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PARIS — Loulou de la Falaise — a close collaborator of the late couturier Yves Saint Laurent for three decades and a fashion figure prized for her inimitable offhand chic — died Saturday at her country house in Boury-en-Vexin northwest of Paris. She was 63.
The Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation announced her passing "with immense sadness," citing an unspecified "long illness" as the cause of death. Bergé declined further comment.
According to sources, de la Falaise was diagnosed with cancer last June, but implored intimates to keep her health a private matter.
Services are scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 10, at 10:30 a.m. at Eglise Saint-Roch, 296 Rue Saint Honoré in Paris, the same location of Saint Laurent's funeral in 2008.
While best known for sophisticated costume jewelry that mixed semiprecious stones and other eclectic materials, de la Falaise was behind a range of products at YSL, from couture hats to the Variations second line.
The English-born designer, who brought a gust of insouciance, humor and heart to the stuffy world of high fashion, launched a namesake collection of fashion and accessories in 2003 following the retirement of Saint Laurent.
"If you've worked for Yves Saint Laurent, it's very difficult to work for another house," she told WWD at the time. "Plus I don't think anybody would have wanted me. It would be practically like hiring him: The eye one's got; the way we look at things."
At its peak, her signature business comprised two freestanding boutiques in Paris, and wholesale clients including Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. She closed her Rue de Bourgogne flagship in 2007, blaming a lack of traffic, and quietly wound down most of her operations as the global financial crisis sapped demand and put pressure on small fashion businesses.
Yet she kept up her profile in the industry, selling her baubles to a handful of local accounts, collaborating with Oscar de la Renta on his jewelry collections in New York and hawking affordable accessories and clothes on home-shopping giant HSN.
Her final designs, a line of costume jewelry she did over the summer, are slated to go on sale next month in the shop at the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, where Saint Laurent's ashes were scattered after his death in 2008.
A fun-loving sort, de la Falaise was also a popular personality on the Paris social scene and one of the most glamorous figures in Saint Laurent's circle with her petite proportions, intoxicating voice and bohemian flare.
Over the weekend, designers, friends and associates paid tribute to her sparkling personality, down-to-earth nature and an unequaled color sense.
"Loulou was poetry," said Betty Catroux, another key woman in Saint Laurent's circle, known for her poker-straight hair, tuxedo dressing and androgynous allure. "We were the opposite. She saw everything in pink and I saw everything in black. We shared a life together with such complicity. If I could choose a dream sister, it would be Loulou."
"She was a cool woman," said Lanvin's Alber Elbaz, who designed YSL ready-to-wear for three seasons in the late Nineties. "She was the inspiration, yet she was the one who made it pragmatic because she wore the inspiration. She had great taste and a great eye."
"I have know Loulou since we were 20. We had a lot of laughs together," said Diane von Furstenberg. "She had an powerful spirit, an amazing chic and style. She could turn anything into something.
"I recall that she was staying in our house in Sardinia with Egon and I the summer Yves offered her to come and work for him," von Furstenberg said. "I remember that all she had with her was a tiny cardboard suitcase with a few scarves…but she would transform these scarves into beach covers, dramatic evening outfits and glorious turbans. Loulou really had the touch."
De la Renta said he always felt reassured when de la Falaise would declare, "I love that."
"She was just so unbelievably stylish. She had a way of putting together things — no matter which designer made them — that made them her own."
Praising her "refined eye," de la Renta said she was able to express extravagance without a whiff of vulgarity.
"She was like a fairy queen — queen of the night," said Christophe Girard, who worked at YSL from 1977 to 1998, most recently as deputy managing director, recalling a spectacular entrance she once made at Paris nightclub La Palace with stars in her hair, and another in a fur hat and Cossack clothes at the Russian Tearoom in New York. "She was very chic — she had nothing of the bourgeois, never, never."