Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, 1950s
Image via Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris
Photo: Musée Yves Saint Laurent
“All I have to do to blend into a place or a landscape is to read a book, or look at a picture, and then use my imagination.” - Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent didn't enjoy traveling.
It might be weird to read that, in a world where everyone seems so obsessed with the "wanderlust" fever (from German, "strong impulse to travel").
Yves Saint Laurent, however, was different. Both from those who came after and before him.
The "need" for traveling physically just wasn't his cup of tea. His imagination, as he would learn as a kid, would be enough to lead him wherever he wanted to go.
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Thinking about it now it's easy to acknowledge Yves' sense for creativity, however his shy and reserved personality didn't make him popular so soon.
Son of an insurance company manager, his childhood was very peaceful, curled up in the warm atmosphere of Algerian good society in the 1930s:
as many shy kids do, he enjoyed his own company, and especially his brilliant imagination.
He was only 13 when he went to the theatre to watch Molière's The School for Wives by scenographer Christian Berard.
It was love at first sight for Yves: his very first meeting with the art of theatre, his first great love that he would keep in his heart all his life.
Arts would slowly become his shelter. Only for fun, he would also be a very young and prolific illustrator:
he created his own little theatre, the '“Illustre Petit Théâtre”, designing costumes for his characters,
he made illustrations for Musset's Les Caprices de Marianne and Flaubert's Madame Bovary;
he even created his personal maison of haute couture, with paper dresses for his paper dolls, and named it “Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Haute Couture Place Vendome”.
He could not even imagine that there really was a maison of haute couture in his destiny.
Young Yves was not at all lazy - he did enjoy working hard.
When he turned 17 he attended the Secrétariat international de la laine's competition, where he won the 3rd award.
The panel of judges included Hubert de Givenchy and a man who would change Yves' life forever: Christian Dior.
His first successes encouraged him to move to Paris in 1954, to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and improve himself.
The first results of his hard work came that same year, when he attended the competition again and won the 1st prize in the dress category. Givenchy would use that dress in his collection.
Paris in the 1950s was such a small world - and the fashion one was even smaller.
Through his work, Yves had the chance to meet Michel de Brunhoff, Vogue's editor-in-chief, who immediately fell for him ("I have never in my life met anyone more gifted", he would later say) and introduced him to the most incredible designer of the time, Christian Dior.
There was such a good energy between the two of them, the one you would find between soul mates that have a lot to share. In 1955, Dior obviously asked him to become his assistant.
They were both very quiet, working together everyday without talking much - they just enjoyed a perfect creative synergy with no discussion or debate, as if they misteriously shared the same inspirations.
Two years later, that dream came to an end. In October 1957, Christian Dior suddenly died.
Yves was not even 20, however his master's directions were clear: it was him who had to succeed Dior as creative director of the Maison.
Just one month later, he was already designing January 1958 collection.
Yves' line for Dior, that winter, marked a clear difference between him and his master.
Dior had made history for shaping the woman's body obsessively;
Saint Laurent freed that same body from fitted waistlines or fabrics, choosing instead fluid, comfortable and blurry structures - it was the birth of the famous "Trapeze line".
Starting in such a special way, that year could not be but crucial for Yves.
In fact, after a while, he would meet the love of his life, Pierre Bergé, at a dinner hosted by Marie-Louise Bousquet, editor of the French edition of Harper's Bazaar. He would stay with him for his whole life and together they would live, work and collect art pieces and books.
Yves' success allowed him to work on projects he loved, especially designing costumes for theatre and ballets:
he collaborated frequently and passionately with choreographer Roland Petit, for example for the Cyrano de Bergerac.
Yves would later say: "If I wasn’t a couturier, I would have probably devoted myself to the theater".
After his experience at Dior's, Yves finally made his childhood dream come true: he opened his own Maison of haute couture.
It was 1961 and the Maison's logo was designed by Cassandre, one of the most important graphic designers in the entire world.
On January 1962, he presented his very first collection, under the curious eye of countesses, princesses and celebrities from the culture and arts worlds of the time, like Françoise Sagan and Roland Petit.
Everyone wanted to see what his imagination would create.
His first collection included - in fact - some key pieces of Yves Saint Laurent's modern innovations.
References from menswear in womenswear - this is the essential statement of YSL's fashion.
These iconic pieces included the pea coat, worn with plain white trousers evoking Chanel's simplicity, and the trench coat, inspired by the uniforms of the army's officers during the IWW. Saint Laurent's version for women was shorter and tighter on the waist.
Since he loved arts and literature so much, Yves Saint Laurent would include the finest intellectual references in his collections, honouring artists, writers and intellectuals.
The A/W 1965 collection, that Diana Vreeland adored, included a Piet Mondrian-inspired geometrical dress. The 1966 collections also featured the first transparent blouse, a Nude Look's statement piece, and references to Pop Art and to Tom Wesselmann's work.
Yves would also honour poets and writers like Shakespeare, designing a shirt inspired by Hamlet and a red dress inspired by Lady Macbeth (1980),
inspirations also came from Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Aragon, Apollinaire and Cocteau, or famous painters like Matisse and Léger (1981-1982).
In 1988, Yves Saint Laurent's collection featured jackets with fine embroideries of irises and sunflowers made by the Maison Lesage, honouring the great Van Gogh.
Paris was also the scenario of one of Yves Saint Laurent's greatest innovations, in 1966: the creation of Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the ready-to-wear collection that would allow him to reach a wider range of customers that didn't would only include "the wealthy".
The collection didn't merely incorporate haute couture's pieces at a lower price, introducing instead clothing and accessories especially made for the ready-to-wear customers.
Both for ready-to-wear and for haute couture, Yves created the first woman's tuxedo, which was so much appreciated by the more innovative youngsters.
Even though he didn't enjoy traveling, Yves was inspired by the most exotic countries of the world and thus created the Safari jacket (1968) in cotton gabardine, similar to the Afrika Korps' uniforms, and also collections inspired by the Russian ballets, Léon Bakst's costumes and Asian paintings (1976), and Chinese (1977) and Indian (1982) arts.
Mondrian-inspired dress by Yves Saint Laurent, 1966
Image via Wikimedia Commons
The first pea coat by Yves Saint Laurent from the S/S 1962 collection
Image via Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris
Photo: Frères Séeberger
Yves' quiet and peaceful personality didn't prevent him from making very close friends among creatives, celebrities and intellectuals.
Yves would dress Catherine Deneuve for her meeting with the Queen of England (1965) and to play Séverine in Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour. He would exchange many letters with her.
He met and collaborated with writer Marguerite Duras and Paul and Talitha Getty. In 1968, he would also become friends with Andy Warhol, with whom he shared the thoughtful personality, and with his muse Loulou de La Falaise, that he was so charmed by: she was unique, dressing in second-hand clothes while staying so chic.
Even Coco Chanel was extremely appreciative of Yves Saint Laurent's talent, so much she would define him as her "design heir".
When commenting the similar influence of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent had on women, Pierre Bergé would say: "Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power".
In 1983, the MET Museum of New York, with the help and promotion of Diana Vreeland, hosted for Yves Saint Laurent the first fashion exhibition dedicated to a living designer.
Yves Saint Laurent would inspire many other exhibitions:in fact, his creative and intellectual inspirations were so many that there are so many ways of analysing Yves Saint Laurent's creativity.
The admiration for this designer was international, and culminated in 2017 with the inhauguration of a museum dedicated to him in the heart of Paris.
A.N.G.E.L.O. is pleased to honour Yves Saint Laurent's talent and pursuit of beauty, which made him a timeless artist, with the exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Maker of Happiness, including exclusive pieces from our fashion archive.
Discover the exhibition from October 26th to 28th 2018 at the vintage fair of Forlì (Italy).