The se­cret world of Yves Saint Lau­rent im­mor­tal­ized

Mu­se­ums give a peek into se­cret world of Yves Saint Lau­rent


Yves Saint Lau­rent was one of great­est yet most pri­vate fash­ion de­sign­ers of the 20th cen­tury.

Now, only weeks after the death of his part­ner and lover Pierre Berge, the hard-nosed busi­ness brain be­hind the leg­end and the keeper of the flame, some of the creator’s in­ner­most se­crets are com­ing to light.

The first of two new mu­se­ums ded­i­cated to his mem­ory was in­au­gu­rated in Paris late Septem­ber as a raft of new books and doc­u­men­taries— in­clud­ing one on his erotic draw­ings—at­tempt to de­code the mys­ter­ies of the painfully shy man who rev­o­lu­tion­ized women’s fash­ion.

The Paris man­sion where Saint Lau­rent shook up the dress codes for more than three decades has been turned into a mu­seum for his haute cou­ture cre­ations.

A much larger mu­seum, also paid for by the foun­da­tion set up by Berge to safe­guard his part­ner’s legacy, opens next month in Mar­rakesh, the Moroc­can city the cou­ple loved and where Saint Lau­rent would of­ten first sketch out his col­lec­tions.

“Coco Chanel lib­er­ated women, but Yves Saint Lau­rent gave them power,” Berge once said, by ap­pro­pri­at­ing the sym­bols of power from the male wardrobe—din­ner jack­ets, sa­fari suits, and jump­suits—and re­mak­ing them for women.

In­ner sanc­tum

“I had no­ticed men were much more con­fi­dent in their clothes,” Saint Lau­rent once said in a rare in­ter­view. “So I sought through trouser suits, trench coats, tuxe­dos, and pea coats to give women the same con­fi­dence.”

His black tuxedo for women, known as “Le Smok­ing”—of­ten worn over bare flesh—caused a scandal in 1966, with the New York so­cialite Nan Kemp­ner drop­ping her pants when she was told by a Man­hat­tan restau­rant that women in trousers would not be ad­mit­ted.

Saint Lau­rent would later de­sign a jacket as a thigh-skim­ming mini dress just as Kemp­ner, one of his best cus­tomers, had worn it.

The heart of the new Paris mu­seum is Saint Lau­rent’s stu­dio, the in­ner sanc­tum where he would work night and day in the run-up to his shows.

It re­mains just as he left it in 2002, his desk fes­tooned with pho­tos of his in­ner cir­cle of glam­orous fe­male friends, which in­cluded Cather­ine Deneuve, Bianca Jag­ger, and Paloma Pi­casso.

Pride of place, how­ever, goes to a New Year’s card he made from a paint­ing his friend Andy Warhol did of his French bull­dog Mou­jik.

One wall of the room is com­pletely mir­rored, which al­lowed Saint Lau­rent to work di­rectly on his live mod­els so he could see his cre­ation from all an­gles as it pro­gressed.

The mu­seum also gives re­veal­ing in­sight into Saint Lau­rent’s cre­ative process, de­vel­op­ing his clothes from very ba­sic sketches into com­plex de­signs that, in the case of some of his haute cou­ture cre­ations, could take thou­sands of hours to make.

Berge’s en­dur­ing de­vo­tion

“Un­like many other de­sign­ers, Saint Lau­rent be­gan sys­tem­at­i­cally ar­chiv­ing his work in the early 1960s—en­cour­aged by Berge—and so we can fol­low the evo­lu­tion of each item,” said a spokesman for the mu­seum, which holds a trea­sury of 5,000 pro­to­types for his cre­ations.

Other rooms in the mu­seum are given over to Saint Lau­rent’s in­spi­ra­tion and the “imag­i­nary voy­ages” his col­lec­tions of­ten took to Asia, Africa, and, most fa­mously, Rus­sia.

Coco Chanel lib­er­ated women, but Yves Saint Lau­rent gave them power.

But other than his so­journs in Morocco, which re­minded him of his na­tive Al­ge­ria where he was born in 1936 while it was still French, the de­signer was not much of a trav­eller.

With Berge, he built up a con­sid­er­able art col­lec­tion, and he bor­rowed lib­er­ally from artists like Pi­casso, Matisse, and Van Gogh, most fa­mously with his Mon­drian dress, which be­came an in­stant pop icon when it hit the cat­walk in 1965.

Berge al­ways be­lieved that Saint Lau­rent— who had be­gun his ca­reer by step­ping into the shoes of Chris­tian Dior when he was just 21— was noth­ing less than an ex­cep­tional artist, call­ing him “the great­est de­signer of the se­cond half of the 20th cen­tury.”

Hav­ing “spent all my life help­ing Yves Saint Lau­rent build his work, which I want to last,” Berge died ear­lier this month, just weeks be­fore the mu­se­ums opened.

His hus­band, the Amer­i­can land­scape artist Madi­son Cox, whom he mar­ried this sum­mer, told AFP that “10 days be­fore he died, he told me that ‘I am go­ing to die to­tally at peace,’ and I think that was true. He was a very de­ter­mined man and he had put every­thing in place.”

Cox said the mu­se­ums were also a trib­ute to Berge’s work sup­port­ing and pro­tect­ing the frag­ile Saint Lau­rent, who was haunted by drug and drink ad­dic­tions.

“Of course I and the whole team are pro­foundly sad that he will not be here,” added Cox, who now heads the pair’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion. “But he would have wanted that we go on.”

Op­po­site page: sketches and pos­ses­sions of the late de­signer; Top to bot­tom: A chronol­ogy of Yves Saint Lau­rent’s cre­ations on dis­play in his his­tor­i­cal fash­ion house on av­enue Marceau, Paris; Madi­son Cox, hus­band of the late Pierre Berge and vice...

The mu­seum is home to Saint Lau­rent’s most iconic cou­ture pieces; the orig­i­nal lay­out of the de­signer’s ate­lier was kept in­tact and is open to the pub­lic.

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