But her stylish persona reached the highest fashion level – the haute couture of her friend and soul mate, Yves Saint Laurent.
If you are looking for a holiday gift to transport you to a magical world of Marrakech by way of New York and Paris, this is a book to inspire and to cherish. With so much fashion focus on the Seventies, here is the real deal: a lively text and a mass of photographs in this Rizzoli edition of Loulou de la Falaise, the Glamorous Romantic.
Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni has written the story of an upper class Anglo-Irish girl who played a bohemian rhapsody in the Paris fashion world.
Ariel de Ravenel, whose mission was “to give Loulou her due”, put the story stylishly in print. Her exceptional photographic research and the layout by art director Alexandre Wolkoff take the reader from underground clubs to haute-couture splendour. There is also Loulou in her element in a masquerade staged for the birthday of the artist Balthus, the father of Loulou’s second husband, Thadée Klossowski de Rola.
Fraser takes the story through five chapters: introducing readers to Loulou’s British family and her beautiful grandmother, Rhoda Birley, who had the green fingers that Loulou displayed in her latter years. She created a wild English garden in the French countryside.
Her mother, Maxime de la Falaise, was a model mother only in the sense that, like her daughter, her career path started with modelling.
Loulou was neglected in the miserable childhood she would never talk about and married off to the Knight of Glin at the age of 19. (You know the marriage won’t work, because it is the only image in the book where Loulou looks bourgeois, mousy and wears a string of pearls.)
“But she gave all the jewellery back when they got divorced,” says Fraser-Cavassoni, underscoring the independence of her subject.
Having set the scene of this artistic, elegant and louche British family, Fraser follows Loulou through the New York of the wild Andy Warhol years, her work with legendary American designer Halston and her introduction to Fernando Sanchez. Fraser describes him as the “forgotten hero of the hippy movement”. He saw “this marvellous girl in purple velvet” at his door – and ultimately introduced her to Yves Saint Laurent.
When Loulou went to Paris and met the shy and introverted Yves, it was fashion love at first sight. Loulou brought to YSL colour, decoration, imagination and a hippy-deluxe glamour that balanced the haute-bourgeois side.
But even while working with Yves, there were wild, clubbing years. They are recreated in the black-and-white pictures so liberally spread that they throb with energy and excitement. But as one of the Saint Laurent clan put it, however late Loulou went to bed, “she was always at her desk in the morning.”
Fraser underscores the de la Falaise work ethic by saying, “She always earned.”
Although so many characters in the story have already passed away, I loved to see some of the original Loulou group gathered in London at the home of Terry and Jean de Gunzburg, where Loulou’s husband, Thadée, their daughter Anna and wider family gathered to give the book a fine send off.
“When I was approached, it was on specific condition that the family agree,’’ said de Ravenel.
It is rare to find in what looks like a coffee-table book, so much depth in both Ariel ‘s research into images – iconic or unknown – and Fraser-Cavassoni’s text. That there is a quote from one of Loulou’s friends or acquaintances in almost every paragraph makes the book seem more like a television documentary than a traditional literary work.
But this is not a bad idea, especially since the book comes in the wake of two films about Yves Saint Laurent that both reduce Loulou and fellow muse Betty Catroux to fashion plates.
As Ariel points out, her friend was not a muse, which suggests passive beauty. Instead “she worked like a dog”.
Significantly, both contributors have British blood but are at home in Paris: Ariel with an English grandmother, Natasha as part of the Pakenham dynasty of writers, including her own mother, Antonia Fraser.
This off-kilter vision of Loulou includes her quick repartee. (When grandiose hostess Marie-Hélène de Rothschild applauded Loulou for cutting down on alcohol, Loulou’s riposte was: “Apparently cocaine is wonderful for your liver!”)
In the images, Loulou’s main vice seems to be an ever-present cigarette – including her ecstatic pulling on a fag, eyes closed, as the book’s cover. The images and text come with rather too many quotes from fashion friends, as in Grace Coddington saying: “You took one look at Loulou and gasped.”
Yet this book offers, along with its cornucopia of images and comments, an upbeat feeling that Loulou de la Falaise was an asset to fashion and to womanhood, managing to keep her own quirky spirit to the end.