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Earlier this year, “Feminine Singular” opened at Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. The exhibition celebrates the fashion icon Betty Catroux, commonly referred to as Yves Saint Laurent’s double. The two met at a nightclub in the late sixties and were inseparable from then on. Saint Laurent responded to Catroux’s masculine, androgynous look, but it was also that they connected morally and mentally, as she told Whitewall recently.
The YSL pieces on view were selected by the fashion house’s creative director, Anthony Vaccarello, and all were recently donated by Catroux. Photos by names like Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel, and Irving Penn accompany the signature clothes—like the tuxedo, jumpsuit, and safari jacket—along with personal documents. The show is now accessible online, having temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Catroux shares with us a few of her memories of Saint Laurent below.
WHITEWALL: How did you first meet Yves Saint Laurent?
BETTY CATROUX: It was in a nightclub, Chez Régine, in 1967. There was a physical love at first sight. As he was shy, he sent a boy from his table to accost me. I sat down with him and he gave me the usual compliments. I found him very sympathetic, funny, and we kind of looked the same. He asked me to walk for him. I laughed at him, when all the girls only dreamt of that. He took my phone number and never left me again.
WW: What do you think made the two of you click, as friends, and creatively?
BC: I was androgynous, asexual—it’s something that touched him, for sure. But our resemblance was not only physical; we also looked alike morally, mentally, which is quite unbelievable. And where he is very clever is to have felt that I could be a soul mate.
WW: In terms of style, you’ve said that you’ve always been captivated by what’s masculine. Why do you think that is?
BC: I have always been like this. I am unlike anyone else, either mentally or physically. Too tall, too skinny, too sharp. Besides, I do not like anything a woman is supposed to like. All this deeply annoys me. Yes, I am like an anomaly. I always wore jeans, a men’s jacket, even if it came from Monoprix at the start. I only dress in men’s. I feel neither girl nor boy, but more in a position of seduction dressed as a boy.
WW: Do you have some favorite pieces Yves Saint Laurent designed for you?
BC: What is interesting about a piece of clothing is not that it was made for you, but it is the way you appropriate it, the way you mix it with other pieces. It is when you define your own style that a garment becomes truly yours. I do it with a lot of spontaneity, because I like when the result does not seem so obvious, even if in the end, I always dress the same way—a pair of black jeans, with a T-shirt and leather jacket.
WW: Are there any particular memories in a specific look or garment you could share?
BC: In 1983, the “Yves Saint Laurent—25 Years of Design” exhibition opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It was the first time that an exhibition was dedicated to a living designer! Diana Vreeland curated the exhibition. For the inauguration, Yves designed me a tuxedo dress with wide black-satin lapels, which in the end gave it a very masculine touch.
WW: Is there a piece you felt the most comfortable or “you” in?
BC: Tuxedos, of course, especially pants tuxedos! It is the perfect balance for me. It felt like second skin being in a tuxedo. I always wear them the same way, naked under the jacket, no shirt, no jewelry, nothing.
WW: What prompted the donation to the Fondation Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent?
BC: First, because I have a great friendship with Madison Cox, who is the CEO of the Pierre Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent Foundation. Yves and Pierre gave me everything. I had at home like a small museum that my husband, François Catroux, had arranged for me, with all the sublime clothing that I no longer wore. Today they are returning to where they come from, so that Yves’s work continues.
WW: Did you discuss with Anthony Vaccarello the selection of pieces in the exhibition?
BC: I was not involved at all. By the way, I discovered the exhibition on the opening day. But I was fully trusting Anthony Vaccarello, to whom Madison wished to give carte blanche for this exhibition. He understood me very well and perfectly captured the Saint Laurent spirit, which is a mixture of seduction and mystery.
WW: You’ve said that you love to live in your time, that you’re not at all nostalgic for the past. What’s it like, then, to experience looking back at the pieces in “Féminin Singulier”?
BC: I hate nostalgia! I never think of the past. I am interested in now. Of course, I feel very emotional when I see all these clothes which remain extremely modern and perfect in proportions, and which are the proof that Yves was a genius. But donating them to the Foundation also relieved me of the past. I look twenty years younger!
WW: Can you tell us about some of the personal photos included in the show? Was there a photographer you particularly liked working with?
BC: What guides me is the talent. I remember Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, or Steven Meisel, whose photographs can be found in the exhibit. Meisel made this very beautiful series of photographs in 1993 for the Italian Vogue with the Saint Laurent women. There was Catherine Deneuve, Loulou de la Falaise, Paloma Picasso, and I in a black tuxedo. Recently, David Sims, whom I love, photographed me! It was two years ago for a Saint Laurent campaign, where I was wearing a black leather jacket from Anthony’s men’s collection. I am crazy about this photo!
WW: In a recent interview, you said, “In my opinion, the ideal human being transcends the idea of men on one side and women on the other. I don’t feel like a boy or a girl. It’s always been like that.” What do you think of fashion and society’s current embrace of blurring gender boundaries?
BC: I like the present, in which I feel a thousand times better than fifty years ago. I was uncomfortable in my own skin for a long time. It’s been fifteen years that I feel better, because I feel completely in tune with the era that is ours. Finally, like Yves, in a way, I was ahead of my time.