Paris out of all places was never lacking in magnificent women who would ignite the creative spark of many a designer’s creative process. But one of them is particularly memorable. Upbeat, gorgeous and boyishly lean, Loulou de la Falaise was the real-life incarnation of Yves Saint-Laurent’s sketches. Their first encounter unsurprisingly grew into a close friendship and collaboration lasting nearly half a century.
But Loulou was more than an artist’s muse. As a talented jewellery designer with impeccable bohemian style, which continues to inspire a following today, Loulou filled the world of haute couture with vibrant colours.
A legend is born
Loulou de la Falaise’s style was an accurate illustration of her family’s French chic and British eccentricity. Her future as one of the most important fashion icons of the 70s could have been predicted even before her birth.
Loulou was born to an English model and a French count. Her mother worked as a model at Maison Schiaparelli. In later interviews Loulou would say that she was baptised with an ointment of Schiaparelli Shocking perfume, if not bathed in the perfume itself in place of water. Although this was evidently an entertaining anecdote, there was a grain of truth to it: her mother was determined to bring her daughter up to be free-spirited and stylish.
And this is exactly what happened. Loulou’s rebellious nature got her suspended from school on more than one occasion. She got married for the first time aged only 18 and got divorced soon after. Having moved to New York, she dedicated her entire time to working as a textile designer for Roy Halston, attending parties in the company of Andy Warhol and Schiaparelli’s granddaughters. London soon followed, where she worked as a fashion editor, then Paris, which was the backdrop to the fateful encounter that determined the rest of her life and career.
More than a muse
It was the Belgian fashion designer Fernando Sánchez that introduced her to Yves Saint-Laurent. It did not take long for the French couturier to invite her to work with him. Due to the lack of any particular job role at the time, the young Loulou became best known as a muse, a title she herself simply couldn’t stand.
“For me, a muse is someone who looks glamorous but is quite passive, whereas I was very hard-working,” explained Loulou. “I worked from 9am to sometimes 9pm, or even 2am. I certainly wasn't passive.”
It is true that Loulou worked non-stop. Despite her busy social life, every morning she was at her desk like clockwork, creating jewellery and accessories. Her total output consisted of up to 2,000 jewellery designs per year. And that was not it.
De la Falaise was actively involved in the development of garments and was responsible for an entire knitwear line, contributing the much-needed air of lightness to Yves’ designs. Her influence was so significant that some of his later collections were even referred to by the inner circles as Yves Saint-Loulou.
Loulou de la Falaise’s bohemian style
Jewellery, the creation of which was Loulou’s lifelong creative focus, was also for her a subject of genuine passion outside the studio walls. Her neck, wrists and ear lobes did not go unaccessorised by some form of bead necklace, rings, bracelets or earring. Her look did not have a hint of minimalism.
On the contrary, when creating jewellery de la Falaise used colourful beads, semi-precious stones and wood. She sought inspiration wherever she went: from her grandmother’s treasure chest to the markets of Marrakech, which she frequented with Saint-Laurent.
It is worth noting that the French designer was not the only one to fall for Loulou’s talents. She also created accessories for Oscar de la Renta, who did not hesitate to yield to her advice. The American fashion designer admitted that he was always reassured about his creations when they received Loulou’s seal of approval.
“I remember her living in our house in Sardinia with Egon and myself one summer, when Yves suggested that she comes over to work for him. All that she took with her was a tiny suitcase with a couple of scarves… But she could transform them into beach tunics, glamorous evening gowns and magnificent turbans. She has a real sense,” – recalls Diane von Furstenberg.
Indeed, scarves were a key element of de la Falaise’s style. She would wrap them around her neck, use them in place of a belt or effortlessly turn them into a turban. The latter even became a part of her wedding outfit.
The ceremony took place on an island in the Bois de Boulogne woods, with several hundred guests arriving by florally decorated boats. Loulou joined her fiancée Thadée Klossowski in white garments which took her only a couple of minutes to create. Having gotten too swept off their feet with organising and party prep, the bride and Saint-Laurent had completely forgotten about her dress. Despite this oversight, her wedding outfit was a complete reflection of her style: the garments were complemented by a feathered turban and several layers of necklaces.
3/ The colour red
“I don’t like black, you wear black when you’re miserable,” Loulou would say to Yves. It is true that she did not favour black or any other neutral colours, building her wardrobe entirely around bright colour schemes. But red was her favourite colour of all.
The dress she wore for the famous shot of her on the sofa with Saint-Laurent and Bettie Catroux was scarlet red. She was known for turning up in all-red outfits to many social occasions. She also used this colour in her jewellery, clothes and even her wedding outfits, which featured a red belt, bag and bouquet.
The abundance of colour and accessories in Loulou’s outfits was expertly balanced with the simple cut of her clothes. She often wore turtlenecks and shirts, prioritising trousers and thin long sleeve tops. She also owned a collection of impressive jackets. Just like with her jewellery, de la Falaise clearly loved having lots of options.
Some of the archival images of this style icon show her wearing tweed with round neck cuts, bomber-type sporty blasers and some of the more classic wide-lapelled options. Each and every one of them looked pretty simple but also expressive of Loulou’s personal style at the same time thanks to such individual touches as bright pink lapels.