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
Thank you, Veronique for this wonderful commentary and you look like a YSL model yourself.
Merci Jennie. This is a very nice compliment. 🙂
I’m thrilled with this post! I’m going to Seattle for business and will get my ticket in advance. Thanks so much.
You are so welcome. You will enjoy the exhibit: They really did St Laurent justice. The exhibit is lavish in the variety of items it showcases, but also elegant and stylish, in its surroundings. Bonne visite!
Yes, like a YSL model – with a little Coco Chanel exception! 🙂
You are too kind Monsieur Olson. And you have a good eye 😉
Ma chère Véro, you have written a post after my own heart. If it were not for Chanel and YSL, what would the modern woman do for sartorial inspiration? She was “la reine” and he was clearly “le roi” of “la mode”. It would be worth a trip to Seattle just to see this beautiful exhibit. Of course, seeing you again would be wonderful, too.
I owe you a nice, long e-mail.
je t’embrasse, M-T
Bonjour M-T. Wonderful to hear from you! Yes, Coco was the queen, Yves the king, not just because of their talent and unmatched creativity, but also for the longevity of their careers and the iconic brands they built. I believe the exhibit is headed to the East Coast after Seattle. You may be able to see it there early next year. A bientôt!
Love, love your post! Everything you wrote is spot on!
When I see this total genius initials…what a blast from the past…
My classmates and I grew up with a beloved friend whose father was president of our country for a very long time. She of course could afford real couture. We were still young when we saw at her house a movie of Yves Saint Laurent’s revered Rive Gauche Fall/Winter “Russian Collection” from 1976.
We loved his iconic corset tops! They were also shown in several other collections.
YSL’s “Rive Gauche” was my mother’s fragrance. To this day, if I happen to smell it, I’m left in rag doll mode for a while, so strong are the “añoranzas” I have since she passed away.
And I totally agree: the slogan for this season should be move over, fleece!
Thank you so much,
P.S. Did you know Seattle has The Pacific Northwest Ballet School, one of the best ballet schools in the world? And of its Principal Dancer, Carrie Imler?
Colleagues and friends describe her dancing as fierce. Here’s a sample of it, even though this clip shows just a rehearsal.
She’s a dancer with a power that reminds me of those fortunate ones, trained by the great Baryshnikov, so long ago.
And last but not least: you look absolutely stunning in that photo with your red umbrella!
Dear Maria. I do not know where to start… This is such a great comment. First, thank you for your visit. Bienvenue chez French Girl in Seattle! Thank you, as well, for sharing personal memories here, and what memories they are! I am so grateful you shared this video of the beautiful Carrie Imler. I confess I do not know much about ballet, but have heard about the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Watching Ms Imler in action, I can tell why the school is so renowned! She is obviously a skilled ballerina, but i was most impressed with her natural energy. The lady has a strong personality, and attitude, I can tell, and I love her for it 🙂 Finally, thank you for the nice compliment. I think my beautiful new umbrella did a lot to enhance that photo outside S.A.M.! A bientôt.
Magnifique ! ! ! Merci Monsieur Yves Saint-Laurent . ” YSL ” Graphisme à votre image ,L’ELEGANCE
Merci de votre visite Mutti. Je pensais bien que ces photos vous feraient plaisir.
Aujourd’hui, 13 novembre: toujours en deuil.
Du fond de mon coeur,
Chère Véronique, I have greatly enjoyed your blogs ever since I started receiving them awhile back. I appreciate your articles promoting the beauty and culture of la belle France. I have written a blog about you and your work featuring your latest one on Yves St-Laurent. You can find it on my website, http://pronouncingfrench.com/ under “blog”. While you are there, please take a look at my work which is promoting a more authentic French accent to Anglo-American speakers. Under “courses” there are a few short videos that illustrate my teaching style. I would love your comments. Amicalement, Geri