I MET HER in New York. Loulou de la Falaise arrived late at a dinner in a brownstone on East 79th Street one night in 1969, wearing Indian scarves tied around her head. When she came in with Fernando Sánchez, the supremely cool designer of lingerie and inside-out mink coats, the little roomful of people sprang to attention. Sánchez’s taste was perfect, his judgment unerring, and it was said that Yves Saint Laurent considered him a sage. Loulou had a gravelly giggle as she whispered on the white sofas and bummed cigarettes.
I was an awed 19-year-old fashion assistant. I focused on how she had wrapped her head. Indian scarves were as common in 1969 as earbuds are today—we girls in fashion hid our hair, possibly in retaliation to the mainstream success of the musical Hair, and to the fact that boys were busy growing their own. I had spent my first summer at Glamour folding Indian scarves into triangles that ended in annoying points, but Loulou had simply folded four or five scarves as squares and tied them around her head so that their blunt edges opened out like petals on a rosette.
Damn, she’s good, I thought. And her life as a muse hadn’t even started.
Loulou de la Falaise, whose name began with a comic diminutive and ended with stern French that translates as “of the Cliff,” made an art of being careless and reckless but always with perfect manners. At the Lycée Français in London I had sat next to her brother, Alexis, who told me dramatic tales from their childhood. Their grandfather was the famous British painter Sir Oswald Birley; their mother was an eccentric fashion icon named Maxime who had dumped the Count de la Falaise for a bohemian life in which she posed for Elsa Schiaparelli and cooked medieval food for Andy Warhol. Their uncle, Mark Birley, owned the grandest nightclub in London: Annabel’s, where you went on dates with boys your parents approved of—or with their fathers.
When I was 17, I had carefully cut the notice of Loulou’s wedding to the mysteriously named Knight of Glin out of the Daily Telegraph.
Much as her mother had left the count, Loulou the teenage bride soon left the knight in his Irish castle and moved to New York, where, a divorcée at 21, she shared a place on Second Avenue with Berry Berenson. Sánchez, smitten with her, took Loulou everywhere.
She already had her look—Boy Scout Elf in a Turban, or perhaps a pillbox, hung with necklaces, wrists thick with silver Turkoman bracelets. There wasn’t a piece of fabric she couldn’t knot, drape, wind, fling, or turn into a sash with an ease that implied childhood access to the attics of grand British houses, where trunks were full of embroidered swag, stoles, and saris from India, or robes from the Far East. But whatever her costume, it was saved from clueless masquerade by a disciplined eye that skewed more toward Little Drummer Boy than Christmas Tree Fairy. It was an androgynous sexiness all her own.