Yves Saint Laurent, the wunderkind who at the age of 22 took over the House of Dior following Christian Dior’s death in 1957, died at the age of 71 at his apartment in Paris on Sunday, June 1st.
Hailed as one of the most influential designers of the second half of the 20th century, Saint Laurent has had an incalculable influence on the way modern women dress. The French fashion designer once famously remarked “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity — all I hope for in my clothes.” Those words embody YSL’s aesthetic – simple elegance. The painfully shy, thin design-master is credited with saving haute couture in the sixties, as well as with making ready-to-wear a viable alternative when in 1966 Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé started a ready-to-wear line. Considered revolutionary at the time, the ready-to-wear Rive Gauche line was a successful attempt to democratize fashion, bringing YSL’s stunning garments to a larger public than was possible with haute couture.
Helping women look chic in everything from pants and slim men’s-style tuxedo suits (“Le Smoking” suit), to ballerina-style gowns and relaxed day dresses, Saint Laurent’s meticulous tailoring garnered him instant fame after his first collection for Dior, Trapeze, which was considered as ground-breaking as Christian Dior’s New Look had been ten years prior.
Saint Laurent’s first collection under his own name was shown in 1962 and today the YSL brand has grown into a multi-million dollar brand complete with countless licensing deals. In fact, in 1983, at the age of 47, YSL became the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art when a retrospective of his work was held at the Costume Institute and in 2001, he was awarded the rank of Commander of the Légion d’Honneur by French president Jacques Chirac.
The reclusive designer retired in 2002 and his label was bought in 2000 by the Gucci Group. The noted American fashion designer Tom Ford, who at the time also headed Gucci, was put in charge of designing the YSL ready-to-wear collection much to the displeasure of Saint Laurent who didn’t approve of the raciness and overt sexuality of Ford’s designs.
Saint Laurent’s death marks a sad day for the many who admired him. His memory will be kept alive thanks in part to a foundation he himself created with Pierre Bergé — the Pierre-Berge-Saint Laurent Foundation, which traces the history of the house of YSL through 15,000 objects and 5,000 pieces of clothing.