The French designer Yves Saint Laurent is flanked by Betty Catroux (left) and Loulou de la Falaise outside his new London boutique in 1969.
“Fashion fades. Style is eternal.” Yves Saint Laurent
Fashion Designer Yves Saint Laurent was born August 1, 1936 in Oran, Algeria and died June 2008 in Paris. Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent won the first prize in the International Wool Secretariat contest for his asymmetrical cocktail dress. Immediately Yves Saint Laurent went to work for Christian Dior, and 1957 when Dior died he became Haute Couture designer. Yves Saint Laurent was then at the age of 21.
Alice Rawsthorn writes that there was speculation at the time that Marcel Boussac, the owner of the House of Dior and a powerful press baron, had put pressure on the government not to conscript Saint Laurent in 1958 and 1959, but reversed course and asked that the designer be conscripted after the disastrous 1960 season so that he could be replaced.
Saint Laurent lasted twenty days in the military before the stress of hazing by fellow soldiers led him to be sent to a military hospital, where he received the news that he had been fired by Dior. After his release from the hospital in November 1960, Saint Laurent sued Dior for breach of contract and won.
Saint Laurent and his lover, industrialist Pierre Bergé, started their own fashion house in 1961 with funding from Atlanta millionaire J. Mack Robinson. The couple remained business partners even after their romantic breakup in 1976.
The following years YSL revolutionized the fashion world by creating trousers for day and evening wear, the blazer for women, the beatnik look, the safari jackets for both men and women, tie-neck blouses, tight pants, A-line skirt, the smoking for women, ankle-strap sandals, the first couturier to launch a black blouson (for Dior, in 1960) and to replace low-fronted shoes with thigh-length boots. Yves Saint Laurent was the first couturier to dress women in see-through fabric; he is also the first living couturier to feature in a museum: New York’s Metropolitan Museum, in 1983.
He started mainstreaming the idea of wearing silhouettes from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. He was the first French haute couturier to come out with a full pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) line.
He was also the first designer to use models with diversified racial backgrounds in his runway shows.
“I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes. ” Yves Saint Laurent
The famous Le Smoking suit was first made in 1966, by Yves Saint Laurent.
Yves Saint Laurent had the ability to repeatedly challenge convention on and off the runway.
Love this picture of YSL’s desk. I personally like the story about Nan Kempner that wore one of the first Saint Laurent trouser suits to one of those fancy Madison Avenue restaurants and was denied access. She took off her pants and walked in wearing only the jacket.
It was that sense of freedom — breaking through the barriers of convention, of class, of all sorts of things that was so liberating. In 1966, his see-through blouse caused a scandal in the United States, and the same year, while launching his Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collection, YSL declared: « Beauty? Beauty is irrelevant. What counts is seduction, the shock effect. What you feel. It’s entirely subjective. Personally, I am more aware of a gesture than a look, a silhouette or anything else… » He broke every rule in the book, talking of colours rather than shades.
He embraced Beat culture, drag culture and street fashion. He was completely spot-on with what was going on in the world leading the trends, always ahead of the rest, a trend setter, creative, and made absolutely stunning collections like the Porgy and Bess collection and the Russian collection. While other collections raised great controversy, such as his Spring 1971 collection which was inspired by 1940s fashion. The French newspaper France-Soir called the Spring 1971 collection “Une Grande Farce!”.
During the 1960s and 70s Saint Laurent was often seen at clubs in France and New York such as Regine’s and Studio 54, and was known to be both a heavy drinker and a frequent user of cocaine. At some shows he could barely walk down the runway at the end of the show, having to be supported by models. When he was not actively supervising the preparation of a collection, he spent time at his second home in Marrakech, Morocco. After his death Saint Laurent’s body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Majorelle Garden, Marrakech, Morocco. It was in this botanical garden that he often used to visit to find influence and refuge.
“Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”
Yves Saint Laurent
Another designer that was spot on what was going on in the world was Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel. Coco Chanel claimed a birthdate of 1893 and a birthplace of Auvergne; she was actually born in 1883 in Saumur. She died in 1971, at the age of 87. Coco’s death occurred as she was working on her collection to be presented in the spring fashion shows that same month.
She replaced the corset with comfort and casual elegance, simple suits and dresses, women’s trousers, short skirts and collections made out of jersey which was a first in the French fashion world. By the 1920s, her fashion house had expanded considerably, and her chemise set a fashion trend with its “little boy” look. Her casual look were in sharp contrast to the corset fashions popular in the previous decades. Chanel herself dressed in mannish clothes, and adapted these more comfortable fashions which was liberating at the time.
Refreshingly haute couture is still leading the trends.