Yves Saint Laurent is that most classic and revered of design institutions: a Paris fashion house, but it is built on the work of one of the greatest and yet rebellious couturiers France has ever seen. The Open for Vintage Yves Saint Laurent collection celebrates this unique pioneer with pieces marking the history of his career.
Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born in 1936 in Oran in Algeria and spent a childhood creating paper dolls and designs for his mother and sisters. 1953 his sketches won first place in a competition for young designers and the awards ceremony brought him to Paris and to the attention of Michel de Brunhoff, the then editor-in-chief of French Vogue magazine. Brunhoff encouraged the 17 year old Saint Laurent to apply to study at the Paris based Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. It was after completing this course and again winning the young designers competition again that Brunhoff saw more sketches from the budding designer. In these sketches Brunhoff recognised the talent and, more significantly, a symbiosis with the work of Christian Dior which he had seen that very morning. One introduction later and Saint Laurent entered the House of Dior. Gradually Dior allowed Saint Laurent to design for the couture collections. He said of Dior:
‘I couldn't speak in front of him. He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent at by his side.’
Dior seems to have been equally enamoured with his protégé, naming him as his successor in 1957 before his sudden death. At the age of 21 therefore, Saint Laurent found himself the head of the most revered and respected fashion house in Paris. He did not disappoint with his first collection, the ‘Ligne Trapéze’ a resounding success. However, it was after leaving Dior with a stint in National Service that, with his own label: Yves Saint Laurent YSL, made his true mark.
During his almost 50 year career, Yves Saint Laurent changed not only how women wear clothes, but also, how they buy them. The 1960s was a time when the youth rose and cultures and tastes opposed, blended and created a freedom in style and taste never previously encountered. A young designer, Saint Laurent was not only connected to but was an integral part of youth taste and interests. Unlike the grand couture houses, he was free to draw on his great loves for his designs during the 1960s and 1970s. Most famously, he looked to Pop Art, Op Art, Piet Mondrian, Picasso and non-European cultures such as Africa and China to inspire his collections. Most celebrated and influential were the ‘Mondrian’ dresses from his Winter 1965 which spawned a huge following in the mass market with its block colour and simple shape. It was during the 1960’s that he became the first couture house to create an entire pret-a-porter collection in 1966 which made his clothes accessible to many for the first time. It is often these Rive Gauche collections which are now prized as much as his haute couture work.
Yves Saint Laurent not only understood culture but also how women wanted to look and feel in their clothes. In the 1966 he created the iconic ‘Le Smoking’ trouser suit. It is still revered as a turning point in women’s fashion and was hugely influential on the sleek aesthetic of the 1970s to follow and contrasted perfectly with the femininity of his sheer dresses and blouses of the late 1960s. It also anticipated his infamous ‘Liberation’ collection of 1971 which looked back to the 1940's style of war time collaborators and drew heavily on the structured shapes and shoulder of this decade. Though reviled by critics at the time it is now widely applauded and seen as an anticipation of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s inspired 1970’s style. Through the 1970s, Yves Saint Laurent continued to produce Rive Gauche collections of rich colour, opulent embellishment and ruthless tailoring. His Russian inspired collection of 1976 was admired at the time with capes, short frogged jackets and full peasant skirts. Today, we can see his vision through the Yves Saint Laurent vintage womenswear and accessories pieces in the Open for Vintage Collection. With everything from vintage Rive Gauche dresses and ensembles to vintage YSL bags, vintage YSL sunglasses, vintage YSL belts, you can find your piece from the legacy, small or great.