OBIT

11.07.11

Remembering YSL's Muse

Yves Saint Laurent’s closest muse, Loulou de la Falaise, died this weekend at the age of 63. Alice Cavanagh on the woman who inspired the legendary designer. Plus, see photos.

One of the great ladies in fashion, Loulou de la Falaise, died on Saturday morning in Paris at the age of 63. De la Falaise was a close companion and collaborator of the late Yves Saint Laurent, working by his side from the early 1970s until his retirement in 2002. Many have used the term “muse” to describe her relationship with Saint Laurent, and indeed she was, although she was also much more than that. As she explained to Vogue Italia last year: “For me, a muse is someone who looks glamorous but is quite passive, whereas I was very hard-working. I worked from 9am to sometimes 9pm, or even 2am. I certainly wasn’t passive.”

Passive or not, there is no doubt that her daring personal style—she was not one to shy away from brocade pants, even in her 60s—was a source of great inspiration for the couturier. When it came to all things sartorial, de la Falaise—with her dark blond, curly bob and generous smile—favored eclecticism and liked to wear an unexpected clash of color and print, always with a tumbling mass of necklaces adorning her neck. In this she was the opposite of Saint Laurent’s other, more masculine muse, the equally inimitable Betty Catroux. Someone once said that every man needs a muse; it makes sense that a man of his talent had two.

Louise Vava Lucia Henriette de la Falaise was born in Britain. Her mother, Maxime de la Falaise, was a great beauty and modeled for the likes of Schiaparelli. She was also a food writer for Vogue and an actress in one of Andy Warhol’s films (not to mention, at one point, a diagnosed kleptomaniac). But the photographer Cecil Beaton said Maxime was the only truly chic Englishwoman of her generation. Loulou’s father, Comte Alain de la Falaise, seems to have led a somewhat less eventful existence but was a French aristocrat nonetheless. Rumor has it that the de la Falaises christened their only daughter using Schiaparelli’s perfume Shocking instead of holy water. Loulou was, without doubt, always destined for Saint Laurent’s eccentric circle of friends.

Saint Laurent was at his best a genius, and at his worst a manic-depressive genius. He surrounded himself with inspiring and supportive people, many of whom, de la Falaise included, were ardent friends and confidants for decades. She once said of their working relationship and his delicate disposition: “He never did anything without me, but I kept the atmosphere light. If he acted neurotic, I’d say, ‘Don’t be so silly.’ I thought, ‘Nobody’s going to have fun in clothes if you don’t enjoy making them.’” Part of her role at YSL included designing jewelry, which was a success. When she left YSL, she launched her own line, which she worked on until she died.

It’s been said that we have de la Falaise to thank for “Le Smoking,” YSL’s famous tuxedo that revolutionized eveningwear for women when he presented it in the late 1960s. Its silhouette is de la Falaise to a T: though her style was feminine, she knew how to wear a pantsuit and rarely wore skirts. In fact, the model in Helmut Newton’s iconic 1975 photo of Le Smoking embodies de la Falaise’s appeal: slim, elegant, with that enviable air of je ne sais quoi.