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 biopic is only the first one this yearUSA TODAY, September 11th
Fashion designers bestride our culture like colossi, but you don't see them striding much on the silver screen. All the more curious that there are two movies this year about Yves Saint Laurent. Not so long ago, in 2009, there were two biopics about...Read more
Pierre Bergé Releases New Book: 'Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion'Morocco World News, September 7th
Rabat- French industrialist and co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent Couture House Pierre Bergé is releasing the English version of his book “Yves Saint Laurent: A Moroccan Passion”, which pays tribute to the life he lived with Fashion designer Yves Saint ...Read more
Hedi Slimane goes his own, defiant way at Saint LaurentLos Angeles Times, September 5th
Sure, much of what Slimane has done is to mine the pasts of both Yves Saint Laurent and pop culture. But how chic did le smoking look on Angelina Jolie and Gia Coppola? And the Kurt and Courtney grunge and Edie Sedgwick Mod references in recent ...Read more
Yves Saint LaurentArkansas Online (subscription), September 4th
There's a remote feeling to Jalil Lespert's bio-pic of Yves Saint Laurent, the French fashion designer who died in 2008, that suits the world the man apparently lived in -- the louche luxury of what used to be called the "jet set." While at no point...Read more
Yves Saint Laurent: Look at fashion icon explores fashion as artColumbus Dispatch, September 4th
The subtitled Yves Saint Laurent begins in the '50s just before the 21-year-old is tasked with taking over at Christian Dior after the designer's death. The scenes are filled with the subtlety and elegance that characterize his early work; although...Read more
'Yves Saint Laurent': Biopic plays up designer's dark sideChicago Sun-Times, August 28th
Now joining the pack is Jalil Lespert's “Yves Saint Laurent.” Based on Laurence Benaim's biography, the biopic is a sometimes sluggish, sometimes fascinating account of a precocious talent on the verge of being overshadowed by a troubled personal life...Read more
Getting a sense of Yves Saint Laurent's styleChicago Sun-Times, August 25th
In “Yves Saint Laurent” (opening Friday), Niney plays the designer from his early diagnosis as manic depressive to the rise of the house of Saint Laurent fashions in Paris. In between, Saint Laurent dealt with drug abuse, a destructive affair with a...Read more
Yves Saint Laurent, reviewed: Biopic of the late French designer is a ...National Post, August 14th
Early in Yves Saint Laurent, the designer (Pierre Niney) slides a page of naughty doodles out of view, under some dress sketches. They're examples of La Vilaine Lulu, the bratty child cartoon alter-ego Saint Laurent began drawing while working at...Read more