His house, though filled with art, doesn’t look like a museum at all. “I have 14 grandchildren, ages 2 to 13, and they know to touch things only with their eyes,” she says. “The TH Robsjohn-Gibbings sofa, for example, is covered in cotton blankets when they’re here. I don’t want to run around saying, “Don’t touch this, don’t touch that” and live in fear. She attributes her desire to share beautiful things with her grandchildren in part to how her own parents wanted to share their love of the arts. “They didn’t have any money when they arrived in France, but every week when I was little I would go to the Louvre, the botanical garden or travel in the back of our little Renault to Amsterdam to that they can show us things.”
His family was forced out of Egypt in 1956 when Gamal Abdel Nasser became president and expelled the French, English and almost half of the Jewish population. De Gunzburg was one year old and her mother, who had lived “like a princess” growing up among her own mother’s fields of roses and jasmine, was forced to start afresh in France. “My grandfather never recovered from being reduced to living in Paris in a one-bedroom apartment, but my grandmother kept her cups of tea and continued to have tea every day as if she were back in Cairo, with her red lipstick, her perfect nails, perfect hair, her cashmere. She used to spray her pillowcases every day with perfume. I learned from her that it doesn’t take a lot of money to have good manners. It was my education. De Gunzburg inherited her grandmother’s positivity, as well as her style. “I’m well known for laying beautiful tables, whereas my mother used to say, ‘How many hours did you spend setting this table when you could read?’ I would say: ‘But I also read!’ Perhaps it was the influence of Egypt in the background, this outward perspective while being inherently French, that led her to establish such a strong bond with Yves Saint Laurent, whose family had forced to leave Algeria as a teenager. She met him in 1985 and was hired to create his line of cosmetics, including inventing one of the beauty industry’s most iconic products, Touche Eclat, for brightening under the eyes. “I had never thought of it before, but it’s true: we had this oriental spirit in our DNA,” she says today.