No one interested in fashion, style, or the high-flying intrigues of café society will want to miss Christopher Petkanas’s exuberantly entertaining oral biography Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent.
Dauntless, “in the bone” style made Loulou de La Falaise one of the great fashion firebrands of the twentieth century. Descending in a direct line from Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, she was celebrated at her death in 2011, aged just sixty-four, as the “highest of haute bohemia,” a feckless adventuress in the art of living—and the one person Yves Saint Laurent could not live without.
Yves was the most influential designer of his times; possibly also the most neurasthenic. In an exquisitely intimate, sometimes painful personal and professional relationship, Loulou was his creative right hand, muse, alter ego and the virtuoso behind all the flamboyant accessories that were a crucial component of the YSL “look.” For thirty years, until his retirement in 2002, Yves relied on Loulou to inspire him, make him laugh and talk him off the ledge—the enchanted formula that brought him from one historic collection to the next.
Yves’s many tributes shape Loulou’s memory, as if everything there was to know about this fugitive, Giacometti-like figure could be told by her clanking bronze cuffs, towering fur toques, the turquoise boulders on her fingers and her working friendship with the man who put women in pants. But another, darker story lifts the veil on Loulou, a classic “number two” with a contempt for convention, and exposes the underbelly of fashion at its highest level. Behind Yves’s encomiums are a pair of aristocrat parents—Loulou’s shiftless French father and menacingly chic English mother—who abandoned her to a childhood of foster care and sexual abuse; Loulou’s recurring desperation to leave Yves and go out on her own; and the grandiose myths surrounding her family. Loulou felt that her life had been kidnapped by the operatic workings of the House of Saint Laurent, and in her last years faced financial ruin. Loulou & Yves unspools an elusive fashion idol—nymphomaniacal, heedless and up to her bracelets in coke and Boizel champagne—at the core of what used to be called “le beau monde.”