There’s no doubt that Yves Saint Laurent is a true fashion legend. Born in 1936, YSL began his career as a teen in Paris. First designing for fashion giant Christian Dior, he soon received widespread acclaim.
In 1961, fate brought YSL the opportunity to go his own way. This was still just the beginning of a life in fashion that was dazzling, beguiling, and even perplexing at times.
Classic YSL pieces symbolize this life in fashion; every one of his garments makes a powerful statement.
Sometimes fashion’s most beloved figure and at other times ostracised, here are YSL’s most notable achievements.
This was the year the House of YSL came into view and completely reawakened the fashion scene.
With several years of experience under his belt at Dior, Yves Saint Laurent had formed strong ideas of how women could or should dress. He was eager to share this vision with a couture collection under his own name.
Indeed, his first collection more than turned heads. As Elle (France) said at the time: “We were expecting a collection by a young man of the future, but we saw a collection by a modern-day master.”
A New Silhouette
YSL’s first couture collection was groundbreaking. It was a fearless collection inspired by menswear that overturned tradition and sought to give women the same power and confidence enjoyed by the suit-wearing male. The idea was to free the female form from the cinched-in, severe silhouette that had previously dominated female fashion.
In its place, a strong but more fluid and gender-neutral silhouette took its place. The most iconic piece and the first one presented was a pea coat. Simple, elegant and powerful. However, it was a garment that had long been associated with windswept sailors, not ladies of Paris.
Despite this, YSL’s pea coat received widespread acclaim. And it set YSL’s signature style, which was often to borrow elements of menswear to empower female wearers.
YSL had made an indelible mark on the fashion world that changed forever.
This was the year that first brought the House of YSL’s most iconic piece: Le Smoking Tuxedo.
At the time of its conception, a tuxedo had only ever been worn by men as a garment to protect clothes from the odors of cigars. The idea of it being a ladies garment had been unthinkable and, therefore, YSL’s Le Smoking Tuxedo attracted much controversy.
All About Le Smoking Tuxedo
The original haute couture piece was a black tailored tuxedo with a satin side stripe. It received mixed reviews; it was the first time any designer had presented pants as ladies’ evening wear, and initially, very few were sold.
It was only when it was presented as a ready-to-wear garment that a younger, more daring crowd flocked to purchase what is now one of the most well-known pieces in fashion history.
It was to become so iconic, YSL continues to present a version of Le Smoking Tuxedo from the year it was conceptualized until 2002 — the last YSL show with the man himself at the helm.
Possibly the most controversial of all fashion shows in history, this was the moment that Yves Saint Laurent dumbfounded the press and truly divided the fashion world.
The feelings of many onlookers can be summed up by these strong words from the International Herald Tribune:
“What a relief, at last, to write about a collection which is frankly, definitively and completely hideous. I’d say it’s suicidal.”
So, what was it about this collection from the respected “little prince of fashion” that upset so many?
The 1972 collection had been inspired by Paloma Picasso and her flea market style. YSL had recently met a young lady, the daughter of Pablo Picasso, and an up and coming designer herself. Saint Laurent had been in awe of her style.
Paloma Picasso’s outfits were primarily put together with pieces from London’s Portobello Market, and were greatly influenced by the style of the 1940s. Her style was a great inspiration to YSL in creating his 1972 collection. It featured chiffon dresses with plunging necklines, ruched waists, velvet, and short fur jackets in electric colors.
However, the strong and highly sensual echoes of the 1940s in this collection were criticized. In its audience sat many who had lived through the Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s. This was not an era that they wanted to be reminded of; they were shocked and incredulous.
YSL had not seen the criticism coming until the last moment. He, himself, had grown up in Algeria, far away from occupied from Paris. However, he remained defensive of his collection: “I don’t care if my pleated or draped dresses evoke the 1940s for cultivated fashion people. What’s important is that young girls who have never known this fashion want to wear them.”
History has proven that this collection was far from suicidal. Instead, that was the moment a new generation took ownership of haute couture. The collection certainly changed the course of fashion.
It is widely accepted to have been the first collection that was strongly influenced by streetwear and how young people were choosing to dress. This continues to be the basis of many of today’s collections across fashion houses.
YSL sadly passed away in 2008, but his legacy still lives on through the House of YSL.
Today, with creative director Anthony Vaccarello in charge, you can still feel YSL’s influence in every piece. The sharp tailoring with a strong hint of sensuality remains, and pieces are still created with the empowerment of women at the very heart.
This season at Saint Laurent, choose from iconic mini dresses, edgy biker jackets and distressed denim, animal prints and classic YSL shoulder bags.
YSL’s influence on the fashion industry continues and it will remain for years to come.