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: “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…

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: “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
50s. 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 60s. 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 70s 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 70s, 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 Foundation Pierre Berge – 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. 

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