As quoted by Caroline Rennolds Milbank in 1985, “The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.”
Yves Saint Laurent is one of the greatest names in the fashion world. He introduced the tuxedo suit for women and was known for his use of non-European cultural references and non-white models. Saint Laurent has been a fashion newsmaker for his remarkable collections and for setting up what is one of the top fashion labels in the world today. Let’s take a look at this legendary designer’s fashion diary.
His Formative Years
Born on 1st August 1936, in Oran, Algeria, he was originally named Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent. As a child, he liked to create intricate paper dolls, and by his early teens he started to design clothes for his mother and sisters. His first break was winning a contest for young designers organized by the International Wool Secretariat (with Karl Lagerfeld attaining the second position) with his design of a cocktail dress. He then enrolled himself at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, where his designs gained notice. It was here that he was introduced to the designer Christian Dior, a mammoth among fashion labels. Under Dior’s tutelage, Laurent’s fashion style continued to mature and became popular.
The House Of Dior: Reign
With the untimely death of Christian Dior, Laurent found himself as the head designer of House of Dior at the age of 21. During his reign, he saved the enterprise from financial ruin with the hit 1958 spring collection. It featured the ‘trapeze dress’, a softer version of Dior’s signature look. His other collections didn’t get the same kind of response, his hobble skirts and beatnik fashions were savaged by the press. This led to him being replaced as creative head, following which he sued for breach of contract along with his business partner Pierre Berge. He then went on to launch his fashion label, House of Yves Saint Laurent, in Morocco.
The Rise And Fall Of YSL
In the 1960s and 70s, his firm popularized several fashion trends such as the beatnik look, safari jackets for men and women, light trousers, thigh-high boots, and the infamous tuxedo suit for women, Le Smoking. He was also the first French couturier to come out with a pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) line. His pret collection became extremely popular with the public, going on to earn much more than the couture line.
However, excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs took a toll on his health, to a point where he had to be supported by models while walking down the runway. A disastrous collection in 1987 led to Laurent passing on the responsibility of his pret line to his assistants. Although the line was popular commercially, his collections were termed ‘boring’ in fashion news.
The Rebellious Side Of Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent actively took part in campaigns advocating equal rights for all. His models would go braless under sheer organza blouses and couture gowns with feathered trims. This was less about pleasing the onlookers or creating new fashion styles and more about gender equality. For the promotion of his line YSL Pour Homme, he participated in a nude photoshoot. Photographed by Jeanloup Sieff, the black and white image was hardly published anywhere at that time, though it later gained traction with the gay community. In 2007, he and Berge were joined by a same sex civil union in Paris.
Laurels Of The Fashion Trendsetter
“Fashion dies, but style remains” Saint Laurent once observed. This is a flamboyant and remarkable reminder of his legacy as a fashion trendsetter. In his lifetime, he contributed a lot to the fashion world with his new fashion styles and achieved the highest ranks and laurels in Fashion.
In 1983, Saint Laurent became the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a solo exhibition.
In 2001, he was awarded the rank of commander of the Legion d’Honneur by French President Jacques Chirac.
In 2007, he achieved the title of Grand Officier, de la Legion d’Honneur, the second highest rank in the national system of achievement in Fashion. This was conferred on to him by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Yves Saint Laurent succumbed to brain cancer on 1st June, 2008.
Pivture courtesy – dezeen.com, luxuryhighheel.com, vogue.co.uk and telegraph.co.uk