As a new book celebrates the eccentric accessories designer Loulou de la Falaise, author Christopher Petkanas remembers her indomitable legacy
Loulou de la Falaise once said, summing up her expansive view of fashion: “I think when you hit moments of perfection, it’s got nothing to do with fashion at all. I think it’s like when you listen to a piece of music, or stand before a painting... when you see total perfection, when that note is hit, every sensitive person will be moved to tears.”
As the most influential fashion designer of the second half of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent empowered women by shifting society’s paradigm of what the ideal dame looked like, widening shoulders, combining brilliant colours and piling on massive quantities of exuberant accessories.
Saint Laurent’s most persuasive ambassador was De la Falaise. As his muse and creative right hand, she would take part in the evolution of the YSL “look” over a course of three decades, giving the best part of herself. A half-French, half-English aristocrat, De la Falaise wielded a charismatic bohemian style that would greatly impact Saint Laurent. The way she carried herself, her very lightness, pegged her as the complete opposite of bourgeois.
Christopher Petkanas, who covered De la Falaise and the house of Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980s as a reporter at the Paris desk of Women’s Wear Daily and W magazine, remained curious about her and the rest of Saint Laurent’s clan. In 2010, a year before her death, he interviewed her for an article in the New York Times, culling more than the superficial facts and intrigues of de la Falaise’s fashion career. As he succinctly puts it: “She was such a rich subject.” Inevitably, he wanted to know more.
In a new book, Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de la Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent, Petkanas chronologically presents the unfiltered memories of de la Falaise’s husbands, lovers, friends, and extended family members. This captivating biography records the exhilarating – and not incidentally erotic – life Loulou lead in and out of the YSL studio. Over three years, Petkanas spoke to everyone of importance in Loulou’s world, from her mother Maxime and André Leon Talley to Diane Von Furstenberg, Inès de La Fressange and Pierre Bergé, the business brains behind Saint Laurent’s empire who died in September. The compelling biography enshrines her as one of the most important style agitators of her time, achieving her ends through a unique combination of rigour and disregard for convention.
There are, however, hanging threads. Bergé was apparently unwilling to help De la Falaise when the fashion company she launched under her own name after Saint Laurent retired in 2002 went bankrupt. “I gave Pierre repeated opportunities to explain himself,” said Petkanas. “Because as the evidence began accumulating, I wanted him to respond to it, to give him a chance”.
Ultimately, the author says he was unable to obtain an answer that satisfied him. “Why didn’t Pierre rescue Loulou?” Petkanas lets the reader decide. Still, Loulou never said a word against Bergé, according to friends. In the end, a life lived rather too fully, burning the candle at both ends, would claim her. But as one of De la Falaise’s colleagues asserts in Loulou & Yves, she was never a victim.
Loulou & Yves by Christopher Petkanas is out now, published by St Martin’s Press.