This fashion muse was an American, but Parisians claimed her as their own. It’s highly unusal for anyone to be considered an honorary Parisian, especially U.S. citizens. But Wallis Franken was an irresistable bon vivant. And she loved Paris right back. Right up to the day she plunged to her death from her kitchen window at Rue de Lille. Was it murder?
Wallis Franken didn’t just generate headlines from her death, which rocked the Paris couture world. The public was shocked when she married the openly gay and hard-partying Claude Montana. Though friends begged her not to do it, nothing could derail her. As a high-fashion model, she had been his muse since the 1970s and considered him to be her alter ego.
What Parisians found remarkable about Wallis, aside from her androgynous beauty, was her ability to always be carefree, light and “up for anything.” It couldn’t have been easy, considering she endured years of her husband’s jealousy, public trysts with other men and the verbal abuse she received, with him referring to her as a “weight.” He called her “old and ugly,” while she was still in fact young and beautiful.
She was an accomplished cook, a graceful dancer, had excellent taste and was adored by fashion designers, who turned her into an International figure. They felt her special breed of elegance always made their clothes look impeccable.
Wallis and Claude’s neighbors were used to hearing fights and loud music emanating from their Paris apartment, but no one heard the thump of her body when she swan-dived 25 feet onto the cobblestones below her kitchen window. An autopsy revealed she had alcohol and cocaine in her system. She had no signs of self-defense on her body but her shirt had been torn, which police found alarming.
Whether or not her abusive husband had pushed her out of the window remains unknown, though members of her family have no doubt that years of his abusive treatment was the cause of her death regardless. Claude Montana didn’t show up to Wallis’ wake and dinner, but did show up to the official memorial, wearing lip gloss, make-up and sporting dyed orange-yellow hair. He mumbled an inaudible poem that people even in the front row couldn’t her, and exited the service speaking to no one.
Many protested the memorial altogether, refusing to go to “Claude’s apologia.” They hadn’t missed much. The condemning priest simply scolded the attendees about the travails of their lifestyle, which he blamed for her death. Her daughters brought a Khalil Gibran poem to read, but couldn’t find an opportunity to recite it.
One thing that many people found so shocking about her death was her strong sense of self, and lust for life. Regardless of the pain she was hiding, she always had a carefree exuberance. She was a true bon vivant.