BETTY CATROUX – MUSE OF YVES SAINT LAURENT
At one point eight three metres tall with lanky body, white-blond hair and gaunt features, Betty Catroux casts a striking figure. The fact that she has stuck to the same uniform for over fifty years – ‘le smoking’ black suit with leather and denim additions – and still manages to look chic is stylishly transgressive.
Loulou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent, Betty Catroux by Guy Marineau, 1978
Born in 1945 in Rio, Brazil, her family moved to Paris when she was four. At sixteen Catroux went to work as a model for Chanel. In conversation with Sofia Tchkonia she explaines – “I didn’t like that catwalk thing you know. And we had to carry a number like the cows in the agriculture saloon. I hated it! I felt like a thing. A thing, not a person. So I stopped after two years. Then I did photos, just like that. I was not very fascinated but I wanted to earn money, to be independent and to go out all night, and then I was picked up by Saint Laurent in a nightclub and my life changed completely.”
Though she refused to model for Saint Laurent, she bacame one of his coterie of muses, travelling the world together, doing “crazy things,” not sleeping for days at a time. “He’s a genius,” she tells Tchkonia. “He understood his epoch so well, his times. He’s not a couture, he’s much more than that, he’s a great artist.” To the writer Marie-Dominique Lelièvre, Catroux said of Yves, the man, “Yves Saint Laurent didn’t have friends. He loved nobody. He was intimate with nobody.”
“In her way of being, of moving, of dressing, Betty invented modernity,”
— Yves Saint Laurent
In 1968 Betty married the French decorator François Catroux. Once married, she continued to go out alone with Saint Laurent. The nights of wild parties and decadence persisted – “I don’t know… I was quite clever in managing my husband and Yves. There was never any problem. But there could have been. Maybe I did the right thing. It’s a miracle. And they liked each other,” she says.
Catroux has two daughters – “two intellectuals” who “never think of their looks.” Did she spend a lot of time with her daughters? “No, I don’t think so, no. No because I was out all night, sleeping all day.” As one absorbs this contrarian-mother describe her mothering, she adds, “I probably was very bad but they love me.” But they love me.
Her marriage of over four decades, she describes as the loving, happy kind. “When you are very happy with someone the person becomes everything – husband, lover, father, brother. It’s a combination.”
Catroux’s sartorial choices, built around classic easy to wear elegance, distinctly androgynous, wearable at any age, are interesting not because they must be compellingly copied, nor her particular life choices mirrored. What’s interesting is her self-possession in making independent choices – in wardrobe and life – that suit. Confidently and stylishly she has donned her black suit over the decades, blissfully immune to the vagaries of changing fashion.