Loulou de la Falaise, Photo by Guy Marineau.
Before Nicolas Ghesquière had Marie-Amélie Sauvé, before Alexander McQueen had Isabella Blow, and before Karl Lagerfeld worked with Amanda Harlech on Chanel, there was Yves Saint Laurent and his collaborator Loulou de la Falaise. Loulou was the first of her kind, a stylist-cum-muse who fostered Saint Laurent’s genius for almost three decades. Now, at a time when the zeitgeist is suffused with representations (and misrepresentations) of the YSL legend—two recent biopics and a return to seventies tailoring on the runway come to mind—Rizzoli’s publication of Loulou de la Falaise: The Glamorous Romantic seems nothing short of prescient.
With an introduction by Pierre Bergé, an afterward by Loulou’s still-dashing widower Thadée Klossowski, and a comprehensive text by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, the tome is the most in-depth exploration of the life and times of Loulou, who passed away in 2011, to date. It was only fitting that her dearest friend (and eventual business partner in eponymous jewelry design) Ariel de Ravenel edited the project from start to finish. “I first met Loulou during a sitting for French Vogue,” de Ravenel remembered over breakfast at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel this week. “This absolutely amazing creature walked into our offices [then under the editorship of Francine Crescent], more stylish than anything you can possibly imagine.” It was a coup de foudre, then and there. Loulou’s quotations from that 1969 spread in the magazine—an equivalent to the contemporary It girl page in American Vogue—are magical:
“You have to believe in ghosts if you want to see them . . . I’ve seen some.”
“I like to take a badly dressed girl, who’s pretty, and to tell her what she should do. There are some ideas I’ve wanted to do for a long time . . .”
Soon she’d have her chance. Not long after meeting Yves Saint Laurent over tea with designer Fernando Sánchez, Loulou was in his employ, advising on all manner of studio operations. “If Yves said, ‘I’m thinking of pearls,’ Loulou would make millions of accessories, which she knew he would love,” according to de Ravenel. “He adored her and everything she created. And the relationship was mutual.” By the end of their decades-long collaboration, YSL even began to officially list Loulou in the program of his haute couture shows for her work designing jewelry and hats. “That was something which Yves never would have done for anybody else,” de Ravenel says. “He gave her total credit.”
Media depictions might have one believe that Loulou was merely an accessory of Yves Saint Laurent, a beautiful, bohemian socialite who made it all the way to Morocco (de la Falaise’s cousin Robin Birley did, after all, name Mayfair’s best nightclub after her). In fact, she was the soul that continually stoked YSL’s brilliant flame, not as some aristocratic hobby, but as a real day-to-day job. If Betty Catroux was YSL’s physical equivalent, a way for the designer to see himself in his own clothes, then Loulou was the sorceress behind the scenes. Small wonder that she’s often compared to a fairy—“Titania totale,” de Ravenel says, referencing the sprite in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “She was brave, beyond anything. Brave, and generous to an extreme.”