YSL muse: Betty Catroux’s unmistakable style

New exhibition and book celebrates the French fashion icon


Betty Catroux does not like the term “muse” but if anyone embodies this word, it is she, albeit with her own unique spin. Catroux’s louche androgynous style - never overtly sexy yet hugely desirable and undeniably intimidating - has influenced generation of designers, starting of course with Yves Saint Laurent. In fact, such was the bond between the French duo that Catroux is still referred to as Saint Laurent’s “female double”.

Now, her impeccable fashion pedigree is being celebrated at a new exhibition called Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent – Feminine Singular at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris. The French capital may not be easy to reach at the moment owing to travel restrictions and coronavirus quarantine rules but put it top of your holiday list for when we are all able to cross the Channel, in order to admire some of Catroux’s most treasured wardrobe pieces.

The show runs until May 2021 and is curated by Saint Laurent’s current artistic director Anthony Vaccarello, who was given carte blanche by the museum and its governing body, the Fondation Pierre Bergé, to select items from its extensive archive of Catroux collectibles. His brief? To pick the pieces that best reveal her personality and ongoing influence on the label’s signature style.

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“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,” says Vaccarello of the ever-youthful Catroux, who, at the age of 75, still maintains an aura of rock ‘n’ roll grandeur - helped along her cut-glass cheekbones and signature mussed-up blonde bob.

While fans over the the UK wait for the green light on travel, there’s an accompanying exhibition book to satiate our Catroux cravings. Published by Editions Gallimard and available at Waterstone’s (£30), it includes never-before-seen documents and images of the model.

If you are heading to the French capital anytime soon, be sure to also stop by the Saint Laurent Rive Droite store on Rue Saint-Honoré, where you may be able to find a copy of Vaccarello’s own exclusively designed publication, a photographic record of his curation process at the museum. This book too seems destined to become a collector’s piece and, much like Catroux, a classic of the fashion world.

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