Designer-muse relationships are aplenty in fashion, but none, perhaps, were more everlasting and legendary than the one between Yves Saint Laurent and Betty Catroux, the leggy blonde who inspired and immortalised the designer’s impeccable tailoring—always sharp and cool, but charged with an erotic undercurrent. The duo first met in 1967, at The New Jimmy’s nightclub in Paris, and Saint Laurent instantly fell head over heels with her androgynous look. Just like the designer’s oeuvre, decades on, the allure of Catroux remains undiminished.
Tom Ford dedicated his first Saint Laurent Rive Gauche collection to her. Hedi Slimane’s menswear has always carried a whiff of Catroux. And Anthony Vaccarello, current artistic director of Saint Laurent, famously sent out Catroux doppelgangers for autumn/winter 2019—sharp power shoulders, dark glasses, icy-blonde hair swooped across the face. Of Catroux, Vaccarello had this to say: “She lives and breathes Saint Laurent. An allure, a mystery, an almost nefarious aspect, an elusive yet desirable nature—all that underlies the House’s aura, and you understand the magnitude of it when you meet Betty.”
Related article: Saint Laurent To Sit Out Paris Fashion Week
Now, Catroux has donated her unparalleled archive to the Fondation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent, which forms the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris’ new exhibition Betty Catroux: Feminine Singular (on till 11 October). Here, the reluctant fashion icon opens up about her style, her relationship with Saint Laurent, his legacy and his successor.
What encouraged you to donate more than 300 pieces from your personal Yves Saint Laurent collection?
First of all, because I have a great friendship with Madison Cox, the president of the Foundation. Yves and Pierre gave me everything. I had, like, a small museum at home with all these sublime clothes that I no longer wore. Today, they’re returning to where they came from, so that Yves’ work continues.
Anthony Vaccarello described your wardrobe as “endlessly fascinating”. In this exhibition, which piece do you think will surprise people?
I think visitors will be surprised not by a particular piece, but by the fact that I always wear the same thing! Anthony, to whom Madison gave carte blanche for this exhibition, understood everything about me. He selected the 45 outfits that reflected me the most. I love his attitude. He has real elegance, a wonderful allure. I love him very much and I find that he has captured the Saint Laurent atmosphere very well—a kind of mystery and a way of seeing women.
People who come to this exhibition will see it as a display of a fashion icon’s wardrobe. When you look at it, what do you see?
I see that Yves was a genius! Because everything is extremely modern and perfect in proportions. I could still wear everything today! But I like to live in the now. Donating these clothes to the Foundation relieved me of the past. I look 20 years younger!
When did you find your style?
I’ve always been captivated by the masculine. I always wore jeans, a men’s jacket, even if it came from Monoprix in the beginning. I only dress in men’s pieces. I feel neither like a girl nor a boy, but more seductive when dressed as a boy.
Some women would be bored with having a uniform look.
Yves said that fashion was first of all a state of mind, before clothes. The most important thing is not to change, but to be yourself.
You’re seen as a fashion icon, but you’ve said many times that you hate fashion. What’s your relationship with fashion like?
Fashion is not something that interests me. It bothers me. Sometimes, Yves would ask me to wear a rather simple dress for an evening out and of course I did it, to please him. But for me, everything that is uncomfortable is not possible. I prefer a thousand times to be in black jeans, with a t-shirt and a leather jacket.
And what was your relationship with Yves Saint Laurent like?
When we met in 1967, we were dressed the same—in leather and in black! Yves had a physical crush. I was androgynous, asexual—that was something that touched him for sure; but our resemblance was not only physical, we were also morally and mentally alike, which is quite incredible. I never worked for him, but he called me every day. We didn’t talk about anything serious. We never talked about clothes, but of ourselves, our states of mind. We had the same sensitivity, the same way of seeing life, the same humour. We were like soulmates. I think that’s what he liked about our rapport and that’s what I miss terribly.
What’s the secret to your youthful look? What do you do that makes you feel great?
My passion in life is dance—though I could never be a dancer. I’ve been dancing for 40 years. I forget everything when I dance. When you love an art, you enter a kind of extraordinary magic. That’s what helps me hold on. I started with the classical and I finished with the jazz of American Matt Mattox, which I continue. I go to my class every day. The choreographer I love above all is William Forsythe. His gestures fascinate me.
Related article: 10 Designers Who Have Costumed Films: From Coco Chanel To Raf Simons