LOVE LETTERS TO YVES
THE MONDRIAN DRESS. Le Smoking. The beatnik look. Those were only three of the ways in which Yves Saint Laurent revolutionised fashion in the swinging sixties. He shook up the industry even more by launching the first ever upscale ready-to-wear collections - at a time when haute couture was the only acceptable option for luxury customers.
A fitting tribute to such a revolutionary genius is to open a museum that archives all of his great ideas – or rather two museums, as will happen in October. Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, his longtime lover and creative partner, had it all figured out - way before the designer lost his battle with brain cancer in 2008. The designer had been archiving each of his collections meticulously since his early years in the 1960s. Every sketch was kept with care.
This year, Bergé, who helped the designer launch the Yves Saint Laurent Couture House in 1961, is opening two museums in his beloved’s memory. The spaces will exhibit Saint Laurent’s 40 years of work, totalling over 5,000 couture garments and 15,000 accessories, as well as thousands of sketches, photographs and objects.
The museums, perhaps, were what Bergé was referring to in his eulogy for Saint Laurent: “But I also know that I will never forget what I owe you, and that one day I will join you under the Moroccan palms.” Once opened, in Paris and Marrakech, the museums will be nothing short than a couple of great love letters to Saint Laurent.
Bergé, aged 87, says: “Despite the passing of Yves over eight years ago, his name, his personality and his talent continue to fascinate. There is a real demand from the public to be able to admire and understand the designer’s creations. This museum will be the first in the capital of fashion to exclusively display the work of one designer - in the very space in which they originated.”
The first museum, opening on October 3, is a makeover of the existing atelier of Saint Laurent at 5 Marceau in Paris. The personal space has previously hosted over 20 art, design and fashion exhibitions throughout the 12 years after the passing of the designer. Bergé says that of one Saint Laurent’s biggest innovations was “his use of men’s wardrobe. He adapted it for women, giving them the attributes of power. Yves Saint Laurent accompanied women of his era in their journey towards freedom.”
Last year, the space was closed for renovation in advance of the museum opening. The work is led by stage designer Nathalie Crinière and interior designer Jacques Grange. The new space, occupying an area of 450 sqm, will take visitors to understand Saint Laurent’s creative process by walking through the studio which he worked at for over 30 years, as well as experiencing his archives. The exhibited showpieces will be rotated, around 50 at a time.
“Today, we can easily identify an inclination from the public towards everything that reveal secrets of making and all the mysteries surrounding creation, a sort of appetite for backstages,” says Bergé, who published Lettres à Yves, an intimate tribute to his partner in 2010. “With a personality as legendary as Yves Saint Laurent’s, we expect many people to be drawn to visiting the museum.”
In Marrakech, the museum will span across 4,000 sqm and located in the aptly name Rue Yves Saint Laurent. The space is located close to Saint Laurent and Bergé’s home near Jardin Majorelle. In 1980, the pair bought over the storied garden to save it from demolition. Having adopted Marrakech as their second home, the pair then initiated a Berber culture museum on site, which draws close to 700,000 visitors annually. The garden is also home to Saint Laurent’s grave.
“Yves Saint Laurent and I discovered Marrakech in 1966, and we never left,” Bergé once proclaimed. “This city deeply influenced Saint Laurent’s life and work, particularly his discovery of colour. It feels perfectly natural, 50 years later, to build a museum dedicated to his oeuvre, which was so inspired by this country. As for Paris, who needs to specify that it is where Yves Saint Laurent created all his work and built his career?”
The major architectural project is led by Studio KO, a French architectural practice led by Olivier Marty and Karl Fournier. The studio, known for its minimalist approach to architecture, has previously designed Bergé’s holiday home in Morocco. For Musée Yves Saint Laurent, the studio builds a fussfree space made of terra cotta, concrete and an earthen-coloured terrazzo with pieces of Moroccan stone. The museum is intendedly
built to complement its surrounding, rather than standing out.
The museum will exhibit a permanent display of Saint Laurent’s work in a 400 sqm space, with an original scenography by Creative Director Christophe Martin. There will also be space for temporary exhibitions spanning 150 sqm and a 130-seat auditorium. A research library houses 5,000 books in multiple sections, including Arabic and Andalusian history, geography, literature and poetry, botany, and Berber culture. One section is dedicated to Saint Laurent’s work. Complementing the museum is a café-restaurant with a terrace and a bookshop.
The plan for the museum has long been in the works. In 1964, Saint Laurent decided to keep a dress for the first time. “I remember it very well, it was a brown lace dress that he loved very much,” Bergé reminisces. With each collection, the archive grew, and finally the pair decided in 1981 to put Hector Pascal in charge of the collection. Pascal would go on to write a book on the designer, Yves Saint Laurent - L’Art du Ballet en Russie. In the nineties, the pair established a documentation centre at La Villette, Paris, where the archive is kept in museum-quality storage.
Bergé is undoubtedly very proud of the extensive Saint Laurent archive. While Saint Laurent’s iconic pieces are prized in the luxury vintage market, the foundation that Bergé and Saint Laurent conceived does not have to hunt down pieces to complete the exhibitions at the two new museums.
“Some of the more established brands, such as Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel, really see the value in buying back their heritage. This is something we don’t have to do, as we already have incredibly rich and complete archives,” says
“Today, we can easily identify an inclination from the public towards everything that reveal secrets of making and all the mysteries surrounding creation, a sort of appetite for backstages”
Bergé, who resides in a duplex in an 18th-century building on Paris’ Left Bank. “We have everything, from the sketches he made until the show. We have the whole process, including paper patterns, fabrics and accessories.”
The museums will be a lasting legacy of Saint Laurent, who in 1966, braved ridicule to open a boutique on The Left Bank dedicated to ready-to-wear. Explains his lover: “It was the first time a great couturier had designed ready-to-wear, and given it as much thought as haute couture. By creating clothes which were unbeatably priced and impeccably tailored, he realised one of his most cherished dreams: dressing all women, and not only rich clients.”