He may be the fashion world’s most notorious hermit, but even Yves St. Laurent concedes that “a couturier cannot be alone.” Behind the Monsieur Big of the business is a little woman, St. Laurent’s 30-year-old muse, a gilded nightbird by the unwieldy name of Loulou de la Falaise Klossowski.
“Loulou opens up my eyes to the female presence,” explains Yves. “She is warm and stimulating, very open and at the same time mysterious.” The London-born Countess Klossowski—her husband, Thadée, is a Polish count, though they don’t use the title—calls her relationship with St. Laurent “an exchange of the eye.” Says Women’s Wear Daily publisher John Fairchild: “Loulou has that creative spark—she reminds me of Chanel.”
Equally important, she saves St. Laurent from his monumental insecurities. “My working methods are lighter and less anxious now that she is here,” says Yves, who consults with her on virtually all his designs and spends the 24 sleepless hours before a show with her at his side. Indeed, it was Loulou who decided to drape St. Laurent’s models with huge glass-and-metal jewelry last month for the unveiling of his fall and winter collection. And when St. Laurent retreats to his villa in Marrakesh to work on his collection, he entrusts Loulou with ordering the fabric and supervising production in Paris. She also contributes to the St. Laurent look in lingerie, scarfs and hats. “She is never mistaken,” marvels Yves. “She has a sense of fashion—like her mother and her grandmother before her.”
Grandmama was the stylish Lady Rhoda, wife of royal court painter Sir Oswald Birley. Loulou’s aunts by marriage include Gloria Swanson and the late Constance Bennett. Her mother is the award-winning designer and social catalyst Maxime de la Falaise, while her late father was a French marquis. They split when Loulou was 3, and she was shunted from London to Paris to New York.
Her penchant for trend-setting emerged early. At boarding school in Gstaad she dressed in black (as she often still does) and wore ties, capes and dancing shoes long before they became the vogue. She was expelled when her illegal pet, a St. Bernard, ate a poodle owned by a visiting actress. Loulou gave up school for good when she was 15 and landed on a New York psychiatrist’s couch. But not for long. “I didn’t need someone trying to put the blame on my parents,” she says, and soon became the driven darling of a circle of artists that included Marcel Duchamp and Saul Steinberg. “They loved young girls,” she shrugs.
At 18 Loulou married Sir Desmond Fitz-Gerald, an art expert at the Victoria and Albert Museum, nine years her senior. That fell apart, according to Loulou, “because Desmond wanted me to become a proper hostess.” Back in New York, she roomed with photographer Berry Berenson and hung out with other young talents like Halston, Warhol and Elsa Peretti. She also tried modeling. “I was hopeless,” she says. “I had total stage fright—the minute it was time to go out, I had to pee.”
Finally, in 1972, St. Laurent, who had met Loulou earlier in Paris, tracked her to Wales, where she was vacationing on her brother Alexis’ sheep farm and asked her to work for him. “I was very much struck by her,” remembers Yves. “She was one of those rich hippies from London, very Pre-Raphaelite with long frizzy hair.”
These days Loulou divides her time between Yves (she works daily at the salon) and her husband, a 33-year-old writer and son of the artist Balthus. At their 1977 wedding fete, a gift of St. Laurent, more than 2,000 guests boated across a lake in the Bois de Boulogne to a lavishly decorated isle.
Loulou is no slouch as a party-giver herself. Her latest, to celebrate the end of the ready-to-wear showings, was a costume ball that ended with breakfast at 8 a.m. Loulou and Thadée came as winged angels, designers Marc Bohan, Karl Lagerfeld, Castelbajac and Kenzo as devils. (The shy St. Laurent wore a tuxedo.) “Amusement is her great guide,” says Loulou’s friend the Baroness Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. “She doesn’t want to be bored and she’s a bit crazy, thank God.” Responds Loulou: “People think I’m crazy, because I like to have a good time. I call it perfectly sane.”