How does Armani come to be Armani? Prada to be Prada? You have to have vision, skill, and a little bit of luck. If you get set on the right track from the starting line and are fueled by passion and persistence, entrance into the influential fashion circle can’t be too far off. It seems, then, that anyone who is assisting Christian Dior at 18 is sure to have success ahead. Yves Saint Laurent certainly did. At 21, Saint Laurent succeeded Dior at his studio, and at 26 he opened his own couture house. His remarkable couturier skills and private personality make him a truly alluring individual. The influence Saint Laurent has had on the fashion world will never fade. He is said to have introduced the world to the smoking suit, sheer blouse, jumpsuit, and the culture of ready-to-wear as we know it today. Always pushing forward, Saint Laurent’s eponymous brand has certainly come a long way since its start in 1962.
Saint Laurent, born in Oran, Algeria, moved to Paris after winning the International Wool Secretariat contest for a cocktail dress design in 1954. There he worked under Christian Dior, learning all he could about fashion design and tailoring. “Above all it was Christian Dior who was my master and who was the first to reveal the secrets and mysteries of haute couture.” After Dior passed away in 1957, Saint Laurent headed designs under the Dior label. In 1962, when Saint Laurent created his own line, he also got his own look (not to be confused with the New Look that Dior branded in 1947). He infused femininity into male wardrobe staples, creating tuxedos, pea coats, and pantsuits for women. And the tradition continues today under the reign of Stefano Pilati as YSL continues to turn out beautifully crafted pieces.
This year’s winter/fall collection tapped YSL’s early roots, bringing back the spirit of Saint Laurent’s first radical designs. The collection boasted voluminous dark coats, draping dresses, and cleverly knotted chiffon. Pilati also brought in the Saint Laurent touch with novel feminine interpretations of the tuxedo. Black tuxedo pants and a vest paired with a cream satin lapelled jacket are well suited to the androgynously-dressed’s evening out. The double-breasted, short, cream and black jacket-cum-dress tells the story “I had nothing to wear to this banquet so I pilfered my boyfriend’s jacket and transformed it into a chic frock.”
Although Pilati played with volume in the cocoonish short jackets, flared skirts, and defined shoulders, it seems to never be without the careful tailoring Saint Laurent established as his label. He may be reserved, but Yves Saint Laurent is not shy to suggest his status as a great (and according to some, the last) couturier. In reference to being a champion of the fashion world, when the designer stepped down from his mighty post in 2002, he noted, “It’s not very fun to play a tennis match when you are all alone.” But YSL is not alone, as long as the house has many loyal followers. One of the early YSL devotees and muses, Catherine Deneuve, still dons only Saint Laurent. Along with Deneuve, the likes of Kanye West, Courtney Love, Dita Von Teese, Lily Allen, and Jessica Biel have all been spotted sitting front row at recent runway shows.
The thick, rectangular glasses Saint Laurent wears are very much in the style of the stereotypical thinker. Though his subjects of expertise may not be in the general curriculum of most institutions, it is certain that Saint Laurent is a top scholar of his art. As it evolves, this art maintains the original characteristics that Saint Laurent infused into the label. The designs from YSL aren’t always welcomed with open arms right off the runway, but in a few months time, that same runway show will be walking down Madison Avenue and touted as inspirational. And so we see that when talented designers push the envelope, your jacket is no longer just a jacket, it’s an Yves Saint Laurent.