Candid Speaking: An Interview with Author Christopher Petkanas on Biography Loulou & Yves

Loulou, YSL et Betty Catroux by Guy Marinau, Paris, 1979: Courtesy of Christopher Petkanas

 

 

If there is one book to include on this summer’s reading list it should be Christopher Petkanas’ Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent. In memory of the 10th anniversary of the death of the name behind the brand, the first of June, an interview with the author of the biography honors Yves Saint Laurent.

Petkanas gives the reader a piece by piece storyline of the life of Yves Saint Laurent’s lady muse Loulou de La Falaise while unfolding the development of the fashion house through uncensored dialogue with multiple voices — from bloodline and sullen lovers — sharing perspective. I spoke with the author, who received the story from those who knew LouLou best. Just like aged wine, the secrets, revelations and truths become stronger and vibrant with age.

In this book, Petkana’s orchestrates a dialogue with 153 interviewees. Their words and personal stories continues a legacy of a fashion house through introspection of it’s greatest influence: the spirit of a woman.

 

What started your interest and fascination with Loulou; what was the spark?

Christopher Petkanas [CP:] “ I knew the place she occupied in fashion. But I’m not really interested in fashion… my path to an interest in clothes is the people who wear them. Or an exceptional personality, like Loulou…I was always aware of this sort of dynasty aspect of Loulou. There was a maternal grandmother, her mother Maxine, then on the father’s side, her father’s brother, Loulou’s uncle, had been married to both Gloria Swanson and Constance Bennett. So she was more interesting to me than most fashion personalities because there was all these layers.

Then Maxine died in 2009 and I pitched a story to The Times on Maxine and I got the assignment… We [ Christopher and Loulou ] met again, I interviewed her for a story on her mother in 2010.

I loved doing all the research on her mother and I understood more of all the players. Then Loulou died in 2011, and I’ve always been interested in oral biography. A book that I was always passionate about was the Jean Stein and George Plimpton oral biography of Edie Sedgwick — the Warhol Superstar. I always had the ambition of doing one and when Loulou died, I saw the obituary headline: I thought she’s the right subject for it, and I was juiced. “

How would you describe her in three words?

CP: “She was very complicated…Very fucked up … she was naïve, in the best possible way. But the way it didn’t serve her is when she started her own business….The naivety with which she embarked on her own company is really not very defensible… So naïve in a good way and bad. I admire her because everything she knew and could do was instinctive – was totally unlearned, she had it at her fingertips, and I think that is the rarest kind of creativity. She just knew.”

Is there a moment in reading that you find her soul in the book?

CP: “She was done bad, certainty at the end. But she never had a bad word to say about anybody. She was incapable, I’m sure that’s true, but in the end when she runs out of money and Yves is dead, and Pierre Bergé is very much alive… In 2009 Pierre has a sale of his and Yves’ collection of furniture and fine art… [and] if you really cut it down the only thing that Loulou needed in the last year of her life was someone to pay the rent on her apartment. And that was not done.”

Do you think your experience lives in the pages of the book?

CP: “ It doesn’t actually. One thing I did skimp on, if I indeed skimp is that I did not do a website for the book. I don’t have any regrets about it… and I had always imagined that I would use the website to tell the story of the making of the book But as with blogs and Instagram accounts how long would it have taken me to get people to come onto it? Someone says that a website sounds a bit pretentious – and I kind of agree. I don’t think it is pretentious if the book as a wild success, I think that people may be curious to see what it took. And it is interesting, and I did keep an informal visual diary of doing the interviews that took place in their apartments and in my Airbnb, people would come to see me. “

What do you want people to receive? 

CP: “The quality of an oral biography depends on the number of voices, but more importantly the quality of voices. What I’m really proud of is the quality of the voices, meaning the authority that the people who I interviewed, have to talk about her.”

 

In an atmosphere of chatter, the biography of muse turned accessory designer Loulou de la Falaise unveils. With more dignity than a rumor, the loudest voice to speak is the spirit of a woman possessed with fashionable talent, and an inherited love for life. A champagne – toasted booking signing for Loulou & Yves at Bookmarc and a later interview with Petkanas at Fairfax wine bar without coincidence carries this same spirit. Refreshingly insightful, author Christopher Petkanas passionately pens a story of fashion history received through human connection. The memory of Yves Saint Laurent and his inspiration lives on.

Valerie McPhail

Valerie McPhail is a New York-based writer on things of style and artistic expression. She has a portfolio of writing for both fashion and art publications. Although she enjoys covering fashion news and supporting new designers, her favorite subject to explore is the experience of fashion and how life is communicated through clothing. She believes there is a lot to be said about this.

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