Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal

Yves Saint Laurent Evening dress inspired by Matisse 
There are countless examples of artists and fashion designers who have looked to each other for inspiration in their work. In the recent Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal, there was an entire room of garments that referenced artwork from artists including Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Mondrian. The gown in the top photo is a beautiful example of how Yves Saint Laurent reinterpreted the artist Matisse's cut-out artworks in garment form.

The exhibit was enchanting. I marveled at the elegance and originality of his designs on the approximately one hundred outfits on display. Most designs were timeless and difficult to attribute to a particular year, especially since YSL revisited his favourite sources of inspiration again and again.

This sketch of a cocoon-like wedding outfit made of hand-knit white wool tricot with silk satin ribbons was one of the most unusual outfits on display. Imagine how avant-gard this outfit would have been in 1965. It made me wonder if Viktor and Rolf were inspired by this outfit in creating their Russian doll collection for autumn/winter 1999-2000.

Yves Saint Laurent Wedding Gown 1999
This daring flora inspired wedding gown made of silk flowers with a pink silk organza train was spectacular! From the 1999 collection, this design was the incarnation of the mythological bride, the goddess Flora or Botticelli's Venus.

I left the exhibtion in awe of Yves Saint Laurent's tremendous talent and originality. He looked to many different sources for inspiration in his work including:
- other cultures (Africa, Spain, China, Morocco, Japan, India, Russia)
- other artists (Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, Shakespeare, Appollinaire)
- other themes (glamour, silouette, masculine/feminine, flora/fauna, geometry, history)

Looking for sources of inspiration is something that I really understand as an artist. It was interesting for me to see how he interpreted and revisited these themes in his work over the course of a career spanning 40 plus years.

This exhibition continues at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until September 28, 2008 and then will travel to the Fine Art Museum of San Francisco (November 1, 2008 to March 1, 2009).

Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective (until September 28, 2008)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380 Sherbrooke Ouest, Monteal
514-285-2000, 1-800-899-MUSE

San Francisco Museum of Fine Art, November 1, 2008 to March 1, 2009

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!

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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Working Wardrobe Staple: The Pantsuit

One of the most significant fashion legacies of the late Yves Saint Laurent was his introduction of the pantsuit for women. "A woman in a pant suit is not masculine at all - a severe and implacable cut only emphasizes her femininity, her seductiveness all the more."

The YSL pantsuit first appeared in the form of a "smoking tuxedo" in the summer haute couture collection of 1966. This alternative to the evening gown became a YSL "signature look and reappeared in each of his subsequent collections.

In January 1968, YSL introduced the safari look pantsuit. He said "I suddenly became aware of the female form. I started to have a dialogue with women and to understand what a modern woman was." His pantsuits revolutionized what was considered acceptable street wear for chic women after the 1968 Paris student uprisings.

And of course, I cannot write about the YSL pantsuits without mentioning the infamous story of socialite Nan Kemper who was turned away from a fashionable Manhattan restaurant because she was wearing a YSL tunic with pants. Instead of leaving, she simply removed the pants and wore the tunic as a very short dress. Talk about elegance under pressure!!

Yves Saint Laurent gave working woman a lasting gift in designing clothes that allowed us to be both powerful and beautiful. Merci Monsieur!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Quotes from the late Yves Saint Laurent

Elegance is a way of moving. It is also knowing how to adapt to all of life's circumstances. Without elegance of the Heart, there is no elegance.

Fashion is a party. To dress is to prepare to play a part.

All creation is just re-creation, a new way of seeing the same things, and expressing them differently, specifying them, privileging one hitherto unnoticed corner, or revealing their outlines.

Women who follow fashion too closely run a great risk. That of losing their profound nature, their style, and their natural elegance.

Fashion pass, style is eternal. Fashion is futile, style is not.

Don't burn your wings at fashion's flame.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: The Death of Yves St. Laurent

Earlier this evening, the legendary fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent died at age 71 after a long illness.

This talented but fragile fashion giant was known for revolutionizing the way women dress. He introduced the Mondrian dress in 1965, the smoking tuxedo in 1966, the safari look in 1968 and the classic trouser suit in 1978. He once said that he felt "fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves."

Yves Saint Laurent was born on August 1, 1936 in Algeria and attended only three months of fashion training at the Chambre Syndicale before being hired on the spot by Christian Dior at age 17. At the tender age of 21, Yves was named head designer of the House of Dior following Dior's untimely death. The trapeze line, YSL's first collection for Dior in 1957, was heralded as a huge success. The next few years were also acclaimed but in 1960, he introduced street wear into couture and YSL was fired. He was then drafted into military service and was left in a fragile state. In 1962, he opened his own house with his partner Pierre Berge. Life Magazine declared his first line under his own label as "the best collection of suits since Chanel". YSL retired at age 65 in 2002. Time after time in his forty-five years as a fashion designer, his collections revolutionized fashion.

"His gift to fashion was that he empowered women after Chanel had freed them."
Pierre Berge, partner to Yves Saint Laurent