“Maybe I’ll Start Saving When I’m 70"

Berlin’s coolest creative director/art dealer/trendsetter talks about the real life behind her glamorous lifestyle.

Interview by Kati Krause
Photographs by Philipp Langenheim

Money remains one of our biggest taboos — bigger than sex — and yet we spend more time earning it, spending it, and thinking about it than almost anything else. We’re bored with people presenting us with their seemingly effortless lives instead of the messy reality of their finances. So, here’s our attempt to turn it inside out: People talking honestly, and realistically, about their relationship to money.

Jeanne-Salomé Rochat is one of those women who certain cool people like to know. The 28-year-old creative director and art dealer seems special, in that effortless way natural trendsetters have. She’s co-publisher of tattoo magazine Sang Bleu and art magazine Novembre, used to dance and teach ballet, and today makes a living connecting people — people who have money to spend and people who have things to sell. She lives in Berlin but travels regularly to the offices of Sang Bleu in London and Novembre in Geneva (where she’s from). And, it turns out, her approach to money is impulsive and emotional.

How much money is currently in your bank accounts?
I have a vague idea but I don’t really want to say. It changes a lot — depending on what I do next month it could go down to zero. Part of the reason why I don’t want to tell you is superstition: Right now I’m spending a lot of money on an office I’m renting and renovating, and I hope it’s going to pay off… but I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to happen.

I also think that if I say it, it’s going to alter my relationship with a lot of people. Some people will think I have a lot and will want to borrow money. Other people will think I have little and say, “Really? You do all that and only have that much?” Because it’s true that compared to the amount of money I move, I don’t have a lot.

Do you feel financially secure right now?
Yes. I know there’s enough, I’m not under €5,000 ($5,800). I also have accounts that I can’t overdraw, on purpose.

How long have you been feeling financially secure?
Two years. Although secure is a big word, eh.

What are your current sources of income?
Creative direction, art buying, real estate acquisition, and some journalism jobs here and there. Mainly I act as an intermediary between people who want to buy a property and people who want to sell one. The people who hire me to do that do it because they don’t want a real estate agent — probably because I am cheaper, but also because I love connecting people. And I love shopping for other people. The cut I take is between two and 15 percent, but there’s also trading involved.

How much does each of those sources bring in?
Twenty percent is creative direction, 30 percent is art buying, and 50 percent is real estate. And journalism… two percent, maybe?

What’s your annual income?
It depends on the year! In the past five years, somewhere between €10,000 ($11,500) and €100,000 ($115,000). I don’t see a clear progression in my income. I have started getting used to instability. Things come and go.

How did you first get into art buying?
I had a job at Sotheby’s in Geneva for about six months when I was 18. That gave me a foot in that network of people who love to buy art and sell it. I have a small network of regular clients, maybe 10. The art dealing is also connected to my magazine publishing, because my magazines allow me to be close to artists. But when I started doing these things I didn’t expect them to make me an expert.

Do you own any other assets or investments?
I have a large clothing collection, and a lot of more or less precious books and editions, as well as some artwork. Most of those were gifts, a fee in kind, or the result of a trade. Oh, and I own some quite old Nestlé stock.

How much do you pay in rent?
About €200 ($230) a month for my home in Kreuzberg. It’s a very cheap one-room flat that I share with my better half. And about €800 ($930) for my shared offices and storage space. When I’m in Geneva I stay with family.

Do you separate your business expenses from your personal ones?
Not at all.

What are your other living costs, and how much do you spend on them?
I don’t keep track. I hate to count and plan. My main expenses are probably travel and food. I hire a company to do my taxes and usually hand them a shoe box full of invoices, receipts, and unopened letters once a year, then run away.

What’s the biggest expense you don’t like to acknowledge to yourself?
I don’t like to acknowledge most of my expenses, but I have temporary obsessions. For example, I definitely have a thing about meat. When I enter the meat section I can lose sense of reality — especially in Germany, where beef is so expensive. I can easily fall for super nice organic beef fillet that’s, like, €70 ($80) a kilo. I will obsess about it for a month and have it all the time. Also, I recently got eyelash extensions. They’re super expensive — almost €300 ($350). My eyelashes are really tiny, and now that I have these I’ll keep spending money on them until I’m bored. They last about five weeks. For a while it was nails. I would spend at least €100 ($115) a month to have my nails done. But that’s over.

Do you indulge in any occasional luxuries?
I love to take cabs. I spend way too much money on them. I get motion sickness in cars but I love to call a cab, take it, pay, and then leave a car I will never see again.

Do you break even at the end of the month or manage to save?
I am pretty sure that varies from month to month, depending on whether I’m in workaholic or in hermit mode. Sometimes I know I’m spending more than I’m earning for several months in a row, but I don’t want to look at the numbers. Equally, sometimes I surf the high of knowing I’m making money, but I don’t look at the numbers because I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.

Do you have any debt?
I don’t think so. I hate borrowing money. It makes it way too real and important.

Were you ever poor?
I’ve always had enough to eat. I grew up with what I think is a Protestant mentality — the bare minimum is good. Extreme moderation. We would go to the opera, but we’d always get the shittiest seats, on principle.

But I was pretty poor when I moved to London in 2009. I’d been teaching ballet in Geneva and had had a pretty good income. I thought it would be easy to find work in London, but it was a hard-core step down. So I would go back to Switzerland to teach and then go to London to spend it. That lasted until I found a job with an art buyer in London. It was a matter of £5 ($7.50) here and there to make it through the day. I felt scared and trapped.

How did you get to where you are today, financially?
My parents always supported me, not with money, but by encouraging me to work. I think both of them sort of hate money, or at least fear it, as if it is a curse. Like, rich people are necessarily unhappy. They supported me until I was 18 but didn’t want me to go to art school, so they stopped then — although my mum paid for my health insurance for another two years or so. But I had a government scholarship that paid for living expenses, and school is nearly free in Switzerland anyway.

What’s the most expensive thing that you own?
I have some good jewelery, a nice watch. I don’t know if I own anything that has a very stable value though. Maybe my Swiss passport?

Are you ever worried about money?
I’m worried about everything collapsing. In a second, everything could be gone. But that’s not necessarily related to money, because I know I wouldn’t die instantly if I didn’t have any. Also, I probably couldn’t live the life I live if I were an anxious person. I hope a lot. So maybe the answer to your question is no.

Do you think about your retirement?
Oh la la! No. I hope that as long as I live I’ll keep accumulating and using it at the same time. I don’t want to stop working, I want to keep growing. Maybe I’ll start saving when I’m 70.

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