The fantastic history of Maxime de la Falaise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxime_de_la_Falaise
Married to John McKendry.
Modelo, musa, actriz, diseñadora, cocinera, escritora…+
Obituary at The Guardian (written by Veronica Horwell, The Guardian, Saturday 9 May 2009):
Maxime de la Falaise, who has died aged 86, was brought up to make, host and be decorative. Her business in life was to create a style of living, whether she was paid for what she created or not. She had interesting employments – as a model, fashion designer and food writer – but never considered what she had done as a formal career. Yet for more than 40 years she was an original whose look, cooking and domestic arrangements were imitated by many, appearing in hundreds of magazine features and advertisements.
She was born Maxine Birley to the liner-and-express social circle that preceded the jet set. Her father was Sir Oswald Birley, by the end of the Edwardian era already in demand as a portraitist. After first world war service, he had married a much younger Irish artist, and beauty, Rhoda Lecky Pike.
The Birleys were the highest of haute bohemia. They lived in a Hampstead house in north London with a studio designed by Clough Williams-Ellis, and later in Charleston Manor in East Sussex, which Rhoda had retrieved from ruin. Oswald painted royalty, politicians and artistes (the Birleys added a music room to the house as a setting for posing Ballets Russes dancers). Rhoda gardened according to the advice and designs of her friend Vita Sackville-West, though Vita never nourished her roses on superior fish stew as Rhoda did. Everybody, including their neighbour Rudyard Kipling, came to dine on Rhoda’s shrimp curry.
Maxine and her younger brother Mark (who later founded Annabel’s nightclub) were raised eccentric though well-connected, and always in fear of maternal storms. The Birleys repeatedly sailed for India, south-east Asia, Mexico and the US. Maxine, in their absences, and when not at school (where her clothes – Rhoda’s discarded Schiaparellis or bespoke oriental ensembles – were awesome), lived like a happy tinker with her Irish grandparents in Wexford.
She intended to join the Wrens when the second world war broke out but their recruiting office was closed, so she settled for RAF grey-blue as a Waaf, never likely to be an officer, to her relief, because of a wild party soon after recruitment. The service did not want to waste her intelligence, or her fluent French, so she was forwarded to work as a minor codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
Maxine was among that establish-ment’s many mental casualties. Isolated, lonely, cold and nervous from tension, she began like a magpie to steal anything that glittered. She cracked, and was invalided out. Her parents did not want her home again, so they paid her passage to the US in the hope that she would land a wealthy husband. She hung around Vogue in New York (its art director, Alex Liberman, noticed her uncommon self-presentation and ability to turn her hand to anything), and had an affair with one of its photographers. But in 1946 she married the even worldlier Comte Alain de la Falaise, old enough to be her father, as his second wife, and changed her name to Maxime.
Suddenly she was a Parisian by domicile, scrabbling by with two children, Loulou and Alexis, as that city re-established its trade in luxury in the postwar years. The comte was no earner. Maxime proved more competent at employment, when ordered to find it to rescue the family finances. She had her mother’s looks – dark hair cut short, a long, lean body – only more vivacious. She was also introduced to Elsa Schiaparelli, whose couture house had reopened. Maxime was perfect in her lanky loucheness to wear and sell for the house in its last years, and she was also photographed as a model for Dior, whose rise finally eclipsed Schiaparelli.
Maxime and the comte soon divorced, unamicably. Her many indiscreet lovers had included the British ambassador Duff Cooper and an Italian playboy, and she had to apply to the law to regain custody of her children, although they were later both despatched, as she had been, to boarding schools in England, New York and Switzerland. When Loulou made a brief, teen marriage with an Irish aristocrat, Maxime warned her daughter that she would be more at home with the tinkers, as her mother and grandmother had been.
As a free spirit, Maxime preceded Jeanne Moreau as the amour of the film director Louis Malle, had an odd, erotic relationship with the painter Max Ernst, and decamped to Provence with a minor American artist. There were other liaisons. She once claimed her mother had taught her the facts of life by anatomising her father, as he lay naked in his bath.
Maxime took her American artist back to New York in the late 1950s, where she ditched him and married John McKendry, the curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. US society was worshipfully Francophile in the 1960s, and Maxime de la Falaise McKendry was an influential hostess among the Manhattan creatives.
She became a food columnist for Vogue, with a tart line in aphorisms (“lemon is the speed of cooking”) and a pioneering taste for the informal English and Irish dishes of her childhood. When her friend Andy Warhol, whose entourage she often fed, asked for a menu for his fantasy automat, the Andymat, she proposed shepherd’s pie, fishcakes and lamb stew. Warhol had an idea, also undeveloped, that she should be chef on his never-produced, prototypical reality TV show – although she did make an appearance in his 1974 film Dracula. She collected Vogue’s celebrity recipes and menus as a book in 1980 (Food in Vogue, with her own illustrations), and the ancient sources of her own menus were revealed, and translated for modern use, in her book Seven Centuries of English Cooking (1973).
McKendry died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1975. Maxime’s ensuing affair with John Paul Getty III did not last. She went on improvising financially, teaching screen-printing, catering de luxe sandwiches to nightclubs, arranging interiors with furniture produced to her specifications, designing clothes (notably for Chloé and Gérard Pipart), and, after Loulou became muse to Yves Saint Laurent, modelling, and acting as his licence consultant.
In the late 1980s, she retired to a house in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where she set up for the last time her collaged way of life: the Saint Laurent poster with the word “Love”, the family portraits (joined by those of Loulou, and Alexis’s successful model daughter Lucie de la Falaise), the ethnic art, the rugs knotted to her design in Turkey, and the simple dishes served in a lifetime’s collection of crocks. Then she settled down to write her memoirs. She died there.
Alexis predeceased her. She is survived by Loulou, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
• Maxime de la Falaise (Maxine Birley), model, designer and writer, born 25 June 1922; died 30 April 2009″