There are iconic names in fashion, instantly recognizable around the world. Yves St Laurent (1936-2008) is one of them. In his heyday, the French couturier was a living legend. He was honored at New York’s Metropolitan Art Museum in the 1980s. In 1998, he staged a giant fashion show broadcast around the world during the soccer World Cup final. In 2007, one year before he died, President Sarkozy made him Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, one the highest decorations in France.
His career spans over 40 years. St Laurent is credited for popularizing trench coats, pea coats, leopard prints, the Beatnik look, safari jackets, the classic tuxedo for women (“le smoking,”) and more. He successfully launched costume jewelry lines and perfumes. Creative, eclectic, controversial at times, but always influential, he found inspiration in the street, in exotic lands (he owned a house in Marrakesh, Morocco, for most of his life,) and in art (his dresses were once inspired by Picasso, Matisse, or Mondrian.) To make fashion more accessible to women, he launched the first successful ready-to-wear line, Yves St Laurent Rive Gauche, in 1966. It would become more popular than his haute-couture collections. Actress Catherine Deneuve, his muse and close friend, was also one of his best customers. Yves St Laurent designed Deneuve‘s timeless wardrobe in the iconic Bunuel’s movie Belle de Jour. They collaborated in several other movies.
Yves St Laurent worked hard and played hard. He was an insatiable and savvy art collector. in the 1960s and 1970s, he belonged to the jet set, spotted around the world with celebrities, muses, and friends. His personal life was plagued by insecurity, depression, and addiction. He retired in 2002, gradually turning into a recluse until his death, in 2008.
This fall, Yves St Laurent has returned. In October, he took up residence at the Seattle Art Museum, determined to bring style and elegance to the land of the North Face, Columbia, and Eddie Bauer. He did not come alone, and for those of us who have had the privilege to attend the lavish exhibit “the Perfection of Style,” it is easy to understand why St Laurent still fascinates today. The 100 haute couture and Saint Laurent Rive Gauche outfits alone would be a great reason to visit.
There are also photographs, drawings, films, illustrating the development of St Laurent‘s style.
Like Coco Chanel, Yves St Laurent considered black a real color and used it often in the early stages of his career.
He gradually started working with a richer palette, in an explosion of colors, featured in dresses, gowns and accessories. His costume jewelry lines, released with each collection, remain unrivaled in their originality.
The exhibit showcases much more, and describes the creative process behind St Laurent’s haute couture collections, taking us behind the scenes, in his ateliers (workshops.)
During the visit, I kept in mind this photo (featured at the start of the exhibit) of a young Yves St Laurent, in his hometown of Oran, Algeria, then a French colony. I realized he was born only one year before my father, who grew up 300 miles away, in another Algerian city, Boufarik. How different their lives turned out to be, once they both relocated to the mainland! From the moment legendary couturier Christian Dior – his future mentor – hired him as an assistant at age 19 in the 1950s, St Laurent, for better and for worse, had a date with destiny. He embraced it, and all women benefited.
“I participated in the transformation of my era. I did it with clothes, which is surely less important than music, architecture, painting… but whatever it’s worth, I did it.” — Yves St Laurent.
“The most beautiful clothes that can dress a woman are the arms of the man she loves. But for those who haven’t had the fortune of finding this happiness, I am there.” — Yves St Laurent.
“Yves St Laurent is a young man of excellent taste; the more he copies me the more taste he displays.” — Coco Chanel.
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without permission.
Yves St Laurent: the Perfection of Style
October 11, 2016 – January 8, 2017
On the silver screen: Yves St Laurent, a Jalil Laspert movie, 2014
The Man who gave us trench coats and pant suits, Christina Binkley, Wall Street Journal, October 2016