Yves Saint Laurent was an Artist, a Perfectionist, and the Man who forever changed the course of women's fashion. He loved women and the empowerment of women, and near idolized them. His inventive designs were shocking and scandalous, paving the way for what is taken for granted today. From pantsuits and trapeze dresses to street-inspired styles and retro fashion, Saint Laurent shaped fashion as we know it.
Growing up in Algeria, young Saint Laurent designed dresses for his mother and sisters; his talent in fashion was visible early on. At 17, Saint Laurent submitted sketches to a drawing contest for young fashion designers, where his work took first place and he met the editor of French Vogue, Michel de Brunhoffhe. Saint Laurent then moved to Paris to attend the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Upon viewing his newest work, de Brunhoffhe immediately introduced Saint Laurent to Christian Dior, who hired him on the spot. After working by Dior's side for 3 years, Saint Laurent found himself at the helm of the House at 21, where his first collection was met with praise. He had reinvigorated the brand and created an entirely new silhouette.
Saint Laurent continued to push the envelope with his designs throughout the remainder of his long career. Here we look at our fave five indelible markings that Saint Laurent left on the world, as told through YSL pieces from the House of Love.
Saint Laurent championed the female pant suit as evening wear to a somewhat disapproving audience. He was the first couturier to show a look with trousers as an evening-wear option, complete with ruffled shirt, striped pant, and cummerbund- he called it Le Smoking. While today this look is iconic and timeless, it was unheard of at the time. Women wearing the androgynous tuxedo were refused entry to most restaurants the following season, as it was considered disreputable and distasteful.
New York socialite Nan Kempner was famously turned away from Le Côte Basque while wearing her YSL tuxedo. "Yet in the defiant style befitting of this androgynous, no-nonsense look, she removed the bottom half and waltzed into the restaurant wearing the jacket as a thigh-skimming mini dress instead. The manager later said that for formal dining attire trousers were as unsuitable as a bathing suit." (via Business Insider)
Fashion photographer Helmut Newton later shot the look on a street in Paris for Vogue. An androgynously styled model with slicked-back hair faced a nude model, cigarette in hand. The personality and power of Le Smoking was captured.
“For a woman, Le Smoking is an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion, because it is about style, not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever.” -Yves Saint Laurent
We love this jumpsuit version of Le Smoking; it is both feminine and powerful at once- and doesn't offer the option of removing the pants; it lets the world know that pants are here to stay.
History was always an important factor to Saint Laurent's design process. Very early on, he marked pieces of his collections to be slated for his archives, even before he knew he would have an archive. Saint Laurent studied the past to move forward from it, usually ahead of his time. As a near obsessive fan of Marcel Proust, Saint Laurent took one of his quotes to heart: "Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were."
Saint Laurent's 1971 Libération Collection- dubbed The Scandal Collection- was indeed a scandal for the times. Critics absolutely hated the retro collection that drew from wartime occupied Paris of the 1930s-40s. No one wanted to be reminded of the hardships of war, nor did they think the pieces were beautiful. Saint Laurent was too young to have experienced the war, and was aiming his collection at a younger audience- one that spent time thrifting for old dresses at flea markets and taking style cues from days gone by. Saint Laurent was the first designer to look to the past for inspiration and focus on a younger audience- though now considered the norm for contemporary fashion brands.
It is fascinating to watch this cycle play out time and again, one that Saint Laurent kicked into motion. This feathered jacket is reminiscent of the the collection's statement green fur- inspired by ones worn in wartime Paris and newly crafted in the 70s- but could very well be worn today with a nod to 70s rockstar glam.
"I’d prefer to shock rather than bore through repetition." -Yves Saint Laurent
Again thinking of youth culture, Saint Laurent wanted to democratize fashion and make it available to all, not just the wealthy. Haute Couture was on the decline, and Saint Laurent had "had enough of making dresses for jaded billionaires." Saint Laurent was the first couturier to open a ready-to-wear boutique under his name, creating the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) line. This proved to be very successful.
Designs were created for the "kids in the street;" pieces that were stylish and wearable for the day-to-day, but also one-tenth the price of couture. These two dot dresses are both prime examples of the pieces that were created under the line for every day wear. The retro, flea-market-find influence of the Left Bank is visible in both of these off-the-rack pieces.
Yves Saint Laurent was an avid collector and appreciator of fine art along with his longtime romantic and business partner Pierre Burgé. Over the years, Saint Laurent paid tribute to many of his favorite artists through his collections, including Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Warhol, and Van Gogh, incorporating their works into his fabrics and designs- most notably in his iconic Mondrian Collection. He also collaborated with many artists knew that building strong connections were elemental to carry out his visions.
This printed panne velvet gown gives us strong Starry Night vibes, possible through his ongoing relationship with Gustav Zumsteg, textile designer and owner of Abraham. Zumsteg's Abraham company was the go-to silk and textile company for the top couturiers. Colors were more vivd, patterns were more attractive, and art was almost always an inspiration. Together, they were able to create prints not found elsewhere.
For all of his love of the exotic, colorful, and new, Yves Saint Laurent hardly traveled much outside of Paris and Marrakech, where Saint Laurent resided with his partner Pierre Bergé at their villa between collections. He voraciously read and was an apt student of art, history, and culture, creating magical, imaginary voyages to Asia, Africa, and Russia, years before actually visiting any of these romanticized lands. Saint Laurent was deftly skilled at studying a culture and tastefully reinterpreting his understanding through the lens of his personal vision.
Throughout his forty-year career, Saint Laurent's "Operas - Ballets Russes" (Russian) Collection was one of his more memorable moments. He created colorful and lushly textured vision of Tsarist Russia, with lots of embroidery, fur trimmed coats, and folk detailing. We love these three cohesive pieces and their strong nod to the imaginary of Saint Laurent's Russian fantasy.
“I have been to every country in my dreams. All I have to do to blend into a place or a landscape is to read a book, or look at a picture, and then use my imagination.” -Yves Saint Laurent
Saint Laurent's Oasis Villa was a safe hideaway for the shy designer. He created a majestic cocoon for himself and Bergé, building the Morocco of his imagination within private villa walls- open for entertaining their circle of friends- but true to form, Saint Laurent was always looking ahead, striving to build a democracy. Throughout his residency, half of the grounds were sectioned off for public use of the Majorelle Gardens. As a lasting posthumous gift, the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent and Fondation Jardin Majorelle will be connecting the private and public spaces, opening them up for all to enjoy the beauty of Saint Laurent's Marrakech.