SAINT LAURENT, AT A STROKE
The great Yves rarely drew sketches of men. As the new Saint Laurent museums are inaugurated in Paris and Marrakech, Vogue Hommes reveals a number of unseen fashion designs by the master’s hand.
— It was back in 2000. I was in the Haute Couture house of Yves Saint Laurent. The studio door was open — that famous studio with the trestle tables, Monsieur Dior’s storied cane, the cork mood board, a few bolts of fabric, and Monsieur Saint Laurent in person was sketching, hunched over his table.
So that was where he sketched his designs, in a white lab coat, a cigarette dangling from his lips. It was explained to me that he sketched in spades, far more than he ever showed on the catwalk. This idea that there were a lot of unseen sketches, that never became dresses convinced me that there must be a treasure trove in the archives that didn’t just feature frocks preserved, museum–style, since the label’s creation. In late 2016, after a deal of negotiating, I managed to gain entrance to the armoured vault that contains the Yves Saint Laurent paper archives. There’s a preliminary check with a security guard, if not two, and an impassable door opening onto a corridor, a security door, an airlock, and a second security door ; there are surveillance cameras, and a fire protection system that, if I understood correctly, sucks the air out of the room to snuff out a possible fire. Inside the room is a line–up of metal cupboards that you have to crank open. It’s very cold. So freezing that I instantly got a massive cold — but what a way to come down with a chill… The cupboards contain tens of thousands of sketches — no – one knows how many — because the digitisation process is ongoing. The revue drawings were digitised a few years back, as were the panoramic illustrations of his collections, but not the preparatory sketches. Not yet. Those cupboards contain the entire history of the House of Saint Laurent, from 1962 to 2002, not to mention records of the couturier’s personal history, with the drawings he made as a child, and undated sketches from the years before he joined Dior. Drawings of women by the thousand, women with noble miens, Parisian attitude, wild colours, and the House’s fashion icons : the Mondrian dress, Le Smoking, that green fox fur coat, the babushka crochet wedding dress, the Ballets Russes foulard day dress.
Of course, I asked if there were any sketches of men. There are. There are lascivious drawings, but no one is allowed to see them, Pierre Bergé didn’t destroy them, but they’re off–limits. They say that Yves Saint Laurent would sometimes drape a waistcoat on a (shall we say ) pretty, well – endowed youth and request that the waistcoat be made up for the next collection. The sketch was photocopied with Post–its strategically placed to spare the blushes of the petites mains in the workshops. There are drawings of unclothed men in this colossal archive that you can call up. Drawings for the ballets of choreographer Roland Petit and his wife and muse, Zizi Jeanmaire, between 1961 and 1984. It was Pierre Bergé who introduced Petit to Yves Saint Laurent. Petit was at the first catwalk show in 1962 with Zizi in tow, and her name can be found in the House order books from then until the couture arm closed in 2002. And Yves Saint Laurent really let rip in his revue drawings for the Petit–Jeanmaire duo. In 1970 and 1972, for Zizi Je t’aime and La Revue, he drew athletic dancers in ever more outlandish leotards, with panties printed with devil’s heads, Moroccan pendants strung from the crotch, Dionysian visions and harnesses, thigh boots, chain jockstraps and chainmail tunics, S& M fantasies that heralded Jean Paul Gaultier’s legendary stage outfits for Madonna in the late eighties, and those for Manfred T. Mugler’s musicals after 2010.