Friday, June 6, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent and The Leather Jacket

The influence of the late Yves Saint Laurent on what women wear today is mind boggling. In all the tributes to the designer this week, few people mention his introduction of the leather jacket for women in 1960. Although my leather jacket is not YSL, it is one of my favourite items and I wear it almost every day in spring and fall. It is incredibly versatile and goes with everything from jeans to a pencil skirt.

In what turned out to be his last collection for Dior in 1960, Saint Laurent referenced Paris street wear and introduced the first leather jackets for couture with this crocodile version trimmed in mink shown in the photo above. This marriage of couture with street fashion represented a fundamental shift in the fashion world at the time.

But at the time, the drastic departure from the ladylike look at Dior was heavily criticized and Sain Laurent was effectively fired and replaced with Marc Bohan. The stay on Saint Laurent's mandatory military service was canceled and he was forced into military service in September of 1960. After three weeks of service, he entered a military hospital for nervous depression where he stayed for six weeks of treatment. He was given a medical discharge by the end of the year. The experience haunted him for the rest of his life and he suffered recurring bouts of depression.

In retrospect, this break from Dior turned out to be a turning point in Saint Laurent's life (an inspiration for anyone who has suffered a setback). Breaking from Dior turned out to be a silver lining in a drak cloud since it allowed him to open a fashion house under his own name and to freely create his innovative fashions without the shadow of a founder over him.

Yves Saint Laurent used his haute couture label as a labratory for ideas, leaving a legacy of fashion innovation that not only allowed women to embrace their beauty and power but also to use fashion as a form of self-expression.