YVES SAINT LAURENT’S LEGACY
We get up-close-and-personal with the late designer’s partner to explore his talent from a new perspective.
Born in Algeria in 1936, Yves Saint Laurent was a sickly boy, bullied throughout his childhood for being different. Shy and nervous, he turned to the art of fashion for his escape. As a teenager, he created his paper dolls by cutting out the women from his mother’s magazines and using their silhouettes to create his own fashion house - "Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Haute Couture Place Vendôme". Inspired by the way his mother dressed, he designed his own dresses and accessories for his ‘models’. He named and presented his collections with his two little sisters enrolled to play the buyers. Models were named and cast, makeup was credited as ‘Elizabeth Arden’ alongside notes of real textile manufacturers, including Bianchini-férier and Abraham Bucol. His knowledge was extensive, and at 17 (1953), he entered the Wool Secretariat's annual competition, submitting three sketches. The competition judges included couturiers Balmain and Dior and he was awarded third prize for his sketch of a dress. He was to claim his prize from Paris, and during his first trip to the city, he was introduced to the Editor of French Vogue, Michel de Brunhoff. Michel praised his work and encouraged him to become a designer. A year later (in 1954), Yves moved to Paris and attended the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Upon presenting Michel with 50 sketches, he was introduced to Christian Dior, who immediately took him on as his assistant. When Christian Dior died of a heart attack in 1957, Yves made history by becoming the youngest courtier in the world - the Artistic Director of the House of Dior. His first collection was ‘The Trapeze’ (1958) and was received with huge success. So much so that the following collection was presented in England’s Blenheim Palace with guest of honour HRH Princess Margaret. Yves was becoming undoubtedly one of the world’s most coveted designers and attracting royal guests to his ‘front row’. Having shown six collections for the House, and his sixth collection not being so well received, Yves was suddenly drafted for military service in 1960. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to hospital. During his hospitalisation, he was fired from Dior, whom he later successfully sued for breach of contract. Pierre Bergé, his romantic partner at the time, talked with Yves about launching their own fashion house once he had recovered. In 1961, with Bergé as his business partner, the House of Yves Saint Laurent was born and its iconic logo created. The first collection showed in 1961 and Yves changed the way fashion was perceived by changing the way women were perceived. His career was not without its controversies, but he created a world full of art - paintings retold, stories reworked and brought to life for the body. A storyteller of the finest kind, he left a legacy that is now being shared.