Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lessons from Yves Saint Laurent

This is the last of my tributes to the legendary Yves Saint Laurent. In all the research I did this week, I am left with a tremendous sense of respect for his revolutionary fashion ideas and business success. There are many lessons to be learned from the career of this talented designer.

1. A degree is not required.
YSL only attended the prestigious Chambre Syndicale school of haute couture for three months before quitting. He emerged as a promising young designer by winning the first prize for a cocktail dress design in a contest sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat. He was only 17 years old when he was hired by Christian Dior.

2. Be innovative.
YSL was one of the first to use couture as a laboratory. Although many of his design innovations endure today, he was not without his share of flops. As I mentioned yesterday, his introduction of street fashion in 1962 and the leather jacket for women, was considered a failure and resulted in his dismissal from the house of Dior. As well, he included knickerbockers in his collections more than once.

During an interview on France-Info radio, his business partner Pierre Berge said "Saint Laurent was a true creator, going beyond the aesthetic to make a social statement. In this sense, he was a libertarian, an anarchist and he threw bombs at the legs of society. That's how he transformed society and that's how he transformed women."

3. Failure can be the path to something bigger and better than you ever imagined.
After YSL was dismissed from Dior and conscripted into military service, he was hospitalized for depression and subjected to such horrors as electroshock therapy. Enduring the public humiliation of being fired and the shame of being in a mental hospital did not mean the end of Saint Laurent's career. Without this break from the house of Dior, it is conceivable that he might never have enjoyed the success that he did.

4. Know your strengths and find a partner whose strengths compliments your weaknesses.
Yves Saint Laurent was a true artiste - creative, sensitive, and fragile. Undoubtedly, it was his partner Pierre Berge who was the mastermind behind the business success of the house. In 1966, the house of YSL opened the first ready-to-wear Rive Gauche boutique by a couture designer on the Paris Left Bank. This move was instrumental in the development of the idealogical shift that fashion was no longer just for the rich.

These lessons are applicable not only to the big business of fashion but to the business of life. In writing this post, I have myself learned about taking risks and living your dream. Merci Monsieur Saint Laurent!