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

Anthony Vaccarello: Yves Saint Laurent's new man
The Australian, April 29th

Long before Hedi Slimane exited Yves Saint Laurent at the beginning of the month, Anthony Vaccarello was being touted as his successor. “Vacca-who?” you may ask. Even in fashion circles he's a relative unknown: his biggest gig so far has been designing ...Read more

BoF Exclusive | Francesca Bellettini on Saint Laurent in the Post-Hedi Slimane Era
The Business of Fashion, April 24th

PARIS, France — For chief executive Francesca Bellettini, the key to managing a business like Yves Saint Laurent — easily the fastest growing major luxury fashion brand in recent years — is balance. Indeed, the brand's revenue is fairly evenly...Read more

So You Want To Be an Yves Saint Laurent Girl
W Magazine, April 17th

After Hedi Slimane left the storied French house, the powers that be inserted the "Yves" back into the label, even adding it to its social media handles, like @YvesSaintLaurent. The gesture means Anthony Vaccarello will start with a clean slate after...Read more

Yves Saint Laurent Just Trolled Everyone and Deleted All of Its Instagram Photos
Esquire.com, April 7th

OK, didn't see this one coming: Yves Saint Laurent just deleted every single picture from its Instagram. Well, every picture save for a portrait of its new ruler Anthony Vaccarello, smirking with everything save for his actual mouth. And we have no...Read more

Pierre Bergé, partner of the late Yves Saint Laurent
Financial Times, April 7th

Walk into Pierre Bergé's Paris maisonette, an Aladdin's cave of exquisitely arranged paintings, antiques and curios, and it is easy to forget that the business partner and long-time lover of Yves Saint Laurent has sold almost everything he has ever owned...Read more

Who is Anthony Vaccarello, the New Designer of Yves Saint Laurent?
New York Times, April 4th

On Monday, Anthony Vaccarello was announced as the new creative director of Yves Saint Laurent, assuming the design position vacated by Hedi Slimane. For those in the fashion industry, where rumors of Mr. Vaccarello's appointment have been front-row ...Read more

More from US News
U.S. News & World Report, April 1st

His last show for Yves Saint Laurent, in Paris last month, was an ode to the big-shouldered era of Eighties disco with micro-minis and giant blue fox fur coats. His exit comes amid upheaval within Paris' fashion industry in recent months, with Saint...Read more

Designer Hedi Slimane Leaves Yves Saint Laurent
Wall Street Journal, March 31st

PARIS—Hedi Slimane, the mercurial designer who set French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent on course to be luxury's next billion-euro brand, is leaving the label, parent company Kering SA said Friday, in what could be a significant blow to the ...Read more