Yves Saint Laurent: biography
Catherine DeneuveThe couturier Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent known as Yves Saint Laurent was the fashion industry revolutionist; he was “the Little Prince” of the haute couture and the eternal classic. Nicolas Sarkozy marked that Saint Laurent was the first among his colleagues to have elevated fashion to the level of art.
Pierre Bergé, the couturier’s colleague and friend, summarized Yves Saint Laurent’s career achievements and noticed that the first half of the 20th century was influenced by Coco Chanel while the second half was marked with Saint Laurent’s novelties. He gave the humanity the unisex style, dressed women in tuxedoes, high boots, gauzy shirts, and trapeze dresses. It was Saint Laurent who invited black models to the runway.
Childhood and youth
The would-be “architect” of fashion was born in Algerian Oran in summer 1936. The boy’s father worked as an insurance agent. The mother was Yves’s first muse who inspired him to create his first dress sketches. Saint Laurent and his two sisters couldn’t wait to see the woman preparing for going out for a social event – it was like a theater play for them. Yves Saint Laurent started drawing sketches at 8; he got interested in theater at 11 so much that he built decorations in his house and dressed dolls in dresses made of fabric pieces.
There was no fear of the adults in the family: the mother, sisters, and cousins watched Yves’s “plays” gladly. The great Louis Jouvet’s production “The School for Wives” and the French artist Christian Bérard’s work on its decorations and costumes impressed the young couturier immensely.
Later, Yves Saint Laurent said that as soon as he saw Bérard’s costumes on the actors, he realized that heart was the most important component of a costume, and a woman was essential for a dress. In Algeria, Yves Saint Laurent graduated from a college and lyceum; French and Latin were his favorite subjects. The writers André Gide and Marcel Proust made the greatest impact on the young man; Saint Laurent also admired the artist Henri Matisse.
Design and fashion
In 1953, the 17-year-old man came to the “capital of fashion” and applied for the “haute couture” drawing courses. The first success took place in the same year: the sketch of the black cocktail dress created by Yves Saint Laurent won the contest. Two years later, the young man got hired as an assistant in the House of Christian Dior. In 1957, the head of the fashion house passed away. For two years of working together, Dior recognized the young assistant’s talent so the brand owners placed their bets on Yves Saint Laurent and gave him the position of the art director.
In the early 1958, the designer presented his debut collection inspired by Russian sarafans. Nobody expected such a sensation: Yves was supposed to continue the usual Dior line in the form of lush slim-fit silhouettes. Instead, the young designer offered a completely new look – A-line. Short trapeze dresses made of flowing fabrics and silk set free a female body and did not emphasize the waist line as it used to be. The next day, Paris tabloids wrote that Yves Saint Laurent “saved France” by his sarafans.
In summer 1959, the designer and his 20 models visited Moscow thus becoming the pioneer of the French fashion industry in the Soviet Union. The next year, the young master was called up for the military service and sent to Africa. Yves Saint Laurent did not manage to overcome the military challenge: 20 days later, he was demobilized after a nervous breakdown and hospitalized. The young man was undergoing the electric shock therapy and “strong” medicines; his weight reduced to 35 kg.
When the couturier came back to the fashion house, he created the new spring-summer clothes collection “Beatnik” and presented it in 1960. Short motorcycle jackets made of crocodile leather and mink coats with knitted sleeves frightened the house conservative investors: the collection seemed to be too avant-garde and luxurious. Yves Saint Laurent was fired and replaced him with the predictable Marc Bohan. The designer’s friend Pierre Bergé supported him and helped him win: Yves Saint Laurent got the financial compensation for breaking the contract illegally.
YSL fashion house
As they found a new investor, the American entrepreneur Mack Robinson, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé founded their own fashion house with a YSL logo. After collections presentations in January 1962, Paris citizens believed the failure was coming and the designer had no finances to embody his ideas. However, malicious tongues were proved to be wrong: Françoise Sagan and Baroness de Rothschild applauded the new line whose silhouettes followed the spirit of the time.
In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent presented the revolutionary collection “Mondrian” – as he said, he was tired of serve millionaires’ wives. A-lines with geometric pattern by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian surprised the world of fashion. The designer also used the works of the modernist artists Kazimir Malevich and Serge Poliakoff. It was not the print – the dresses were made of colored pieces of fabric. The idea was echoed and interpreted by Saint Laurent’s colleagues, yet it was Saint Laurent who originally introduced this idea.
In 1966, YSL celebrated the opening of the first boutique where prêt-à-porter (“ready-to-wear”) clothes were sold. The place “Rive Gauche” (the left bank of the Seine where free thinkers, students, and revolutionists used to dwell) was included in its name. This choice was explained by the revolutionary changes that Yves Saint Laurent introduced to the fashion industry: women were dressed in men’s clothes that looked sexy and elegant.
Next year, the “tuxedo” collection came out: Yves Saint Laurent finished off the remnants of the patriarchal fashion. Women gained “male” items of clothes: tuxedoes, pants suits, safari jackets, jumpsuits, and reefing jackets. However, these “male” silhouettes did not deprive women of sexuality.
The 1971 “Libération” was the most provocative collection and provoked much criticism. Paloma Picasso inspired the master to create this line: the woman had a delicate taste in clothes and liked experimenting. She purchased a costume made in the 1940 at a flea market; Yves Saint Laurent was awed. In the next show, models demonstrated the clothes reminding of the Second World War.
The famous provocateur of social norms Marlene Dietrich was another muse for Saint Laurent. Aged fashion lovers were angry since they remembered the years of the Nazi occupation. Black tights, platform shoes, and bright makeup were associated with women of loose morals from the Bois de Boulogne. However, the criticism was suddenly followed by the YSL “male” costumes for women boom: the designer predicted the trends and took two steps forward.
The fashion columnist Diana Vreeland said the couturier had a special magic pipe to attract women: whatever he did, fashion lovers of all ages would follow him. In 1976, Yves Saint Laurent presented the collection “Opéras - Ballets Russes” inspired by Russian theaters, Sergei Diaghilev’s ballet, and national motives. Beauties wearing motley “peasant-like” dresses with embroidery and goldwork appeared on the run.
1990 was marked with a tribute collection that the master created to say goodbye to the people he loved and respected: actors, dancers, and artists. Yves Saint Laurent devoted 40 years to work and left the world of fashion in January 2002. The last runaway show took place in Centre Georges Pompidou. The good-bye was a national event.
Cosmetics and perfume were also significant components of Saint Laurent’s art. In 1971, the world fashion industry star presented the perfume “Opium” for men. The ad turned out to be as provocative as the perfume itself: Yves Saint Laurent got nude in the perfume commercial. Later on, “Opium” was advertised by Linda Evangelista, Rupert Everett, and nude Sophie Dahl who followed the designer’s example.
Pierre Bergé was Yves Saint Laurent’s friend, companion, and lover. In the mid-1970s, their relationship ended, yet friendship and business partnership remained unchanged. Not long before the couturier’s death, the couple concluded a civil marriage.
Yves Saint Laurent’s sexual orientation did not prevent him from loving women. Although the designer borrowed male costumes and coats, the unisex style was not created to turn a woman into a man. Yves Saint Laurent trousers and leather jackets were the picture of sexuality, and safari costumes were fascinatingly female and underlined a female figure.
Catherine Deneuve, Paloma Picasso, the models Veruschka (Vera von Lehndorff) and Loulou de la Falaise are called Saint Laurent’s women.
The designer spent his last 6 years at his villa in Marrakesh. In the late 1980s, he stepped aside because of health issues: Yves Saint Laurent did drugs and alcohol and underwent treatment quite often. In 1992, Bergé announced Saint Laurent was leaving the haute couture, yet the final good-bye took place 10 years later. The YSL fashion house had to face numerous financial problems.
The couturier died in the early summer 2008 in Paris, the city that witnessed his advancement and fall. The brain tumor was the cause of Saint Laurent’s death.
The funeral ceremony took place in the Paris church Saint Roch. Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were spread above his favorite garden in Majorelle villa, Marrakesh, where he liked to spend evenings with his bulldog Moujik III (his previous dogs had the same name).
The movies “Yves Saint Laurent” by Jalil Lespert and “Saint Laurent” by Bertrand Bonello tell the story of the designer’s life and art. Both movies were released in 2014.
YSL fashion house: present days
In 1999, the Italian fashion house “Gucci” purchased “Yves Saint Laurent” and appointed Tom Ford to create the new collections. The couturier worked until 2004; Stefano Pilati replaced him soon. From 2011 to 2013, the Belgian Paul Deneve was the company’s executive director. In 2012, Hedi Slimane became the fashion houses’ creative director. In summer 2012, Slimane renamed the line “Saint Laurent Paris.”
In 2012, YSL professionals created the perfume “Manifesto” for a brave and emancipated woman. Critics called the perfume “the manifestation of femininity”: it opens with the notes of green, and their core holds the flowery symphony finished by timber accords.
In 2016, the designer Anthony Vaccarello replaced Slimane. In 2017, Vaccarello combined the men’s and women’s runway fall-winter shows. The designer presented provocative short skirts, vinyl pants, corsets, and high boots that Yves Saint Laurent used to introduce – Vaccarello had the boot collar wrinkled. The new products of the fashion house may be purchased on the official website. The clothes, bags, and shoes prices vary from sky-high to democratized.
- “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.”
- “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans.”
- “Clothes must be subordinated to the personality of a woman, and not vice versa.”
- “The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.”
- “My dresses are designed for women who can afford to travel with forty bags.”
- “The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven't had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.”
- “Fashions fade, style is eternal.”