Sept 10, 1969. Designer Yves Saint Laurent is in London to open a new branch of Rive Gauche, his prêt-à-porter boutique, on New Bond Street, London, opening day of boutique, Sept 10, 1969. Standing in the doorway of the store in front of a massed bank of press photographers, the infamously neurotic maestro is flanked by the two most important women in his life. At his left hand, in head scarf, wrap-around skirt, and safari jacket, is the women who will become his muse, Loulou de la Falaise. At his right, yin to de la Falaise’s yang, is Betty Catroux.
Catroux, enigmatic behind vast sunglasses is, like Yves, wearing one of YSL’s trademark safari suits, a leather belt slung raffishly around her waits, accessorized with a knotted silk scarf. Her legs are sheathed in a sky-scraping pair of leather boots by Roger Vivier, the shoe designer whose partnership with Saint Laurent goes back years. Vivier designed the crocodile skin boots for YSL that kicked off the sixties craze for cuissardes in 1963. Suited and booted, Catroux famously does not give a shit. “I never made any effort; I amquite indifferent and unconcerned,” she is on record as saying. “I look ambiguous. I’ve dressed the same way practically since I was born. I don’t dress as a woman. I’m not interested in fashion at all. I never learned anything; everything I do is natural and uncalculated.”
Saint Laurent met her in 1967, in “a very gay” nightclub in Paris. She was blonde, lanky, and androgynous, and Saint Laurent was smitten. “She wore a Prisunic plastic skirt,” he recalled later. “What impressed me was the style, the androgyny, the body, the face, and the hair. I hit on her.” He grew to see her as his twin sister and, perhaps more significantly, his female incarnation. He wanted her to work for him. She refused. Unlike Loulou – who once described as muse as “someone who looks glamorous but is quite passive, whereas I was very hard-working” – la Catroux just wanted to have fun.”It was coup de foudre when we met, and we never left each other,” she recalled, years later. “After that we only lived for fun, two of us against the world. We hated normal life!”
Betty and Loulou, masculine and feminine. Betty herself, both masculine and feminine. Here again is the paradox of the fashion boot. Her cuissardes undoubtably masculine, with the swagger of a chevalier, yet lending a decidedly feminine touch to the Saint Laurent safari suit.”I was thinking of her when I imagined the pantsuit, then the leather,” Saint Laurent once said. “All the male codes that I have appeal to the female. If Paloma Picasso and Loulou de la Falaise inspire my fantasy, Betty, she inspires my rigorous body.”
- Blagg, Max. 2011. Betty Catroux interview. Oyster #95, 11/6/2011. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.
- Borrelli-Perrson, Laird. 2015. A brief history of fashion’s kinkiest boot. Vogue, Oct 1, 2016. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.
- Lalanne, Olivier. 2001. Initiales B.C. Vogue (Paris), April 2001. Trans. Iwanttobearoifeld.com, April 21, 2013. Web, accessed 8/21/2017
- Samuel, Henry. 2010. Yves Saint Laurent “didn’t love women, he used them.” Daily Telegraph, Jan 20, 2010. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.