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Yves Saint Laurent- Portrait of an Icon

Yves Saint Laurent- Portrait of an Icon

Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) was barely 17 when he first submitted his drawings for a fashion contest for young designers. His talent was recognized by Michel de Brunhoff, then then editor-in-chief of the Vogue Magazine's Paris edition. Later, at de Brunhoff's recommendation, Christian Dior hired Yves in whom he saw an immense potential. By the age of 21, Yves Saint Laurent became the successor of Dior after his mentor succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 52.


Yves Saint Laurent
© The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff


YSL's first collection at Dior in 1958 was « Trapèze » - an immediate success that made The New York Times describe him as « French National Hero ». A legend was already in the making.

The life time partnership of Yves Saint Laurent with Pierre Bergé started in 1960s. They became partners in business and life. The period of 1960s and 1970s saw the meteoric rise of the house of YSL with the creation of classics such as the 'Smoking suit' for women. « We often say that 'Chanel' had liberated the women. It's true. Years later, Saint Laurent gave them the power. Taking inspiration from masculine wardrobe, he gave women the tuxedo, the suit, the safari jacket, the Normandy blouse. He worked socially for the gender and for the recognition of a modern woman, one who is not an object but participates in life of her times and shows her convictions. » Pierre Bergé*

This can sum up the YSL woman. An emancipated woman who knows her power and her place in life. Saint Laurent revolutionized women's warbrobe with essentially masculine stuff of the time- pullovers, shorts, suits, tuxedos, black jacket, sailor's jacket- that became fashion and women's wardrobe has never been the same again...«For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable item with which she will continually feel fashionable because this is a dress of style and not a cloth of fashion. Fashions change but the style remains.»** Yves Saint Laurent


In creating his style, Saint Laurent nourished himself with the art of painters such as Vélasquez, Delacroix, Mondrian, Wesselman, Poliakoff, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Apollinaire, Aragon, Cocteau, Lalanne, Monet and other painters***. He said « My work is not to measure up to the Masters, but to get closer to them and learn lessons from their genius »****. In turn, he created clothes that were akin to an artist's canvas themselves. He worked from his studio that was silent, bare, immaculate, inundated with light and fitted with a wall-mirror- tool-of-creation, and a small desk. Every small attention to detail counted.


Studio YSL

© Pierre Boulat


YSL- Belle du Jour

© Alexandre Guirkinger

Yves Saint Laurent dressed famous women such as Nan Kempner, Jacqueline, Countess of Ribes, Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Catherine Deneuve etc. Catherine Deneuxve told the magazine Elle in 1996 « I disembarked, at 22 years, at rue Spontini, where he then worked from. It was end of 1965, and I had cut the photo of a dress of a collection of previous season from ELLE. It amused everyone that a girl as young, almost unknown, could buy herself a dress of haute couture. We started to know each other then. And I continued to go to Saint Laurent's. »*****


During his life and work, Yves Saint Laurent was not privy to scandals. In 1971, he posed nude for the publicity of the launch of his first perfume for men. This image of his incredible audacity earned him an icon status. In the same year, he presented a collection inspired by the 40s. This caused dismay and shock in the fashion world as it not only reminded of the war era but also evoked a woman who not only belonged to the high streets but also a woman of the street. Even though the press reacted violently, the collection was a huge success.


Throughout his career, Yves Saint Laurent was very prolific. He became the first living fashion designer to be accorded a solo exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1983. He was awarded the rank of commanded of the Légion d'Honneur by the then French President Jacques Chirac in 2001. In 2002, he took a voluntary retirement from his active designing life. In the same year, he created the Pierre Bergé- Yves Saint Laurent Foundation with a goal to archive the house of YSL's works. The master creator died of a brain cancer in 2008.


YSL Retrospective at Petit Palais

The exhibition YSL Retrospective takes the visitors on a panoramic journey of 40 years of YSL's creations through a thematic route that outlines the milestones in the creator's illustrious career. As many as 307 models from different collections of haute couture and ready-to-wear, photographs, drawings and films are on display.


Readers will shortly be able to read the inside story of YSL Retrospective Exhibition.


Original Quotes in French

*« On a souvent dit que Chanel avait libéré les femmes. C’est vrai. Des années plus tard, Saint Laurent devait leur donner le pouvoir. Le pouvoir, on le sait, est détenu par les hommes ; aussi en s’inspirant du vestiaire masculin, en faisant glisser les épaules d’un homme sur celles d’une femme le caban, le tailleur-pantalon, la saharienne, la blouse normande, Saint Laurent le leur a transmis. Il a oeuvré socialement, plus que beaucoup d’autres, pour l’égalité des sexes et pour la reconnaissance d’une femme moderne, laquelle n’est pas un objet mais participe à la vie de son temps et affiche ses certitudes ». Pierre Bergé


** « Pour une femme, le smoking est un vêtement indispensable avec lequel elle se sentira continuellement à la mode car c’est un vêtement de style et non un vêtement de mode. Les modes passent, le style demeure ». Yves Saint Laurent

***In February 2009, Grand Palais & Christie's held an auction of 733 art objects from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.

****« Mon propos n’a pas été de me mesurer aux Maîtres, tout au plus de les approcher et de tirer les leçons de leur génie ». Yves Saint Laurent

*****« J'ai débarqué à 22 ans rue Spontini, où il était alors installé. C'était fin 1965, et j'avais découpé dans ELLE la photo d'une robe de la collection de la saison précédente. Ça a amusé tout le monde, qu'une fille aussi jeune, presque inconnue, se paie une robe de haute couture. […] On s'est connu à ce moment-là. Et j'ai continué à aller chez Saint Laurent » Catherine Deneuve




YSL- Smoking

© Fondation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent

Photos and Quotations Courtesy (in order of appearance): YSLRetrospective

Yves Saint Laurent nu, 1971 Photographie Jeanloup Sieff © The Estate of Jeanloup Sieff

Studio © Pierre Boulat

1967 Belle de jour © Alexandre Guirkinger

Collection haute couture automne-hiver 1966 © Fondation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent