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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

MyVintageVogue

MyVintageVogue

The history of 20th-century women’s fashion largely played out in the pages of magazines such as “Harper’s Ba… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

1960s Fashion and Textiles

1960s Fashion and Textiles

Put on your go-go boots and check out this wavy, groovy tribute to 1960s fashion and textiles, courtesy of the Vict… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Fashion Guild

Vintage Fashion Guild

The VFG is a non-profit international educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of vinta… [read review or visit site]

Fashion-Era

Fashion-Era

Bursting at the seams with content, this site contains hundreds of pages of fashion and costume history, including … [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Recent News: Yves Saint Laurent

Source: Google News

Vintage belle Amal Clooney dazzles in Yves Saint Laurent at Berlinale ...
Telegraph.co.uk, February 11th

George who? …So enthralled were we by the sight of a dazzling Amal Clooney at the Berlinale International Film Festival this evening, that we almost forgot about her very famous, very Hollywood other half. The Clooneys were treading the red carpet in...Read more

Saint Laurent RTW Fall 2016
WWD, February 11th

Whether his first Saint Laurent runway show in the City of Angeles is ultimately his last, Hedi Slimane did it his way. He paid an overt tribute to Yves Saint Laurent's DNA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rive Gauche collection...Read more

Yves Saint Laurent Coin Minted
WWD, 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 Matters
W 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

YSL Set to Introduce Vinyl Mascara
WWD, February 9th

“We listen to them,” Stephan Bezy, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté international general manager, told WWD. “We know about their expectations, their habits — and there is a trend among Millennials, that they love playing with colors. They like to stand out...Read more

What every luxury brand can learn from the transformation of Yves Saint Laurent
The 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

Two New Museums Dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent to Bow in 2017
Vogue.com, January 28th

In September 2017, two new museums dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent will open in Paris and Marrakech, giving fans of fashion's beloved couturier a closer look at his career, designs, and life in the atelier. The first, in Paris, will be a...Read more

YSL Settles Ain't Laurent Lawsuit
Vogue.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