While even the most minimal of fashion is composed of hyperbole at its core, it’s no overstatement to declare the late Yves Saint Laurent a revolutionary.
This morning after the fashion giant's passing, news sources, online and otherwise, are inevitably jammed with obits about his grand life and times. I’ll leave the biographical minutia to those eulogies.
But it’s worth highlighting, particularly in this era of copycat couturiers and amateur celebrity designers, how this genius will also be remembered as a true maverick:
1. Audacious and anarchic, Saint Laurent transformed the silhouette of the modern woman with a daring new dress code that empowered them as women and not as facsimiles of men or ingénues.
2. Even as the first designer to dress women in masculine staples as trousers or tuxedoes, Saint Laurent’s interpretation always remained quintessentially feminine, sexy and elegant.
3. Saint Laurent famously once said "fashion dies, but style remains.” In addition to Le Smoking, as his tuxedo came to be famously known, even as it evolved over time, Saint Laurent’s safari jackets, trim pantsuits, see-through blouses and soft, yet sharply tailored gowns, and ensemble of a leather jacket, turtleneck and high boots—all in black–became instant classics that decades later still look as sophisticated and stylish as ever.
4. The trench coats and safari jackets and pantsuits introduced a casualization in women’s wardrobes which also resonated with the rising feminism of the 1960s and 1970s.
5. He applied couture skills to African beading and other ethnic craftsmanship, and ennobled peasant dressing, ushering in a widely and frequently replicated shift toward boho chic.
6. Saint Laurent was the first to send black models down the runway and feature them in promotional images for the house.
7. He was the first to feature nudes in ads, including the infamous image of himself in 1971 and later the full-frontal pics of men for his M7 scent and women and men passionately interlocked in campaigns for the controversially named Opium parfum. (So much for trying to be the provocateur, Msr. Ford.)
8. Not only could he be considered the Pied Piper of la mode, but of the newly defined jetsetting lifestyle of the 1960s onward, as he lead late nights in Paris and Marrakesh with the likes of socialite-muses Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux, uber couple Bianca and Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev and Paloma Piccaso. The celebrity lifestyle we vicariously consume now was born.
9. Within the decade after he opened the YSL fashion house in 1961 (at age 25) with his then-lover and business partner-until-death Pierre Berge, the pair set the tone for the global fashion industry that continues to this day by entering the Asian market, expanding into hundreds of licenses, opening flagships.
10. Saint Laurent and Berge heralded the modern democratization of high fashion with their luxury ready-to-wear when they opened the Rive Gauche boutique, named for the then-anarchic Left Bank of Paris in 1966.
11. Before Marc Jacobs, before Giorgio Armani, before every designer today, the duo connected the dots between art with fashion–from their fine art collection, to incorporating the palettes and imagery suggestions of the work of artists in the clothes (ie. the iconic Mondrian pattern on dresses), to having the first museum retrospective of a living artist.
12. The designer of the some of the most beautiful clothes ever created best summed up the concept of style when he remarked: “Is elegance not totally forgetting what one is wearing?”
[All YSL images are archival]
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