Sunday, August 19, 2018

meet Christopher Petkanas... the still untold story

Loulou & Yves: The Untold Story of Loulou de La Falaise and the House of Saint Laurent
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It was probably one of the most anticipated books of the summer season by the time it was released. For those of us beguiled and dazzled by the world of fashion,  especially during an era when Paris and Yves Saint Laurent was riding high, we were addicted to WWD, VOGUE, W and BAZAAR. The designer and his “tribe” were emblematic of Paris when it sizzled when it came to fashion and lifestyle.  As said, this book was to be the potboiler of drugs, sex, and rock n roll, so to speak, of the hedonistic 60’s and 70s that surrounded “la famille” YSL and his relationship with Loulou de la Falaise.
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I am always in search of is context and facts; gossipy bits are always welcome as they give a book an allure and spice but when hearsay and gossip become the mainstay of a book, worse yet passed off as gospel … well then Houston we have a problem. Then you have to take into account there are the people who offer their so called information/voice/remembrances in a quest to just get THEIR name in print ( as CP mentions) since most have never been heard of, from or since in many circles nor can any of these morsels be verified as the dead cannot speak.
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Christopher Petkanas has amassed a book overstuffed with truckloads of supposed quotes and remembrances of these 2 icons, their families, carloads of tangential characters and stories which when combined makes for one very long drawn out sordid tale which may or may not be as true as presented.  Everyone in fashion who grew up in that era was fascinated, if not fixated, on the almost careless and carefree joie de vivre of those who inhabited the solar system of YSL. 
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What is most distressing here is that the book exudes an aura of ill will if not animus toward Yves, Loulou and surely her mother.  Was this the work of someone whose nose might have been pressed up against the window rather than part of the gang or possibly just one of those who was swept into the crowd as “filler?” To some, the tales will have lived up to their steamy and supposedly revelatory reputation but to many who truly lived that life it is disturbing since Petkanas hounded many a reluctant participant for quotes and then twisted their words, altered them to substantiate the sleazier side of the story that was conveyed and even added a dash of catty commentary. 
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The issue at hand is that there are still people who WERE part of that inner circle who deny and categorically call out many of the quotes as pure fabrication and assumption. The internet enables all us to cast a wide net to include people we might never have otherwise met and so many of them (including blood relatives) have found me. Then of course you need to take into account the easy prey that the dead can be since they can’t fight back. What is most irritating to me more than anything, is that Christopher Petkanas regurgitated “information” with no regard to the descendants of Loulou as well as those who outlived Yves and Loulou.
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 One can pat oneself on the back for “writing” a book that may sell well but what does it say about the character of its author when much of the content is he said she said? What can be sadder than a reinvented, reimagined or envious life ... then again one can always ask ALT about that.
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In his own words, Christopher Petkanas tells us he hadn’t met Loulou until 30 years after all  this unraveled  and worse yet he speaks around specific questions with an almost deliberate vagueness to possibly mask the reality of the book and its raison d’être. Maybe in this time of so called “fake news” we can add another euphemism ….  rewritten history!
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Jeffrey Felner: Can you tell us about you? How did you arrive at your present position in your own personal history?

Christopher Petkanas: The first subject I wrote about, in the mid-‘70s, was pop music—album and concert reviews—and cabaret performances in NYC in the same era. The first piece I ever published was on a wonderful old Basie singer, Helen Humes, in The SoHo Weekly News. I had studied journalism at NYU, and in 1980 answered a want-ad (there were want-ads then) that’s how one got a job. It must have been in The Times (for a job at DNR /Daily News Record) which was the menswear version of WWD.  The person who interviewed me said there was also a job at WWD and I’d be better for that. At that point he sent me downstairs and I was hired as the “bra-and-girdle” editor (no joke), as we called the person who covered that market. I also covered parties; every reporter did. Then there was an opening in the Women’s Wear Paris bureau and that fall I was asked to go to Paris to fill it. Don’t get any fancy ideas about my qualifications. It was strictly warm-body syndrome, no one cared about your skills as long as you were young and energetic and most of all compliant with the lawless abusive seat-of-the-pants culture of working for WWD/W and John Fairchild. 

I met Loulou almost immediately after arriving in Paris on January 2, 1981. We, the Paris bureau, were at Saint Laurent all the time doing stories, so I saw her all the time but as I say, in the book, “We couldn’t NOT see each other.”

JF: How long did it take you to research and compile Loulou & Yves and why did you choose to write specifically of their relationship and their “solar system?” what was your personal relationship to this world?

CP: I knew Loulou as a reporter. I didn’t try to befriend her, which of course now regret, but I was too busy getting on with my new life in Paris. I left the paper in ’88, built a house in Provence... and then didn’t see Loulou again until 2010, when I interviewed her for a story in The Times on her beautiful, crazy mother Maxime; Loulou died the next year. I had no idea how sick she was when we met, or how disastrous her solo venture in the aughts had been, after M. Saint Laurent retired in 2002. 

The hard interviewing and writing of LOULOU & YVES took exactly three years and a day, or was it three years less a day? … but the whole painful carwash of publishing made it much longer than that. I chose Loulou because—she was a no-brainer, so obviously a rich, complicated, elusive subject, someone whose trials and regrets were not known.  The Saint Laurent “family” is/was famous to “fashion people” and far beyond. The cast is huge… I wanted to explore the relationships between people in, as you call it, the YSL “solar system.” Even if the official version of Loulou & Yves’s relationship was true, and if that’s all there was, it would have been enough to justify a book, but there turned out to be so much more, including how angry Loulou was at Yves and Pierre Bergé, the business brains behind Saint Laurent, for hijacking her life.  

 “[For me,] the trouble was the very exhausting atmosphere of anguish, the psychological problems of someone invading your own life . . . I would get fed up with [Yves] and Pierre. I couldn’t stand them because they were very heavy people to live with and I’d come home exhausted emotionally and nervously, rather than because I’d been working hard.” Loulou in LOULOU & YVES:

And then of course Yves dies in 2008, Loulou goes bankrupt, she can’t even pay the rent on her Paris apartment and has to move to the country full-time—and Pierre doesn’t step in to help her. None of this had been known until I wrote about it. 

JF: If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would they be and why?

CP: I would invite Diana Ross and Mary Wilson and not let them up from the table until their whole story had been told to my satisfaction, and I am very demanding. So the dinner would extend to breakfast the next day, lunch, tea, dinner, breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner… The third would be Cindy Birdsong, though I believe she is quite ill. Loulou would be among the five…. Many times while I was writing the book I would dream about her, and in the dream I would be writing the book and discovering she’s still alive, what do I do if everything is turned upside down and she’s alive, can I get to her, will she agree to participate in the book… The fifth guest is hard… hmmm… A writer, Colette? … whom I adore, or a decorator. Well, maybe not a decorator…

JF: How would you categorize your book? Biography? Tell-all? Gossip? Exposé? And how did you get so many people to speak to the subject? What was your modus operandi behind writing a book such as Loulou & Yves?

CP: It is, first, a biography. It “tells all,” but every good, serious biography does. You can call it an “exposé” if you like, I suppose it is that too, but again I think every biography is, correcting the record, dismantling hoary received notions… Some quotes in the book I secured with a single phone call or email, others took massaging, seducing, sending flowers, slipping notes under doors, literally… Christian Louboutin kept saying no, no, no, then I appealed to his then-boyfriend, the garden designer Louis Benech, and Louis leaned hard on Louboutin to talk to me. That’s just one example. You know, for the most part you must remember that most people are flattered to be interviewed, especially people who are not accustomed to being interviewed… I spoke to many people who had been in the Saint Laurent studio over the years as assistants and who knew Loulou very, very well and worked closely with her. No one had ever asked them to talk about their experiences, so they were thrilled. Plus they genuinely loved Loulou, and were doubly happy to talk about her. Another category is people who have a gripe, want to air it and see it in print. Louis Benech does not think much of Madison Cox as a garden designer, and it was clear to me after interviewing him that that’s why he agreed to talk to me; he wants the world to know how little he thinks of Madison Cox. (Madison Cox, the "Saint Laurent heir," was off-and-on with Pierre Bergé, who died last year, for almost forty years.)

JF: The big question is what’s next? Book? Biography? Subject? And do you have any plans to further use the information gathered from Loulou & Yves

CP: My next book is on a certain aspect of the first three ladies I invited to my dinner party, plus all the others who sang under the mantle of that group. “Loulou & Yves” has so many applications, stay tuned

PS… Keep in mind there are always 3 sides to every story…. Yours mine and the truth! JF …..PLEASE BE ADVISED THAT ALL IMAGES WERE SOURCED FROM GOOGLE.COM

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