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In the three years since she had married the hard-partying and openly gay Montana in a wedding that stunned even the normally blasé fashion world, Wallis Franken had endured terrible physical and emotional abuse from her complicated and unconventional husband.Friends had begged her to leave him, but she told them that she was “obsessed” with Montana.They found her jewelry lined up neatly on the kitchen table.Montana apparently told the police as well as Wallis’s family that he had felt a draft during the night and had closed the kitchen window, but had not looked outside.She was wearing black leggings, socks, and a white shirt that was torn—a detail reportedly of interest to the Paris police. She had apparently taken a swan dive out the second-story kitchen window, a drop of 25 feet.The police, who woke Montana to make the identification, questioned him for hours.
She said she was excited that her daughter, Rhea, 26, who had two small daughters, was about to give birth to a grandson. Wallis made a date to meet Sanchez three weeks later at his house in Marrakech.She had been his muse and his ally since he started out in the mid-70s, and she thought of him not only as a genius but also as her alter ego.“He’s was sort of like her fate, her dark angel,” says Wallis’s friend Maxime de la Falaise.“She’d been in love with Claude for years.” Yet after decades of putting up with all the men and the nocturnal comings and goings in Montana’s life—not to mention his jealousy and possessiveness of her—the addition of the young fitting model, at a time when Wallis told friends Montana was ridiculing her as “old and ugly,” seemed particularly rattling. ” she asked her friend Carolyn Schultz about the photographer’s request a few days before she returned to Paris from New York last May.“She had an innate sense of elegance,” says Loulou de la Falaise, daughter of Maxime.
“When working with friends she admired, she was like a brilliant editor—neat, sharp, supportive.”Wallis was a fabulous cook and possessed a good enough singing voice to record the hit “Étrange Affaire” in 1984. “You’d talk about something heavy and she’d answer with a song—‘I’m singing in the rain’ or ‘Good morning heartache,’” says Paris nightclub impresario Guy Cuevas. We were nightclubbers—we wore bubbles so well.”Her heyday on the runway was in the 70s, before the era of the supermodel, when lucrative product-endorsement contracts were rare.
But nobody, not even her family, seemed to have the slightest inkling of the depth of her despair. With her Louise Brooks bob, her lithe, androgynous body, and her raucous laugh, Wallis Franken was celebrated for her taste and style, but even more for her sparkling, care-free nature.