July 2, 2009
One of my absolute favorite designers is the late Yves Saint Laurent. His legacy still lives on today after his death on June 1, 2008 at the age of 71. As one of the greatest designers in French fashion in the 1990’s, and I believe that continues into the 2000’s. But how did he get to that noteworthy position in fashion history, you ask? Oh, please allow me to tell you the full story, its pretty extensive.
Yves Mathieu Saint-Laurent (his government name) was born in Oran, Algeria in 1936, which technically makes him French and African. His family was considered very prominent in Oran with his father being the President of an insurance company and the owner of a chain of movie theaters. His mother Lucienne-Andree, half Belgian and Spanish, was where he got his sense of style.
A little bit of a history side: His family was not affected by WW II because their father was not drafted and they lived far from France. But that Karma would soon come back around to effect Yves personally.
Yves was led to fashion through a back door, theatre. Because he was bullied at school he took refuge at home. He was able to use a spare room to act out plays by Moilere and Giraudoux for his family, plays he spent most of his days studying and practicing. Becoming more fascinated with theatre, he began to read the reviews in the French magazine Vogue. It was when he the descriptions of the costumes worn by actors when he became hooked. Fashion was beginning to mean as much to him as theatre.
After entering a contest for young designers,International Wool Secretariat, in 1950 and gaining third place he was able to attend an award ceremony in Paris. In Paris he met Michel de Brunoff who was the editor-in-chief of Paris Vogue who was impressed by Yves and told him to study at Chambre Dyndicale de la Couture. He packed up and left to study but he left after a short while because he found the syllabus frustrating.
For a second time in 1954 he entered the International Wool Secretariat and won first place beating out legendary Karl Lagerfeld. He took the winning sketches to the editor-in-chief of the French Vogue. Brunoff noticed similarities between his sketches and those of Christian Dior, sent Yves over, and Dior hired him on the spot.
Yves Saint Laurent did not get special treatment at Dior, he had to do normal intern-like work, sounds familiar? After proving his place, he was able to submit sketches for the couture collection. More and more of his sketches were being accepted and in 1957 Dior had formally chosen Yves to succeed him as a designer, the same year that he passed away.
At 21 years old he was thrown into the spotlight, having to save the Dior house. His used secret weapon to save the day,his famous Trapeze line. The narrow shoulders and wide swinging skirts were a hit because people were getting tired of girdles. This success was short lived because the following collections where chewed up and spat out by the press. At a not-so-high point in his career he was drafted into the military. He was shortly released due to nervous depression, but that was not a surprise to business partner and former lover, Pierre Berge. Pierre said that Saint Laurent was born with nervous depression. To top is allll off Dior fired him while he was away for only 20 days.
In 1962 he was back on his feet opening a house with Berge. The first line under his label was compared to those of Chanel, the suit QUEEN. His muse for many years was Catherine Deneuve. He empowered women with his masculine and elegant trouser suits for women. Other popular pieces of his were tight pants, trapeze dresses, peasant blouses, smocks, thigh high boots, see-through blouses and tuxedo jackets. Smoking Jackets were also his trademark and very controversial because is made women able to affirm themselves as men.
In 1969 he pioneered designer men’s wear, ditching pin stripes and modernizing the male look. His feelings on clothing were carried on threw his designs: He detested fashion, but lived for style. And style is what he brought to mens and womenswear.
He was also the first designer to use black models in runway shows and among the first to use Asian and Pacific Island models.
Yves Saint Laurent went through spells in 1967 and 1971 of horrible controversy over his collections. These hard times fueled his lifestyle of being a party boy, seen at plays like Studio 54 often drinking and doing cocaine. His use of drugs increased more and more as the stress of making 2 ready to wear and 2 haute couture lines weighed down on him.
In 1970 he came out with a perfume line called ” Opium” ( wow ironic), which he posed nude with his classes to advertise. You can image how well that turned out.
After a horrible 1987 ready to wear show he turned over his ready to wear line to his assistants, who kept up its momentum.
In 1983, then Vogue magazine editor, Diana Vreeland constructed a solo exhibition of Saint Laurent. He would be the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The retrospective has over 300 pieces exhibited. In 2001 he became the commander of the Legion d’Honneur by Jacques Chirac. He created a foundation with Berge to trace the history of YSL, is consists of 15,000 objects and 5,000 pieces of clothing.
He sold his company to Gucci Group for $70 million and remained as an advisor for a few years.
After 40 years in the industry he retired in 2002.
Saint Laurent’s personal life with Berges was not so personal a few days before his death when they were joined in same sex civil union so that he could receive his assets after being together for 50 years
Yves’ success was rarely registered to him, according to his love Berge. His depression ran deep and he rarely found joy in what he did. The times that he did have joy, it was hard for him. His instability is the reason why Berge was glad he was unaware of his brain cancer.
In 1996 Saint Laurent was the first couturier to have his Couture show live online and in that same year he stopped making huge shows for his ready to wear, only showing them by appointment.
I love Saint Laurent because he believed that fashion was to be worn, not made into a catwalk show, but into theatre. He was a true designer with his heart in the right place, but unfortunately his mind wasn’t. However with all the up and down responses to his clothing and his early childhood and adulthood traumas, depression was sure to follow. He once said “I’ve known fear and terrible solitude,” he said. “Tranquilizers and drugs, those phony friends. The prison of depression and hospitals. I’ve emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.”
For such a sad guy he had a hell-of-a lot of talent. It make me sad to know that he would never be able to fully appreciate his gift because of his mental issues. However, that is why us fans write about him and remember him to this day, because of his contributions to fashion. He was once the under dog and he help those who may not be considered front runners to get their share of popularity. Yves Saint Laurent changed the way that clothing looks and feels today and everywhere we look we see his influence. I appreciate him for all his work, good or bad, because it made him the legend his is today and gave me someone to look up to with hope that one day I can succeed if I persevere and cut through all the BS any way that I can, just like Yves.