love the guy.”
Not everything makes it to the walls of vente-privée, or even Antoine-Granjon’s home. He tells us there is a mass of works, never unpacked, sitting in the basement.