All about Yves.
In a world where there are fewer and fewer “new ideas” in fashion, the Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) pointed out that true design genius comes from re-interpretation now and then. The labyrinthine showcase of his lifelong love affair with clothing design demonstrates his most oft quoted phrase that, “Fashion fades, but style is eternal.”
French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (pronounced phonetically as eve-san-low-ron) born in Paris in 1936 and died in 2008 holds the distinction of being consistently touted as one of the greatest names in the history of fashion. As a youngster designing dresses using paper dolls made from newspapers and magazines, we’re told; he started forging his place in the pantheon of couture and sartorial arts. While still in his late teens in 1953 he started an apprenticeship with the world famous House of Dior, which he took over with the maestro’s blessing, only a few years later following Dior’s untimely death. Not one to stay with the status quo, with his first collection as lead designer there, Saint Laurent shocked the world with his trapeze dresses that completely deviated from the Dior wasp waist looks so popular in the late 50’s. He was on his way with a bang to what would become a long and illustrious career!
After some not so well received collections at Dior, Saint Laurent went out on his own and promptly continued to rewrite fashion history. First up, he changed the way women dressed for day, by offering his take on the utilitarian navy pea coat. This no-fuss garment eventually became one of his signatures and is still considered quite “chic” today.
Next on his “ to do” list was the creation of the pantsuit that women the world over thanked him for, and disgruntled men heralded as the end of femininity. Free from the restrictive girdles, women rejoiced in the comfort and style he provided them in both work and play attire. Not content to rest on his laurels, the disciplined designer aimed to take the stuffiness and attitude out of traditional couture as well, by opening his signature “Rive Gauche” boutique in Paris in the late 60’s. It was an instantaneous hit, with long lines waiting to purchase his frocks and paraphernalia. It was the first boutique of its kind to offer women designer clothing in a ready to wear store setting. This approach was soon adapted to other locales like New York, and became a worldwide sensation. Thus bringing the YSL brand to the forefront of fashion innovation as well as branding.
The exhibit then goes on to detail his working methods, inspirations, and of course the glorious fruits of his labor. Always different, he drew his sketches starting with the face and letting the ensemble flow from there so that the woman would be the point of view, not necessarily the clothing. Draping only on live models in his studio, fittings could take hours and hours under his discriminating and sensitive eye.
Transitioning in the 70’s to a more global approach to style, he brought influences from far off lands to his collections, even though he himself disliked travel. An avid reader and collector, stimulation came from so many sources, with a particular affection for Marrakech where he and longtime partner in business and life, Pierre Berge had a home for decades. Desiccated in the press for a collection that was termed “ugly” and “un-wearable” among other things in the mid 70’s, he channeled himself into other directions. More ready to wear items, accessories, and a fragrance line, that came to include the infamous “Opium” perfume. Interview Magazine showed pictures of him partying at Studio 54 with Liza, Halston, and all the other one-name people, and that’s when I started paying attention to this designer. Saint Laurent’s menswear looks on models Jerry Hall and Bianca Jagger to name a few brought him new accolades during the disco era. Featured in the exhibition at DAM were over 40 examples of his “Le Smoking” or tuxedo inspired garments, which became a mainstay in collections for the rest of his career.
Announcing his retirement from business and design in 2002, he held an amazing runway show featuring looks from his 40 plus years at the forefront of fashion. The exhibit ends with a video documenting that legendary event held at his atelier in Paris. From pea coat to ball gown, the sheer brilliance of this shy man, and the gifts he gave to the creative world will live on forever, and I’m extremely happy that I had the opportunity to see his vision in such a beautiful and personal way.
Thanks to the DAM for hosting the exhibit and the Pierre Berge Foundation for celebrating the life, vision and imagination of their gone but certainly not forgotten icon. Hurry! You still have a chance to see this stunning, once in a lifetime exhibit that will run at the Denver Art Museum until July 8, 2012.
Permission for use of Illustration by the artist, Reginald Gray, Graphite and Egg Tempera on Canvas, 1976
Other pictures from the exhibition as well as the catalogue book, available at www.denverartmuseum.org
Yves Saint Laurent – The Retrospective, is organized by the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum. Funding is provided by the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, and the generous donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign.