“Doing a kind of ‘Saint Laurent wardrobe for dummies’ was out of the question,” states Anthony Vaccarello, artistic director of Yves Saint Laurent, ahead of the opening of the Betty Catroux YSL wardrobe exhibition. “Showing all the ambiguity, versatility, and modernity of Betty was key. The search of pieces was done thinking about her today and picking her always contemporary allure from her past. It’s is an adventure and a journey into someone’s personality.”
Betty Catroux, muse and confidante of Yves Saint Laurent (who referred to her as his twin) peels back the layers on her nature, recalling parallels between herself and Saint Laurent. The two met in 1967 at the Paris haunt The New Jimmy’s, instantly becoming inseparable. Saint Laurent was captivated by Catroux, commenting, “She’s perfect in my clothes. Just what I like. Long, long, long.”
“We were both similar, a bit androgynous, with the same sensitivity, the same vision of life, and the same humor,” Catroux remembers. Saint Laurent would call his muse every day. “We would never talk about anything serious. I think this is what he loved about our relationship.” Tall and willowy, Catroux, who has proclaimed in the past to “hate fashion,” has maintained a preference for men’s suiting across decades. “It’s also what Yves liked about me,” she shares. “Yves’ tuxedoes were sublime. It makes us feel comfortable. The proportions were divine.”
Vaccarello notes that Saint Laurent borrowed a great deal from menswear to build a strong female character. “It’s dangerous, terribly elegant, and incredibly modern. There is nothing like sharp men’s tailoring to add an edge and a desirability to a silhouette. And, it is something that I want to keep alive, also because it is a part of my own way of designing womenswear,” he says.
Plunging into Catroux’s wardrobe to make his 50-piece edit was a thrilling discovery. “The more complicated the personality, the more interesting it is to dive into the wardrobe that reflects that personality. You go through so many layers, it’s endlessly fascinating. Boring people have boring wardrobes, without any surprise, mystery, or asperity.”
For the better part of 50 years, Catroux has maintained her fantastical aura. However, she is keen to correct what she considers the biggest misconception about her relationship with the late couturier: “That I never worked for him. That our relation was never related to business.” Her personal collection of clothing consists of 180 haute couture pieces, many of which were runway prototypes. There exists a further 138 Yves Saint Laurent pieces designed for his ready-to-wear line and a collection of shoes, handbags, jewelry, and other accessories. Her donation of these clothes to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent not only displays the full wardrobe of a fashion icon, but showcases the legacy of the couturier.
Not that Catroux has much time for nostalgia. Considering fashion as a state of mind – not to be taken seriously with any notions of melancholy – today, her thoughts are focused on Vaccarello. “He understood everything. He understood me, and completely captured the Saint Laurent vision, encircled in mystery, which stands out in this exhibition.”
The Betty Catroux Yves Saint Laurent Feminine Singular exhibition is on until October 11 at Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris