In 1948, Maxime (Birley - she changed her first name from Maxine when she wed) gave birth to Loulou (she claimed to have been christened with not water but Shocking de Schiaparelli) but by the time she was 3, her parents were divorced. Maxime went on to act as a vendeuse mondaine for Paquin and Schiaparelli. Cecil Beaton proclaimed her the only truly chic Englishwoman of her generation, yet her elegance was matched by her infidelities. An affair with an Italian playboy had led to her being declared unfit by a French court and Loulou and her brother, Alexis, were placed in foster care. When she was 7 she went to a Sussex boarding school. This was followed by the French lycée in New York and a finishing school in Gstaad, where she was expelled for keeping a St Bernard which, as she led her hound down the street, set upon and devoured, as she described it, “a little café-au-lait poodle”.
It was her turn to be in disgrace and she returned to her grandmother in England. Whether by error or design, Lady Birley failed to arrange for Loulou to “come out”. In any case, she made a splendid match when she married, at 18, Desmond FitzGerald, the 29th (and last) Knight of Glin. The union did not endure. They separated without bitterness a year later and divorced in 1970. Later in the same year, the Knight of Glin married a friend of Loulou’s.
Newly single, Loulou joined her indefatigable mother in New York where Maxime, having survived affairs with Louis Malle, Max Ernst and the painter Bernard Pfriem, had just married John McKendry, curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an early patron of Robert Mapplethorpe. There Loulou fell in with Maxime’s new friend, Andy Warhol and his Factory crowd, as well as Schiaparelli’s beautiful granddaughters, Marisa and Berry Berenson. Discovered by Diana Vreeland, she briefly modelled for Vogue, posing for Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, and designed some fabrics for Halston.
In 1968, when a junior editor of Queen magazine, she met Yves Saint Laurent, who had established his own couture house six years earlier, after briefly assuming Christian Dior’s mantle on his death in 1958. It was in 1968 that Chanel had declared him her spiritual heir and he repeatedly cited her and Schiaparelli as his favourite designers. Loulou and Saint Laurent immediately took to each other. Apart from her striking red-haired, wisp-thin beauty, he was attracted by her directness of manner and edgy sense of humour. They shared a love of colour from their childhoods — his Algerian, hers from what she called “Irish-gypsy”.
She appreciated his gesture in sending her a box in 1971, after a disastrous showing, of high-cut emerald green fox fur coats, said to have been inspired by Parisian prostitutes. By 1972 she was working with Saint Laurent in Paris and while she became part of a wider louche, hip demi-monde that surrounded him, she was more significantly an indispensable member of a protective coterie that included his éminence grise, Pierre Berge, and Saint Laurent’s “twin sister”, Betty Catroux. Loulou looked beautiful in his creations at all-night events and made jewellery for his fashion shows. She became, in short, his official muse.
In 1977, Saint Laurent hosted her wedding to Thadée Klossowski de Rola, the younger son of the painter Balthus. The wedding party was held at the Chalet des Iles in the Bois de Boulogne and remembered in Paris as the first grand social stir-fry of “punks and baronesses”. Saint Laurent continued to show four times each year despite increasing fits of manic depression, ever dependant on his muse and devoted circle. Certain mischievous fashion journalists would dub some seasons Yves Saint Loulou.
On the master’s retirement, she launched her own label of clothes and accessories. She laconically observed, “I am looking for my muse now.” But she appeared not to need one. Her jewellery became celebrated as whimsically and characteristically hers — huge cuffs of gold-tone metal, colourful enamel and bright glass; necklaces made of shards of jet; chokers of pebbles.
Asked what clothes she collected, she replied: “I don’t collect clothes — I hand them down. They do sometimes turn into a pile of dust, but that’s a tribute to a good life.”
De la Falaise is survived by her second husband and their daughter, Anna.
Loulou de la Falaise, designer and muse, was born on May 4, 1948. She died on November 5, 2011, aged 63