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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Recent News: Yves Saint Laurent
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Yves Saint Laurent: the man who showed women how to dressTelegraph.co.uk, March 8th
There could be another exception. The first of two Yves Saint Laurent biopics to be released this year is currently playing to packed cinemas in France before it opens in Britain next Friday. It is an affectionate, possibly hagiographic portrait of the...Read more
Paris Fashion Week: Saint Laurent, if you're cool enough ...Los Angeles Times, March 3rd
Yves Saint Laurent might have had Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger sitting runway side in his day, but Hedi had Catherine Deneuve, Azzedine Alaia and two guys who looked like Miles Kane and Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys popping Champagne, ...Read more
Slimane proves messiah for Saint Laurent devotees by reworking rock iconsThe Guardian, March 3rd
A model presents a creation from the autumn/winter collection by the French designer Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA. The audience waiting for a fashion show to start is buzzing with the latest gossip. For the latest Hedi ...Read more
Oscars 2014: Ellen DeGeneres heads up Saint Laurent's tuxedo takeoverTelegraph.co.uk, March 3rd
An alternative to the little black dress when the women's movement was experiencing a certain frisson, Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking was an appropriate fashion choice for the liberated lady. How apt then that DeGeneres, who has previously said that...Read more
Yves Saint Laurent: the battle for his life storyThe Guardian, March 1st
This year will see the release of two films based on his life: the first, actor/director Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent, is currently topping the French box office, charming audiences with its affectionately human portrait of the man behind the...Read more
Win two tickets to the London premiere of Yves Saint LaurentTelegraph.co.uk, February 28th
Directed by Jalil Lespert, starring Pierre Niney as Yves Saint Laurent and Guillaume Gallienne as Pierre Bergé, the film charts the life of the fashion designer and creative visionary from the beginning of his illustrious career in 1957. Following the...Read more
Yves Saint Laurent: A Story of Fashion, Drugs and Mental Illness [Trailer]Contactmusic.com, February 13th
The life of Yves Saint Laurent is likely to make for a far more engrossing movie than Coco Before Chaneland it's Jalil Lespert who's been trusted with bringing his complex story to the big-screen. His new movie focuses on the complex life of one of the...Read more
Berlin Film Review: 'Yves Saint Laurent'Variety (blog), February 10th
Clothes make the man, but can't save the film, in “Yves Saint Laurent,” in which the life of one of haute couture's great innovators gets disappointingly by-the-numbers treatment. The first of two YSL biopics scheduled for release this year, Jalil...Read more