Jean “Johnny” Pigozzi received his first camera as a gift from his parents, at the age of 9. “If you’re a painter, you can sit alone in front of your canvas, but with photography, you always need a subject,” says the artist and art collector, who has had as many exhibitions for his own work as for his trove of African art, among the largest in the world. His latest book,
, pays tribute to the array of eccentric characters who have inspired him over the past six decades, including the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Michael Douglas, and Gianni Agnelli. The project, Pigozzi says, is his way of thanking all the mentors he has had over his lifetime, after his colorful father, Henri, who founded Simca, one of France’s largest automakers, died when Pigozzi was still a boy. “I don’t like posed pictures, so the trick is to have a small camera that fits in your pocket and doesn’t scare anybody,” Pigozzi says of the way he shoots. “Because the moment doesn’t happen again.” In these images, compiled over many years, he gives us ample proof of what he means. The 213 Most Important Men in My Life
Pigozzi estimates that he has spent one-third of his life by the pool at Villa Dorane, his family home in Cap d’Antibes. “It’s a kidney-shaped pool that was built in 1953, and nothing has changed. This pool is the place I like the most in the world. I had first kisses with girls, interesting conversations, good food, and sunburns. This pool has been very, very important in my life.”
Above: Pigozzi (center) with his mother and cousin in 1956.
Pigozzi, with his father, in Cap d’Antibes, circa 1956.
“My father started a car company called Simca, and I used to go with him to the auto shows,” says Pigozzi, photographed above on a Simca Aronde in the ’50s. “It was a big, special moment for me, and they plunked me on top of a new model of a car. I was so proud to be with my father at the show, which in those days was at the Grand Palais in Paris.”
Among Pigozzi’s closest friends were the late Ahmet Ertegun, the cofounder of Atlantic Records, and his wife, Mica (above right, with Chessy Rayner at the Carlyle hotel in New York in 1993). “Ahmet had two lives: He had a life with Mica, which was Southampton and Park Avenue, and then he had his rock ’n’ roll life. I lived both lives with them,” Pigozzi recalls. “I would spend the weekend with them in Southampton, and then on Monday evening, we would go to see AC/DC at CBGB, and people would sometimes vomit on you.”
In 1999, Jerry Hall asked Pigozzi if she could throw a party at his house to celebrate the birthday of her then husband, Mick Jagger. “By the end, Paul Allen was playing guitar, and Bono was singing,” Pigozzi says. “Nobody had iPhones yet, so people were much freer. We were making fools of ourselves, singing and laughing, which we wouldn’t do now because it would go on social media.”
Above: Bono, Ron Wood, and Mick Jagger at the party.
“Studio 54 was the most incredible nightclub I’ve ever been to in my life,” Pigozzi says of the New York institution, where the likes of Truman Capote (above, center) mingled with Hollywood royalty and European aristocrats. “You’d have Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, and Andy Warhol at a table, and sitting next to them would be three drag queens dressed as nuns, and some girl on roller skates.”
After the Rolling Stones played
Saturday Night Live, in 1978, Pigozzi hitched a limo ride to a bar downtown with Keith Richards, Patti Hansen, and Annie Leibovitz (above). “Annie took a selfie with Patti and Keith in the back of the car with her Polaroid,” Pigozzi remembers. “I love the photographs that Annie took in the early part of her career for Rolling Stone. She was remarkable, a completely free kind of photographer.”
The pool at Villa Dorane, with its expansive terrace and views of the Mediterranean, has been a site of relaxation and play for decades. “I was brought up on the water, and I have no vibes for mountains and skiing and all that,” Pigozzi says. “I’m not good at driving cars, but I can drive any boat you want. I only drink water. I’m obsessed with water.”
Above: Pigozzi goes for a swim.
Naomi Campbell cuddles with Pigozzi’s dog Charles.
Mick Jagger attempts to push Helmut Newton into the pool.
From left: Salma Hayek, Elton John, and Mick Jagger sharing a moment in 2009. “If Mick was not a rock star, he could be a travel agent,” Pigozzi jokes. “He has all these children going everywhere, and he’ll say, ‘No, don’t stop in Atlanta, because that’s not a good flight. You should take the flight that goes through Boston, because there’s less of a wait.’ He knows more about airplanes and transfers and traveling than anybody else.”
Pigozzi ended up at Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock’s 2006 wedding in Saint-Tropez because Lars Ulrich, the drummer for Metallica, was a guest at Villa Dorane at the time and brought his host along as a plus-one. “It was one of the funniest weddings I ever went to,” Pigozzi recalls. “She was married in a small white bikini, and on her butt was written ‘Just Married.’ They both read their vows off their Blackberries.”
At Helmut and June Newton’s 50th wedding anniversary party (above, the couple embrace next to Donatella Versace), in Sanremo, Italy, Pigozzi remembers Helmut sharing his tip for a happy marriage: “ ‘The secret is to never come home without calling five hours in advance, so the other person has time to get his or her lover out of the house, redo the bed, get the perfume out, and change everything.’ And this was a fabulous piece of advice.”
In 1997, Pigozzi bought a 220-foot yacht, and asked the Italian architect Ettore Sottsass to decorate it. “With this boat, I went from Australia to Japan to Russia to Alaska to Greenland to New York. I mean, I really went around the world for 23 years,” he says. “Usually, people who have yachts go from Capri to Saint-Tropez to St. Barths, but I decided to go everywhere. It was a fantastic way of traveling, and I don’t regret one minute of it.”
For the past 30 years, Pigozzi has thrown a pool party at Villa Dorane during the Cannes Film Festival. Attendees have included Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Martha Stewart, Lenny Kravitz, Bono, and “many people I didn’t know,” Pigozzi quips. “I would say, ‘You can come, but you cannot bring your publicist, your bodyguard, or your hair and makeup. You come alone!’ But everybody would cheat. It was fun because every party in Cannes pushes a movie, but I was not pushing anything.”
Pigozzi took this photo of Jane Fonda the first time she came to visit Villa Dorane. “She has a fantastic sense of humor, and has had an incredible career,” he says of the actor and activist. “And I must say, if I ever had to have a facelift, I would ask her for her doctor. She’s not stuffy, and you can talk about funny things with her, like sex, and say whatever you want.”
In 2015, Pigozzi was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at Martha Stewart’s home in upstate New York. As one might imagine, every element of the experience was flawless: “The turkeys looked like they came out of a Tiffany box, the stuffing was impeccable, the carrots were all exactly the same size, the potatoes were peeled just so, and the flowers were not too flashy but not too sad, either. The four dogs were perfectly combed. Everything was perfect.”
“About 30 years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to wear a suit and tie to go out in the evenings. So I went to funny stores to pick up fabric that is usually for children’s clothing,” Pigozzi says.
Pigozzi met Christian Louboutin (above, center, with Bianca Brandolini d’Adda in 2008) through Diane von Furstenberg. “I love his energy, creativity, and curiosity,” Pigozzi says. “He’s given me quite a few pairs of shoes, but usually he gives me a size too small, and I say, ‘But I can’t wear them!’ And he says, ‘Just squeeze into them. Girls do that!’ ”
“I am fascinated by Pharrell Williams. He is one of the nicest, most polite entertainers I’ve ever met,” Pigozzi says. “I wish I could see him more, because I love his music, and I’ve seen him perform a few times. Some of these other musicians are kind of rude and entitled, but he’s a gentleman.”
“The interesting thing about these parties is that the hosts find ways to make something more complicated and more expensive than the last,” Pigozzi muses, in reference to this snapshot he took of the catering staff at an event in Saint Moritz in 2020. “Then guests try to figure out how much the party costs: ‘Okay, there were 200 guests, 40 waiters, 14 pounds of caviar; the truffles were flown in from Italy. Oh, it must be a million five. Dollars or euros?’ ”