Yves Saint Laurent: How One Man Changed the Way All Women Dress
Yves Saint Laurent died at 71 years old, but his legacy will live on forever. From an assistant at Dior to setting up his own brand, Saint Laurent always challenged fashion standards and tried to make the world of fashion a more diverse and representative place.
Bright Side is truly inspired by the way the designer changed how women dress and will show you why we are so fascinated by him.
The birth of a promising designer
Yves Saint Laurent was born in 1936 in Oran, Algeria, where he spent his childhood and teenage years. He was a really shy boy who was interested in books and his mom’s fashion magazines. From a young age he was very talented at drawing and started to work on his own designs as a teenager.
In 1954, he left for Paris to pursue his passion and study at the Ecole de Chambre Syndicale de La Haute Couture and in the same year he won first prize in a competition by International Wool Secretariat in the dress category. The judges of the competition were the already well-known Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy.
Working for Christian Dior
In June 1955, Saint Laurent decided to show a few of his sketches to Michel de Brunhoff, editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris at that time. Amazed by the sketches, de Brunhoff decided to show them to the already popular designer, Christian Dior. Impressed by the sketches as well, Dior immediately hand-picked Saint Laurent to work as an assistant starting that same month.
When Dior suddenly passed away in 1957, Saint Laurent became the creative director of the brand at only 21 years old.
He created lighter pieces for women.
His debut collection as Dior’s creative director was launched in 1958. This collection brought lighter clothes with less fabric to the runway. He tried to create pieces with a more fluid silhouette under which the body disappeared, replacing Dior’s signature cinched waist.
During his Dior years, he tried to bring a youthful air to the fashion world. He was inspired by the clothing people were wearing in the street and tried to simplify it as much as possible. He challenged the fashion world by ignoring its dictates.
Although very talented, Saint Laurent’s visions didn’t match the conservative aesthetic set by Dior and he ended up being dismissed.
The launching of his own brand
Leaving Dior gave Saint Laurent the freedom to set up his namesake brand, together with Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint Laurent Haute Couture was launched in 1961. Bergé had to sell his apartment in Paris to have some money for the opening of the haute couture house.
His fashion house tried to introduce a different and revolutionary take on women’s clothing. He wanted women to feel powerful in what they were wearing.
Saint Laurent introduced androgynous fashion.
Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer to dress women in men’s clothing in the fashion world. He wanted to blur the line between men’s and women’s fashion. Saint Laurent wanted women to feel confident while wearing his pieces.
He created the Reefer Jacket in 1962, the Sheer Blouse in 1966, and the Jumpsuit in 1968. These clothes for women were totally inspired by a man’s wardrobe. However, his most popular piece in this androgynous fashion trend was Le Smoking which he debuted in 1966. It was a full tuxedo inspired by typical menswear collections. Although this piece was not found in stores, it was worn by trendsetters like Bianca Jagger, Catherine Deneuve, and Nan Kempner.
He single-handedly influenced the fashion world to start following this trend.
He brought art to his designs.
Saint Laurent was one of the first designers to make the worlds of art and fashion collide on the runway. His collections featured work inspired by Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Andy Warhol, Mondrian, and other artists.
The most popular pieces of this art collection were a series of dresses inspired by Piet Mondrian. The pieces were debuted in his Autumn-Winter 1965 collection. This collection not only mixed the worlds of art and fashion, but thanks to the fact that he chose Mondrian as inspiration, Saint Laurent also played with geometry.
The journal Women’s Wear Daily had a positive reaction to the collection and named Yves Saint Laurent the “King of Paris.”
He gave women more freedom.
In the late 1960s, Saint Laurent joined the second wave of feminism. As a result, the models walking in his shows started to wear organza blouses, transparent tops, and no bras at all, revealing their breasts.
Saint Laurent’s business partner, Bergé, once said on France Info Radio “Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.” Yves not only wanted women to free their body, he wanted them to feel powerful while doing it.
It was a risky move by the designer, but, in fact, the trend entered the fashion world and other designers followed and praised him. The trend is still present in YSL’s current collections.
It is important to note that his decisions were not about pleasing his audience, but rather about the equality between the genders.
Yves Saint Laurent created high fashion ready-to-wear.
Saint Laurent made high fashion ready-to-wear popular when he opened his first store in 1966, in Paris.
The Rive Gauche ready-to-wear boutique offered more affordable pieces than his haute couture designs, but the quality was still excellent. His target was younger women. Other high fashion brands followed this trend and started to open stores as well.
Seeing a huge success, Yves Saint Laurent opened stores in New York in 1968 and London in 1969.
There are now Yves Saint Laurent stores on every continent.
He brought diversity to fashion.
He was one of the first designers to put women of color in fashion shows. He started to focus on casting a more diverse type of model in his shows in the 60s and 70s. Saint Laurent had models like Iman, Katoucha Niane, and Dalma Callado as muses.
Naomi Campbell became the first black model on the cover of Vogue Paris magazine thanks to him. According to her “He has done so much for people of color.”
The designer Christian Lacroix explains that the reason behind Saint Laurent’s success was his versatility, and we agree. In this designer’s words: “Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, and Dior all did extraordinary things. But they worked within a particular style...Yves Saint Laurent is like a combination of all of them. He’s got the form of Chanel with the opulence of Dior and the wit of Schiaparelli.”
Whatever Yves did, women of all ages would follow. And even if he is now gone, the brand still stands up for his values and will continue to work toward women’s empowerment.
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Preview photo credit JEAN-PIERRE MULLER / AFP / Getty Images