‘Yves Saint Laurent died last night at 11:10 p.m. Paris time,’ my mother, who was calling from Paris tearfully told me over the phone. It was unlike her to call very early in the morning, but the news was worth it. I looked at in my calendar. Today was June 2. I’ll remember June 1, from now on.
Considered one of the greatest and most influential designers of the 20th century, Yves Saint Laurent passed away six years after his last “historical” Haute Couture runway show. The couturier who is famous for having adapted and proposed a new elegance to women with his female tuxedos, YSL, as he is fondly called by fashionistas, was a true genius of French 20th century fashion.
Innumerable images come to the mind of the fashion observer: his “caban” a navy blue double-breasted woolen short coat which the designer had set as the new trend for womenswear as early as 1966; the “saharienne” with which he launched his ready-to-wear line, a transformed version of a beige colonial desert outfit which celebrated the new freedom and power of women in the sixties, probably a reminiscence of his childhood years in Algeria.
The master couturier’s famous muslin blouses, where the shoulder line is so important and which invariably creates an extremely sensual look on an otherwise naked bust which looks as if wrapped in sheer silk tied by a wide soft knot around the neck to underline the charming softness of women’s delicate weapons.
Born in the Algerian port of Oran in 1936, Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint Laurent came from a wealthy French colonial family. His great-great-grandfather was the lawyer who drew up Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine’s wedding contract.
In 1955, one year after sharing first prize in a prestigious International Wool Secretariat competition with Karl Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent was hired as a design assistant by Christian Dior. In 1957, Saint Laurent’s meteoric career took off when he was appointed to succeed Dior, following the master’s sudden death.
After great initial acclaim, the fashion pack turned on Saint Laurent in outraged reaction to his 1960 “Beat” collection, inspired by Paris street style. Conscripted into the French army in September of that year, the designer suffered a nervous breakdown.
In 1961, he and his lover Berge founded their own house financed by American millionaire Mack Robinson. Throughout his career, Saint Laurent actively designed for ballet, opera and film, notably for actress Catherine Deneuve in Luis Bunuel film’s “Belle de Jour.”
Though his first collection received tepid reviews, he went on to take Paris by storm with his famed “Mondrian” dresses in 1965, the first of many designs inspired by modern art. The rest is fashion history.