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02 Jun 2008 07:11
Yves Saint Laurent, deemed by many to be the last of the great 20th century French designers and the founder of modern fashion for women, died at his Paris home on June 1 after a long illness, aged 71.
His death was announced by Pierre Bergé, his business partner from when the two launched the famous brand in 1962, through to Saint Laurent’s retirement in 2002 and his almost wholly reclusive later life. “Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom.
Yves Saint Laurent gave them power,” Bergé told France Info radio.
Alongside Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, Saint Laurent was considered a member of the French fashion world’s holy trinity. It was a role he was predicted to fill since he took over as haute couture designer at Dior at the age of 21.
Throughout his time at Dior and much more so under his own label, Saint Laurent coined styles for women that changed the way they dressed in the postwar era and his influence can still be seen today, arguably more so than Chanel’s and Dior’s.
For fellow designer Christian Lacroix, the reason for Saint Laurent’s success was his versatility. “Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga and Dior all did extraordinary things. But they worked within a particular style,” he said. “Yves Saint Laurent is like a combination of all of them. He’s got the form of Chanel with the opulence of Dior and the wit of Schiaparelli.”
Diana Vreeland, the legendary American fashion magazine editor, dubbed him the “Pied Piper of fashion. She said: “Whatever he does, women of all ages, from all over the world, follow.”
Saint Laurent’s nipped-in trouser suits, slinky tuxedos and safari jackets still look perfectly modern decades after their shocking debuts on the runway. In an industry where most clothes are deemed passé after six months, such longevity is as rare as a healthy looking model. Saint Laurent’s influence can still be seen on any high street in any Western country.
His styles epitomised a certain kind of seductive, wealthy, intelligent French woman—Catherine Deneuve, in other words, who frequently sat in the front row at his shows, and it’s a look that is still as desirable today as it was 40 years ago. His shamelessly sexy clothes dovetailed perfectly with feminism’s inception, as did his advent of trousers for a woman’s daily wardrobe, and his frequent references in his collection to art and other aspects of modern culture.
He was one of the first to use black models and he also is credited with beginning to democratise the fashion world by shifting the industry’s attention from the rarefied and frankly extortionate world of haute couture to the relatively more accessible one of prÃªt a porter, with his Rive Gauche line.
But his fame grew in a hedonistic era and Saint Laurent had long-term drug and alcohol problems, and his walk down the runway at the end of his shows was occasionally fragile and fraught.
When he announced his retirement in 2002, he referred to these addictions that blighted his life and, more movingly, the lives of those near him: “Every man needs aesthetic phantoms in order to exist,” he said. “I have known fear and the terrors of solitude. I have known those fair-weather friends we call tranquillisers and drugs. I have known the prison of depression and the confinement of hospital. But one day, I was able to come through all of that, dazzled yet sober.”
The eldest child of a wealthy French industrialist, Saint Laurent was born in Oran, Algeria, and began making clothes for his mother when he was still a small child.
After winning the prestigious first prize in the International Wool Secretariat competition, and instigating a lifelong rivalry with Lagerfeld, who won in a separate category, he was taken under Dior’s wing and then took over from him when the designer died in 1957.
But the Saint Laurent label began to languish in the 80s and 90s and it was then bought and sold by various companies. In 1999 it was bought by the Gucci Group, and the ready to wear line was taken over Tom Ford, seen as the antithesis of Saint Laurent.
The label is now designed by Stefano Pilati, who bases his styles on those of the man who gave the brand its name.
Yves Saint Laurent achieved instant fame in 1958, aged 21, when he showed his first collection for Dior, the Trapeze line. He went on to create five more collections for Dior, culminating in the 1960 Beatnik, which featured turtlenecks and black leather jackets.
After setting up his own couture house in 1962, Saint Laurent began to develop his signature look, including the celebrated tuxedo suit, Le Smoking. “I’m convinced women want to wear trousers, he said.” He also created his classic day shift dress, the Mondrian, left, in the 60s, based on the Dutch artist’s linear paintings.
The designer’s masculine shapes triumphed in the 80s, with collections featuring boxy jackets hand-beaded with Van Gogh sunflowers and inspired by artists as diverse as Jean Cocteau and Henri Matisse. - guardian.co.uk Â
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