Coinciding with the publication earlier this month of her memoir, “Et Dior Créa Victoire” (“And Dior Created Victoire”), the Parisian fashion muse Victoire Doutreleau sat down for an interview in her Saint-Germain-des-Prés apartment that touched on everything from her ménage à trois with Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé to why she never worked with Richard Avedon (It had to do with her breasts).
She became Christian Dior’s model in the early Fifties, when Saint Laurent was a young designer at the venerable house, a period that gets a lot of screen time in the recent “Yves Saint Laurent” biopic. At 80, Doutreleau is dressed head-to-toe in Raf Simons for Dior and doesn’t miss any of his shows. In fact, she’d just returned from a Dior catwalk presentation in Tokyo. “It was a beautiful collection,” she says.
WWD: Should I call you Jeanne or Victoire?
Victoire Doutreleau: Victoire! When Christian Dior hired me, he renamed me Victoire. Since then, I [had it changed] to Victoire on my passport.
WWD: When you started as a model for Dior at 18, people including the saleswomen and other house’s models weren’t very nice to you.
V.D.: They didn’t like the fact that Christian Dior cared about me. There were rivalries. I looked different. I was anticonformist; I didn’t have society’s codes. They had them. They were older than me; they were 25. We nearly lived together. Outside collections [seasons], we spent all afternoons in the [fashion] house. And almost four months per year, we lived in the studio — sometimes staying until 2 a.m. for rehearsals. Our contract was quite loose, but we belonged to the designer. Today, everything is completely different.
WWD: What’s the story behind the “Fouilly-les-Oies” (“Hicksville”) dress in 1954 that Dior made you wear?
V.D.: I think Christian Dior liked that name “Fouilly-les-Oies” because it reminded him of Bécassine [a Breton housemaid comic-strip character who wore a peasant dress]. I think he made me wear it because I was a little undisciplined. The punishment was the strict, three-quarter coat buttoned all the way up that came with that dress. But when you opened it, the dress was very sexy, with a large décolleté. Unlike most models at that time, I was petite with big breasts. Carmel Snow, editor of the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, coined the “busty look” after seeing me in that dress. I didn’t work for Harper’s Bazaar because of a photographer there — Richard Avedon, who irked me. He said he didn’t want to shoot me because I wasn’t his type but that I had the most beautiful breasts in the world. Someone reported it to me. I was young.
I thought, how insolent of him.
WWD: The recent Yves Saint Laurent biopic mentions your relationship with Pierre Bergé.
V.D.: I was surprised when the film came out because I had hidden that relationship for so long. I couldn’t say anything as it was true.…It wasn’t romantic between us, rather sexual. It lasted three years, on and off. Yves didn’t know it. He asked me once if Pierre and I were lovers, but it was many years later so there was no point telling him then.
WWD: You said the relationship could have been a “sly” move on Bergé’s part.
V.D.: Yes, it might have been a way for him to control everyone. He is manipulative enough to do that, but he is a complex character. He is also very kindhearted. We cannot say [there was one reason]; it’s more complicated than that.
WWD: How would you describe your relationship with Saint Laurent?
V.D.: It was a teenager’s relationship. Yves was 21; it was a way to stay a teenager for a little longer — and for me, too. We both played parts. We were pretending.
WWD: Why did you “split” with Saint Laurent and Bergé?
V.D.: It was because of a Newsweek cover. I had told Yves I wanted to stop modeling. I was wiped out. Yves insisted that I do this shoot, so I posed and the issue comes out without my name although I was the cover girl. I expressed my discontent to Pierre Bergé. It didn’t go well.
WWD: How did you reconcile?
V.D.: It was 12 years later. In 1975, I was married for the second time, with two children. I was living in Switzerland in a house on the lake. Nadine de Rothschild invited me to a gala she hosted for her husband Edmond’s birthday. I felt like wearing [a YSL] dress, and I wanted to see them again. I dialed their number. Pierre Bergé picked up the phone and said: ‘What do you want?’ ‘A dress.’ He said: ‘OK.’ I went to Paris. We had dinner at l’Orangerie. Then we went to their apartment on Rue de Babylone after. My husband and I left at 5 a.m. While this book is on Dior, my next book is on the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house. I preferred to keep them separate.
WWD: Does Bergé know about a second tome in the pipeline?
V.D.: Yes, he told me he trusted me.