YSL: revolutionary and timeless
Inside fashion houses: Yves Saint Laurent
They say “it ain’t Laurent without Yves.” Nevertheless, Saint Laurent is still one of the biggest and most influential brands in the world of fashion there is – even ten years after its founder and name giver died. With successors like Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane, YSL became a household name (again) in the world of fashion.
And although the eponymous label truly emerged under its founders Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Slimane really took it to another level. Slimane renamed the brand to Saint Laurent in 2013, which provided a downright shock in the fashion world. He also moved a large part of the Parisian-based design team to Los Angeles, changed the iconic typeface, and refurbished all its boutique stores before making place for Anthony Vaccarello. Big shoes to fill. As the name Yves Saint Laurent is synonymous to revolutionary fashion and timeless style.
When Saint-Laurent started his brand in 1962 together with his then life- and business partner Pierre Bergé, he was already seen as one of the greatest designers of his time. He started working in fashion as the assistant to Christian Dior. Becoming his protege after winning a design contest. After the sudden death of his mentor in 1957, Saint-Laurent was even more suddenly appointed as the new director of the House of Dior at the age of 21. He didn’t disappoint. His Trapeze dress remains iconic until today, and Saint-Laurent instantly made a name for himself.
However, his success at Dior wouldn’t last. Born in Oran, Algeria – Saint-Laurent was called up for the French army to fight in his home country during the Algerian independence war in 1960. It wouldn’t take long for him, as he ended up in the hospital due to a nervous breakdown. Shortly after, he would be fired from his position at Dior. A devastating occurrence which meant the start for his own brand with his partner Pierre Bergé.
YSL, as the brand is also known, introduced many different revolutions. Saint-Laurent is often quoted saying: “Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.” He did it by introducing his iconic Le Smoking suit for women, and popularizing the beatnik look among them, a culture he was heavily influenced by himself. In 1965 he introduced La Robe Mondrian, a set of dresses inspired by Piet Mondriaan’s abstract paintings. One of these dresses can be found today in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
‘Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.’
‘Chanel freed women, and I empowered them.’
Yves Saint Laurent
With his long wavy hair, his thick rimmed glasses, and his flared jeans – Saint-Laurent was a true icon of the sixties and seventies. He was a frequent visitor of New York’s Studio 54, and was known as a heavy drinker and frequent drug-user. It all contributed to his controversial jetset image, as he was a well-used subject in magazines worldwide, reporting All About Yves.
During that same period, YSL still managed to deliver high-quality work. His label was the first to announce a ready-to-wear line in 1966. A business decision quickly followed by the other major fashion houses. It would mean a new (higher) source of income for Saint-Laurent who at the end of the seventies became less controversial in terms of design. His work, especially the ready-to-wear line, was sometimes criticized for being dull during the early eighties in which color was the new fashion. In an 1983 interview he responded: “A woman’s wardrobe shouldn’t change every six months. You should be able to use the pieces you already own and add to them. Because they are like timeless classics.” This meant that Saint-Laurent often referred back to his older collections, or other pre-war garments in which a more classy, timeless look was highlighted.
Despite his diminishing prominence during the eighties, YSL was the first living designer to be honored with a solo exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983. Perhaps a presage for the two museums carrying his name that have opened since. One is located in Paris, in the same building where his house was located during his tenure. The other was built in 2017 by Studio KO in Marrakech. The Morrocan location of Le musée Yves Saint Laurent would be the last project for Pierre Bergé, who died just a few days before its opening. Marrakech was Saint-Laurent’s favorite vacation address and has spent the last days of his life there as well.
Marrakech was a huge influence on many of his collections, although one could say that Saint-Laurent acquired inspiration from all over the world. And perhaps from many different substances. The current exhibition in the Paris musée Yves Saint Laurent showcases his work inspired by Asian culture. This exhibition is accompanied by the book Dreams of the Orient. Not only in his garments, but also in his accessories you see a lot of inspiration from far away areas. About his accessories he has said: “One can never overstate the importance of accessories. They are what turns a dress into something else.”
Back to the current state of Yves Saint Laurent. Without Yves, both physically and in the name, Saint Laurent still reflects both controversy as well as sophistication in its designs. As said, Anthony Vaccarello has had some big shoes to fill, but (so far) he has done it in a respectable way that commemorates Yves Saint Laurent himself. After the passing of Bergé last year, the brand now really stands on its own. A new era for a brand that has brought many revolutions to fashion. But with the spirit of Yves still very much alive, who knows what revolution could be next for Saint Laurent.
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