Designer History: Yves Saint Laurent
Classics were not always timeless. They were at some point new, revolutionary, groundbreaking. We look at classics now and praise their simplicity, but each was born from a creative eye and innovation. Classics are inserted into our style history by the tastemakers, made famous by icons, improved upon and updated over time.
They start with the designers, the institutions and the fashion houses that define the way we dress: the people who have styled our past and who will style our future. These heavy-hitters are few and far between, and they didn’t get there overnight. But their names are embedded in our cultural history. One of the most iconic? Yves Saint Laurent. YSL has served as an inspiration to designers throughout history, both big names and small. But the man who created countless styles that continue to define the way we dress did not get that way without hard work and a little guidance.
Yves Saint Laurent started out under the watchful eye of another designer who symbolizes class, style and couture: Christian Dior. Saint Laurent—born Yves Henri Donat Matthieu-Saint-Laurent—was born in 1936 in Oran, Algeria. When he was 18, he moved to Paris to study at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, the school that also trained Valentino and Karl Lagerfeld. Soon after arriving, he was introduced to Dior by the editor of French Vogue, Michel de Brunoff. Saint Laurent distinguished himself at a young age, and became the haute couture designer for Dior when the designer died in 1957. He was just 21 years old.
Saint Laurent did not stay at Dior for long. He left in 1962 after a mental breakdown catalyzed by a 20-day stint in the French army. Saint Laurent launched his own line, YSL, which was financed by his long-term partner, Pierre Bergé. The designer quickly embarked on a career that would revolutionize fashion. He translated runway fashions to wearable looks with the Rive Gauche boutiques in 1966, and followed up with menswear in the 1970s. In 1983 he was featured in a solo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first living designer to receive this honor. He sold the fashion house in 1993, and it currently exists under the parent company, Gucci Group. The designer died in June 2009, days after being wed to Bergé in a civil ceremony.
Yves Saint Laurent distinguished himself by creating modern classics. He embraced contrast—the masculine and the feminine, highbrow and lowbrow, the classic and the modern—to create sharp pieces that are still relevant. We can credit this visionary with the women’s le smoking suit, the safari jacket, the Mondrian shift, and the bolero jacket, to name a few. He took traditionally male silhouettes and transformed them into womenswear, empowering women to dress in a new and bold way. These pieces were daring, new and different. And that is how classics are born.
While modern designers reinterpret his classic silhouettes, Yves Saint Laurent originals are still wardrobe treasures. These timeless pieces, both contemporary and vintage, can seamlessly be woven into the modern woman’s wardrobe. A look at a few of our favorite bloggers (like Man Repeller. Leandra Medine in Saint Laurent flats, Cherry Blossom Girl. Alix rocking YSL cage sandals and Betty of Le blog de Betty. carrying her Yves Saint Laurent purse and Blair of Atlantic-Pacific. toting a YSL Muse bag) proves this to be oh-so-true.
Yes, Saint Laurent is expensive. But a Saint Laurent piece (the company has since re-branded and dropped the ‘Yves’ in a move to stay modern) is an investment. It will last forever—with tender love and care, of course—and it will always be chic. Whether it is the center of the look or an accent, embellished or stand-alone, Saint Laurent is sophisticated and smart. We don’t need many pieces to look great, but what we buy should be special. A thoughtful purchase is worth the splurge because it will survive the trends. Through years of changing styles, it will remain an anchor in your wardrobe. While you and the world around you change, a classic piece stays relevant. Beautiful, elegant and well-made: There’s something to celebrate.