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Kulala Icons: Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent’s Homegirl

The legendary designer's longtime muse is our muse of the week. You'll want to get yourself a pantsuit after reading this.
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In choosing our inaugural “Kulala Icon”, we were looking for someone who captures the whole “pants over skirts” situation we have going on here at YOYOKULALA.com. Straightaway, my mind flew to Betty Catroux, the gaunt-faced, platinum blonde muse of Yves Saint Laurent. Strange, considering that one of the most memorable photographs of Catroux sees her in a mini utilitarian dress and thigh-high boots, standing arm-in-arm with Saint Laurent and fellow muse Loulou de la Falaise. It’s a glorious photograph, teeming with so much style. (The photo was my phone’s wallpaper for an entire year.)

It’s no question that Saint Laurent’s now-iconic Le Smoking tuxedo suit was inspired, and subsequently popularised, by Catroux. Vintage photographs of the former model hardly show her wearing anything other than pants. In her many interviews across the years, the former model has repeatedly stated that she doesn’t dress like a woman, she dresses “like a man, like a boy”.

Yet, amid the androgyny, there was and is still something so remarkably sensual and womanly about Catroux. She knows exactly how to make menswear codes work to her advantage. When Saint Laurent said “a woman dressed as a man must be at the height of her femininity to fight against a costume that isn’t hers”, he probably was talking about Catroux, whom he regarded as his “twin sister”. The two were thick as thieves back in the day.

It’s not just her outward style that’s inspiring. The woman is just ridiculously cool. In an interview with Porter Magazine back in 2014, Catroux said that she uses a satin Saint Laurent shoe bag as her handbag because she finds everything else too “bourgeois”. Now, come on, is that not the most hipster thing you’ve heard all day? On her wedding day in 1967, Catroux ditched the white dress for a chubby striped fur coat, black tights and patent wellingtons. See, she cool.

Catroux wasn’t just Saint Laurent’s muse. Tom Ford dedicated his debut collection at Yves Saint Laurent to her. Hedi Slimane’s devil-may-care Saint Laurent girls all have a bit of Catroux in them. Many of Slimane’s looks, from his takeover of the brand to his recent swan song, made references to her. And yes, Slimane has Catroux’s stamp of approval.

Yet, despite inspiring so many designers, Catroux herself has said repeatedly that she isn’t interested in fashion. Like, at all. She gets invited to shows, of course, but she only attends Saint Laurent. “I dress like a man, like a boy, I don’t need to see dresses,” she explained in an interview with SHOWstudio. Makes sense to me. So here’s to you Betty Catroux, proof that real style is a combination of great taste and being your own person. Hear, hear!

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