Yves Saint Laurent was unique among his contemporaries for the way he incorporated everything from his love of the arts to his fondness for the styles of street culture into his fashions. Whether it was a wool jersey dress that became a canvas for colorful geometric abstractions or a line of clothes that took its cue from leather-jacket clad bohemians on Paris’s Left Bank, Saint Laurent was always looking outside the fashion world for his inspiration.
Saint Laurent began his career at a very early age, taking a job as a design assistant at Dior in 1954 when he was still a teenager. After Dior’s death in 1957, Saint Laurent, who was only 21, was named Dior’s chief designer. This was a huge responsibility for the young designer and French fashion in general—at the time, Dior accounted for almost 50 percent of France’s fashion exports. A lot would be riding on his first outing.
Happily, Saint Laurent’s spring 1958 collection for Dior was a huge success, the centerpiece of which was a line of trapeze dresses, which were narrow at the shoulders and wide at the hem. Saint Laurent had saved Dior and the French economy in one blow, but his fall 1958 collection was a critical and commercial disaster, as was the Left Bank-inspired Beat Look that followed—the world was not quite ready for all those black leather jackets and turtleneck sweaters.
In 1960 Saint Laurent was drafted into the French army, but he only served 20 days—he was hospitalized from the hazing inflicted on him by his fellow conscripts. It was in the hospital that he learned that he’d been fired from Dior. This sent Saint Laurent over the edge, which led to a stay in a mental hospital where he was regularly sedated with drugs and given electroshock therapy.
For many people that might have been the end of the story, but Saint Laurent climbed out of this hole and by 1962 had founded his own fashion house with lifelong business partner, Pierre Bergé.
One of the first influences Saint Laurent drew upon for his fashions was visual art. Early in the 1960s, André Courrèges had already created Piet Mondrian-like go-go boots, but Saint Laurent was the first to grandly appropriate the great mid-century artist’s work as bold super graphics on straight-cut dresses.
In 1966, the year after the Mondrian dresses, Saint Laurent introduced “le smoking,” which was a black tuxedo jacket that was cut to flatter the female form. Some of these jacket...
Until then, the only reliable, can’t-miss item in a woman’s wardrobe was her little black dress by Chanel or others. With the tuxedo jacket or suit, Saint Laurent gave women a brand new item for their fashion arsenals. Catherine Deneuve, Lisa Minnelli, and Lauren Bacall were instant fans—Bianca Jagger wore a white Saint Laurent suit at her wedding to Mick.
In 1966, Saint Laurent became the first major designer to get ready-to-wear right with Rive Gauche—boutiques of the same name soon followed, and the brand was eventually sold to Gucci in 1999. He was also the first major fashion designer to hire black fashion models to wear his clothes for his highly prestigious runway shows.
Embroidered African-inspired garments followed in 1967, as did more street-inspired fashions in 1968—most of these riffs on the leather-fringed attire of student protesters. Along the way, Saint Laurent added safari looks (his short-sleeve shirts had breast as well as hip pockets) and collections based on the Ballet Russes and European peasant costumes.
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Yves Saint Laurent Coin MintedWWD, February 10th
GOING FOR GOLD: A coin featuring Yves Saint Laurent, his iconic Mondrian dress and the Centre Pompidou has been released by the Monnaie de Paris, the Paris mint. It's part of the Europa Star series, which involves European monetary institutions...Read more
Why Hedi Slimane MattersW Magazine, February 10th
By 1996 — at age 28 — Slimane was appointed the director of Yves Saint Laurent's menswear, but although his designs had been well-received, the arrival of Tom Ford as creative director in 1998 led to friction. “Reporting to Tom was not going to...Read more
What every luxury brand can learn from the transformation of Yves Saint LaurentThe Conversation UK, February 9th
Benjamin Voyer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above. The Conversation is...Read more
From Zegna to Saint Laurent, Fashion's Rumor Mill Goes Into OverdriveNew York Times, February 2nd
Mr. Sartori had been the much-acclaimed design director of the more fashion-forward Z Zegna line before heading to Berluti, and Mr. Pilati is the former creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, so the idea makes some sense. Especially because Mr...Read more
Two new museums will pay homage to Yves Saint LaurentDezeen, January 27th
A pair of museums entirely dedicated to French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent's life and work are set to open in Paris and Marrakech in 2017, including a new building by Studio KO (+ slideshow). Both museums will present a portion of the Fondation ...Read more
Yves Saint Laurent settles lawsuit against “What About Yves” parody teeLawyer Herald, January 24th
Yves Saint Laurent filed a lawsuit against its founder Jeanine Heller after manufacturing and selling shirts and sweatshirts with the label, "Ain't Laurent Without Yves." And currently, the company is trying to settle the case filed against the parody...Read more
Must Read: Estée Lauder Targets Millennials With New Line, Yves Saint Laurent ...Fashionista (blog), January 21st
Last April, Yves Saint Laurent filed a lawsuit against the brand What About Yves over a parody T-shirt that read "Ain't Laurent Without Yves," referring to Hedi Slimane's rebranding of the ready-to-wear line. On Jan. 12th, the case was voluntarily...Read more
YSL Settles Ain't Laurent LawsuitVogue.co.uk, January 21st
YVES SAINT LAURENT has settled its lawsuit against parody T-shirt company What About Yves. The French house took exception to the production of merchandise bearing the words "Ain't Laurent Without Yves" in reaction to creative director Hedi Slimane's ...Read more