Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, known as Yves Saint Laurent (French pronunciation: [iv sɛ̃ loʁɑ̃], August 1, 1936 – June 1, 2008),  was a French fashion designer, one of the greatest names in fashion history.  In 1985, Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote, “The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.” He is also credited with having introduced the tuxedo suit for women, became the first designer to use ethnic models in his runway shows, and referenced other non-European cultures in his work.  He and his partner, industrialist Pierre Bergé, started their own fashion house with funds from Atlanta millionaire J. Mack Robinson.  The couple split romantically in 1976 but remained business partners.  During the 1960s and ’70s, the firm popularized fashion trends such as the beatnik look; safari jackets for men and women; tight pants; tall, thigh-high boots; and arguably the most famous classic tuxedo suit for women in 1966, the Le Smoking. He also started mainstreaming the idea of wearing silhouettes from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. He was the first French couturier to come out with a full prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear) line, although Alicia Drake credits this move with Saint Laurent’s wish to democratize fashion, others[who?] point out that other couture houses were preparing prêt-à-porter lines at the same time; the House of Yves Saint Laurent merely announced its line first. The first of the company’s Rive Gauche stores, which sold the prêt-à-porter line, opened on the rue de Tournon in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, on 26 September 1966. The premier was attended by Yves Saint Laurent, and the first customer was Catherine Deneuve.

Saint Laurent was also the first designer to use ethnic models in his runway shows and to reference other than European cultures in his work.   Many of his collections were received rapturously by both his fans and the press, such as the fall 1965 collecti, which introduced Le Smoking tailored tuxedo suit. Other collections raised great controversy, such as his spring 1971 collection, which was inspired by 1940s fashion. Some felt it romanticized the German occupation of France during World War II, which he personally did not experience, while others felt it brought back the unattractive utilitarianism of the time. The French newspaper France Soir called the spring 1971 collection “Une grande farce!”

During the 1960s and ’70s, Saint Laurent was considered one of Paris’s “jet set.”   He was often seen at clubs in France and New York, such as Regine’s and Studio 54, and was known to be both a heavy drinker and a frequent user of cocaine.  When he was not actively supervising the preparation of a collection, he spent time at his villa in Marrakech, Morocco. In the late 1970s, he and Bergé bought a neo-gothic villa, Château Gabriel in Benerville-sur-Mer, near Deauville, France. Yves Saint Laurent was a great admirer of Marcel Proust who had been a frequent guest of Gaston Gallimard, one of the previous owners of the villa. When they bought Château Gabriel, Saint Laurent and Bergé commissioned Jacques Grange to decorate it with themes inspired by Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

He died June 1, 2008 of brain cancer at his residence in Paris.   According to The New York Times, a few days before he died, Saint Laurent and Bergé were joined in a same-sex civil union known as a Pacte civil de solidarité (PACS) in France. He was survived by his mother and sisters; his father had died in 1988.


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