Posted on June 17th, 2008
“Chanel gave women freedom, Yves Saint Laurent gave them power”
Yves Saint Laurent got his break in fashion at the young age of 17, where shortly after winning a design contest, he was introduced to French couturier Christian Dior and immediately hired as his assistant. In 1957, Saint Laurent’s first brainchild under Dior was the Bubble Hem dress, which we see today in the midst of its’ comeback. When Dior died later that year, Yves, age 21, was named his successor. His first collection for Dior featured the Trapeze collection, which boosted YSL to instant fame with tons of praise for its fresh youthful look.
In 1962, Saint Laurent founded his own couture house with his partner Pierre Bergé. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, YSL continued to revolutionize fashion. Instead of creating a successful look and sticking with it like the fashion greats he was grouped with, Saint Laurent made his mark with his ability to create a different and unique statement each season.
Some of his most popular contributions to fashion include: the Safari jacket, the Mondrian dress, see-through blouses, and peasant blouses to name a few. He also popularized the idea of wearing silhouettes from the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. One of his greatest contributions that had a tremendous impact on society was his pantsuits for women. Previously, pants were only acceptable for women as leisure attire, certainly not to go out in. But with the introduction of “le smoking”, a tuxedo tailored to the female form, YSL made “man’s clothes” not only acceptable for women, but he made them appear elegant and feminine. In the 70’s, YSL was responsible for popularizing “bohemian-chic” and went on to define the hippie look and its many artsy and hipster origins.
Wanting to remove the hierarchy from fashion, and eliminate the notion that great fashion should only be available to an elite group, YSL started his prêt-à-porter collection: Rive Gauche in 1966, and opened a chain of boutiques by the same name, popularizing the concept of ready-to-wear.
Saint Laurent constantly turned to the streets and its youth for his inspiration, interpreting changes in society into his latest collections. He once said “Real fashion today comes from the young people manning the streets. The difference between day and evening clothes is outdated. The new fashion freedom permits people to be as they are or as they want to be…to go to dinner, for instance, as they were in the morning in black jersey, or anything else.”
Over the decades, YSL expanded into the infamous fashion empire we know today, including fragrances, beauty, and accessories. In 2002, Saint Laurent held his final runway show before turning over his empire to the Gucci Group. The enormous collection featured over 200 famous pieces that spanned YSL’s 40 year career. (See style.com to see the complete collection).
After his passing, Bergé said YSL was a “true creator” who went beyond the aesthetic to make a social statement. In his own words, Saint Laurent once said “fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves.”
Inspiring words from a man who led by example: playing by his own rules and thinking outside the box to bring equality, confidence, and great fashion to us all.