The Life and Fashion of Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent Profile Shot B&WYves Saint Laurent was born August 1 1936 and died June 1 2008, two months short of his 72nd birthday. He died a fashion legend.

Though inextricably associated with France, and Paris in particular, he was born in Oman, Algeria and on his death his cremated remains were scattered in Marrakesh, Morocco. Africa was to influence his collections and design philosophy throughout his career.

He was a precocious talent, coming to the attention of another French fashion legend, Christian Dior, where he became his assistant, aged just 17. And then, just four years later, upon Dior’s death, became head of the Dior Fashion House, the wishes of Christian Dior himself.

Yves Saint Laurent Trapeze Dress

Trapeze Dress – The White Elephant – around 1958

His first Dior collection was based on the New Look template and introduced the world to his first statement piece the Trapeze dress; dresses and other outfits that were narrow at the neck and widened out toward the waist.

His time at Dior was though a short one. Subsequent collections were not received well by critics, in particular his ‘Beat Look’ collection. Having been conscripted to the French Army in 1960 he subsequently discovered the label had fired him.

His time in the Army had been traumatic for him; he had been hospitalized and received Electroshock treatment and a heavy course of drugs. He was to be plagued with both drug and mental health issues for the rest of his life. In the 1960’s and 1970’s when he had become financially very secure he was known to have been a heavy user of alcohol and cocaine.

YSL 2011 Safari Kori Richardson

2011 Safari – modelled by Kori Richardson

He quickly bounced back from his experience in the army setting up his own fashion house in 1960. During this period he produced and popularized looks which are now well established and iconic such as the beatnik look, Safari Jackets, tight pants, tall thigh high boots and Tuxedo suits (for both men and women). His first 1960 collection included bubble skirts, turtlenecks and biker-jackets in luxurious fabrics.

His first business partner was also his first (and last) romantic partner Pierre Berge who helped him establish his fashion house. This romantic relationship ended in the mid-1970’s but they remained business partners to the end of his professional career. And they remained close with, prior to Yves Saint Laurent’s death from brain cancer in 2008, the two joining in a same-sex civil union.

In the 1960’s French Fashion was still Haute Couture – his was the first French Fashion House to establish Ready To Wear (Pret-A-Porter) collections. To this end his fashion house also established shops in Paris. His first shop was called Rive Gauche (Left Bank). His first customer was French actress Catherine Deneuve significant because she would become a lifelong fan and muse of Yves Saint Laurent.

Another first for Yves Saint Laurent was the use of non-White models in his collections, most famously, the Somali supermodel, Iman.

Likewise his collections were the first to reference other cultures outside the European traditions usually favoured by European and North American designers at that time.

Another aspect and recurrent theme of his collections were retrospective appraisals of fashions from previous decades, in particular from the 1920’s through to the 1940’s. The silhouettes of these times were often integrated into his 1960’s and 1970’s collections.

Though like many of his collections these were met with a mixed response. A 1971 vintage theme was described as ‘Yves Saint Debacle’ whereas a 1976 ‘Ballets Russes’ collection was positively received as a ‘New New Look’

He was also one of the first fashion designers to branch into other related accessories by way of growing his brand such as with Opium perfume in the late 1970’s.

Russian Ballet 1976 Yves Saint Laurent

Ballet Russes 1976

The heavy drink and drug use, alluded to earlier in this post, was to return to haunt him later in his life. He found difficult the pressures of the demanding fashion schedule that required fashion houses to produce two Haute Couture and two ready-to-wear collections per year. He was known to rely on drink and drugs as a coping mechanism for these pressures of producing collections that were able to meet with both critical and public approval.

In the late 1980’s he finally decided to delegate the design of his collections to his assistants. By this time the critics had fallen out of love with him though his ready-to-wear collections still remained popular with the public.

His collections are also very popular with wealthy and conservative clients. At the same time many of his collections were radical cutting edge ensembles – setting and defining fashion trends rather than following them. Many of his signature pieces – ‘Le Smoking’ (Tuxedo Suit), pantsuit and safari-wear have since become staples in fashion.

Gucci modelled by Jac

Gucci Trouser Suit – modelled by Jac

Another theme of his was androgyny – and other world famous fashion houses such as Gucci and Prada in particular took up this look. Yves Saint Laurent popularized the trouser-suit; previously it had been seen as an unfeminine and unflattering fashion choice for a woman.

His legacy continues not just in his fashion house but also in his influence on many other couturiers and fashion houses.

Christian Lacroix, Jean Colonna and Marc Jacobs have all openly acknowledged the debt they owe to him.

This influence was not always welcome by him though. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; he did not see it that way, when in 1974, he sued Ralph Lauren over a Tuxedo dress, that he considered too similar to one of his own Tuxedo creations from 1970.

Biker Jackets Yves Saint Laurent

Biker Jackets

Though taking a back seat throughout the 1990’s it was not until 2002 that he officially retired. And it should be noted that even in the relative obscurity of the 1990’s he continued to grasp trends and innovate, for example being the first fashion house to broadcast one of their haute-couture runway shows on the Internet in 1996.

In 1996 he had also retired from Ready To Wear passing the designing mantle to Alber Elbaz leaving him to focus on Haute Couture.

In 1999 Gucci bought his fashion-house.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Haute Couture house itself closed in 2002 with a final collection in Paris.

Though Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 his fashion house endures and the fortune it made in 2009 for example according to American publishers of the Rich List, Forbes, made him the top earning dead celebrity for that year.

The Yves Saint Laurent brand continues today enduring along with his legendary fashion status.

David Downton – Fashion Illustrator – Artist or Artisan?

David Downton FIG Prints

David Downton Dior Couture A/W 2009

Dior Couture Autumn/Winter 2009

You can purchase original David Downton artworks – or high craft (Haute Artisanales?!) – at FIG PRINTS.

Fashion Illustration Gallery was set up in 2007 to promote and hopefully sell works of fashion illustrators. The Fig Prints site extended this to the world wide audience of the web. The site also has an interest in rare print magazines and books that feature fashion illustration.

The site does not just feature works of current illustrators but historical names too such as Cecil Beaton and Andy Warhol.

David Downton though has just made three new original prints available to buy on the FIG site. These are not the mass-produced prints you might have bought from Athena when it was still on the high-street or that you may now purchase online from All Posters but originals selling at £350 per piece as part of limited edition print runs of between fifty and one-hundred. They are all signed, dated and numbered by him too.

At this price range we are in iPad territory but on the other hand if you cannot afford Dior Couture pieces this might be the next best affordable thing?

These three are ink on paper using the Giclee technique – fine art digital prints created on ink-jet printers.

David Downton Dior Couture Spring Summer 2011

Dior Couture Spring Summer 2011

All three are taken from Dior Couture collections but not rush releases from the recent Dior Fall show of Monday July 4 but from older collections between 2009 and 2011 when Galliano had not yet plunged from saint to sinner. Downton is a regular attendee of Paris Haute Couture shows.

Two of the three are black and white and previously I have preferred his colour ones which I find more vivid and impactful.

I find them all very expressive though – more so perhaps than a high-resolution digital photograph – perhaps there is something about the warm analogue fuzziness of it all.

Masters of Fashion Illustration David Downton Woman Red DressIn addition to being able to buy these and his older work on this site he also has his own website where you can view his work in greater detail including a wide range of portraits including Catherine Deneuve, Lily Cole and Cate Blanchett.

If you like his work but cannot afford them which even were we not living in austerity-biting times are not a casual purchase for most of us and want to see more of his work in non-digital form then you may find his book ‘Masters of Fashion Illustration‘ which surveys this genre including his own work a more accessible introduction to his works.

I think his works are art – how about you?

Paris in July – Couture Week – Christian Dior beyond Galliano

Dior Couture Fall 2011

Dior Couture Fall 2011 Collection Zuzanna Bijoch

Modelled by Zuzanna Bijoch

It’s Paris Couture week – hooray! As a blogger posting about these shows it is a ‘promenade dans le parc’ – but a challenge too – a challenge to avoid posting up a  handful of fabulous photographs with easy lazy lacklustre supporting prose. Afterall the photographs do speak for themselves – and it is such a subjective experience – what I see and feel is not necessarily what you are seeing and feeling and so I may as well shut up and let the pictures speak for themselves?! But then where’s the fun in that!

In my last perfumed post I alluded to the disgraced and fallen John Galliano.

In Paris on American Independence Day was the Christian Dior Couture Fall 2011 collection – the first after the Galliano Storm. Bill Gaytten formerly under Galliano’s wing now left to fly his own wordless arc.

Has he flown too far the spirit of Dior? Dior purists – Diorists? Diorinna’s?! – are tending to think so. Its tradition has been transgressed too much – a lot can be done within those narrow confines but Gaytten has abandoned those confines almost entirely.

Dior Couture 2011 Collection Alana Zimmer

Modelled by Alana Zimmer

I would agree but am still more ambivalent than despondent as I enjoyed the collection very much.

In the words of fashion critic Tim Banks as if ‘Dior woman had suddenly been possessed by a Disco dolly’ – entertaining perhaps for us Front Row interlopers but an in-body experience a Dior woman would most likely want exorcising of.

For the rest of us it will be interesting to see if Gaytten is allowed to continue upon his path or if the House of Christian Dior reins him back in.