Bernard’s story is broader and longer than many of us students might have suspected. According to rumors, Bernard was in Mexico City with Diego Rivera and Orzoco in 1940, where the 26 y.o. Pfreim reportedly dropped the dime on Leon Trotsky when Stalin’s goons followed him to the DF.
No one can guess Bernard’s motives there, but by 1961, he was a WWII Vet living in Paris on a grant from the Copley Foundation. In Paris, Bernard was in a circle of expats that included Constantin Brâncuși and the Annabel’s (UK) heiress, Maxine Birley aka Maxime De La Falaise model and muse to Cecil Beaton, Elsa Schiaparelli and Andy Warhol.
Maxine had started out as a “Computer” at Bletchley Park during WWII but was let go due to her apparent kleptomania. By the time that the War had ended, she had participated in the French Resistance and was married to Count Alain Le Bailly de La Falaise. Before moving to Southern France with Bernard in 1961, Maxime had given the Count two children, Loulou and Alexis.
It was Bernard’s interest in the Surrealists that drew him to Lacoste. It was well known –Paris, at least – that their patron saint, the Marquis De Sade hailed from Provence and Lacoste in particular – a tiny, rural village at the foot of the Luberon Mountains. To Bernard and Maxime, their first visit must have felt like a pilgrimage.
By the early 60s, Lacoste was a ruin. A village once prosperous for its silk production was then a ghost-town due to the Catipillar Plagues of the late 1870’s. Thereafter, the Chinese and Japanese silk manufacturers took over and beat the French and Italian sericulturers at the game. By 1962, Lacoste was a failed village and most of its natives had left for better prospects in Marseilles, Lyons and Paris.
Before the village had either plumbing or electricity, Bernard had traded two American-style refrigerators for the Boulangerie building at the center of town and a clutch of roofless buildings across the narrow street.
Already an acolyte of Cecil Beaton, Maxime’s initial idea had been to create an Artist colony for her entourage of Parisian Socialites and Artists. But the dream did not last.
Maxime and Bernard fell apart. Whether this was because of her dalliances or the fault of Bernard, no one can say. Perhaps it was just Maxime’s desire for a bigger sandbox. By 1967, she was in NYC and remarried to John McKendry, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1974, Maxime was a fixture at The Factory and starred in Paul Morrisey’s “Blood for Dracula”.Together, Maxime and McKendry played an important role in launching Robert Mapplethorpe’s career.
Provençe and the Vaucluse was not a destination for les BCBGs until the ’80s, when the hippies who once summered there — John Malkovitch, Ridley Scott and Leonard Cohen — became wealthy and bought villas, turning the Valley into a refuge for celebrities trying to escape notoriety.
Upon Maxime’s departure, Bernard decided to turn the place into a School, via Sarah Lawrence College and his alma mater, the Cleveland Institute of Art.
As a staff assistant at the school in the late ’80s, I knew nothing of Maxime, Loulou, or that any of them had ever had anything to do with the place…