Loulou de la Falaise
Beautiful, wild 'child bride' of the last Knight of Glin, and glamorous muse of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent
Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00
Loulou de la Falaise, who was known as the "muse" of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and who died at the age of 63 on November 5, was the "child bride" of Desmond FitzGerald, the 29th and last Knight of Glin, who himself died in September. The beautiful 18-year-old "wild child" with long legs and streaming blonde hair, married the 29-year-old knight in London in 1966 during the divine madness of the 'Swinging Sixties'. She was barely out of school, and he was working as a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
"I was known for my style and my wildness," said Loulou, the daughter of a French aristocrat, who was educated and expelled from a series of English, Swiss and American private schools before marrying FitzGerald.
The marriage lasted only a year -- the knight then taking up with one of her best friends, Olda Willes, who he married in 1970 and they later settled in the knight's ancestral home in Glin, Co Limerick.
"I was a divorcee at 21. I thought it was the most glamorous thing in the world," said Loulou.
Soon afterwards, in Paris, she bumped into Yves Saint Laurent, who was carving out a name for himself as an outstanding but troubled talent. She had already embarked upon her fashion career with Queen magazine, but after meeting the designer at a tea party, quickly fell into his charmed circle. De la Falaise went on to become a friend, party pal and "muse" of 'YSL', the most celebrated Parisian designer of his era.
It was a tag that she resented for much of her life, feeling that it downplayed her contribution to the YSL look, as well as the multitude of her jewellery designs for the fashion house's accessory lines. But towards the end of her career, and particularly after Saint Laurent retired in 2002, she began to appreciate the description more.
"To me a muse comes to have tea and cookies and a chat, and looks frightfully smart, then goes to a cocktail party. I didn't see it as someone who worked as hard as I did," she said in 2006. "But now that Saint Laurent is part of history, it makes me a part of history, so, yes, finally it's not such a bad thing to have been a muse."
She was born Louise Vava Lucia Henriette Le Bailly de la Falaise on May 4, 1948. Her father was Alain de la Falaise, a French aristocrat, and her mother was the beautiful socialite Maxime de la Falaise, who was herself considered a "muse" at the fashion house Schiaparelli. Later, after her divorce, Maxime hung out with Andy Warhol and appeared in his film Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974).
Loulou was sent to a boarding school in Sussex, but was expelled for practical jokes which included unstitching her classmates' clothes and inserting slugs into their shoes. From there she went to a Swiss school, which failed to tame her, and finally to the French Lycee in New York, from which she was again expelled.
Having inherited the graceful good looks of her mother, Loulou had greater success on the London scene of the mid-Sixties. Barely 17, with her long legs streaming endlessly out of tiny miniskirts, she became, in her own words, "known for my style and my wildness".
Saint Laurent was bewitched with Loulou's relaxed, colourful fashion sense, so at odds with the prim tailored cuts and trends then in vogue in Paris. When Saint Laurent asked her to work with him, however, she reached for the only item in her wardrobe that matched the buttoned-up style she saw around her -- an old grey school skirt.
"He had told everyone his eccentric friend was coming, then I turned up looking like a 15-year-old from a strict boarding school," she recalled.
Some staff were baffled as to why she was there. "When I joined YSL, I didn't have a precise job. Saint Laurent is very shy, and he didn't tell people what I was going to do."
Her official task was to bring her eccentric style to accessories and jewellery, and she duly came up with often-chunky designs incorporating large colourful stones, enamel work or rock crystal.
But her vision quickly had a wider effect at the label. "We exchange ideas a lot and it's really exhilarating," she once said of Saint Laurent. And while there was no doubt that he was in total control, neither was there any question of how much he valued Loulou de la Falaise.
"Loulou's true talent, other than her undeniable professional qualities, is her charm. Unique. Moving," he once said. "She has an extraordinary lightness of touch, along with a faultless critical view of fashion. Intuitive, innate, individual. Her presence at my side is a dream."
She was also at his side during the designer's hard partying days in Paris and Morocco during the Seventies. According to Thadee Klossowski, a son of the painter Balthus who became de la Falaise's second husband, Loulou once showed Saint Laurent how, instead of smoking hashish, he could get the same effect from swallowing it. The designer promptly consumed a large block.
The lifestyle took its toll, and she was reportedly advised by doctors to stop drinking. But she continued her role at YSL, and became involved in ready-to-wear as well as jewellery. Her own instincts remained to mix and match. She would often wear turbans or colourful feathers to parties, or "pinch a couture jacket and wear it with corduroys or a long gipsy skirt".
After Saint Laurent's retirement she opened up several shops under her own name.
Loulou de la Falaise had a daughter with her second husband. Her niece, Lucie de la Falaise, has also modelled for YSL.