Fashion

YVES SAINT LAURENT

A tribute to the great French designer

YVES SAINT LAURENT
A tribute to the great French designer

Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent
MEMORIES OF A MASTER I was sitting in the departures lounge of Toronto’s Pearson airport waiting for a flight to Paris when my Blackberry started buzzing. News flashes from my various daily websites declared that Yves Saint Laurent was dead at 71. Then the calls came from outlets like Canada AM and City TV—would I comment on the designer’s death?

Yves Saint Laurent
Flanked by model Laetitia Casta (left) and long time friend French actress Catherine Deneuve at the end of the end of his retrospective haute couture show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris in January 2002

How can one sum up a master’s life in a few short sentences? As I woke from a troubled sleep on board, I recalled the last collection I saw of his—the last one he showed before retiring in 2002. It was classic YSL— a jewel toned collection of blowsy silks with full pants and big bowed blouses. Similar to what I might have seen on last season’s runway except that Yves would have shown his vintage look on glorious models from around the world.

Yves Saint Laurent with model Claudia Schiffer
With model Claudia Schiffer after presenting his Fall/Winter 1997 collection

He was known for his love of exotic beauties—Asian, African, classic Parisian. He would have avoided today’s super thin Eastern European models—they just aren’t womanly enough to project his brand of French sensuality. And that’s what Yves was known for—womanly designs that were grown up, glamourous and sexy. Highlights over the years that are still widely copied today include his safari look, le smoking tux and his wildly successful Ballets Russe collection. He loved to explore other culture’s fashion and always gave them his signature Parisian stamp.

I found his last show to be almost quaint. His parade of chicly dressed Amazon beauties seemed sadly out of step with the deconstructionism and post atomic avant garde looks that a new group of maverick Japanese designers were showing. It was time for the master to bow out gracefully.

NEXT

Yves Saint Laurent Fall/Winter 2008
Yves Saint Laurent Fall/Winter 2008

Since Yves retired, his label has continued with mixed success under other designers. Alber Elbaz (now celebrated at Lanvin) was given a brief shot before being unceremoniously dumped by Tom Ford who had just revived Gucci. Ford added YSL to his design roster. Yves disliked Tom Ford for the audacity and flash Ford gave to the tired collection. While it was a commercial success, fashion critics often savaged Ford’s version. In recent years, Stefano Pilati has had more success. His first collections of tulip skirts with wide belted waists were mocked but surprisingly quickly copied. Today his Muse bags and Tribute pumps (worn by every fashionable celebrity) have updated and energized the old look. His coming fall collection features a severe femme fatale look with all of the models sporting dark banged custom fitted bobs and purplish lipstick. The reaction: one of respect. Pilati has advanced the YSL aesthetic for the 21st century.

If you want to learn more about Yves Saint Laurent’s spectacular career, check out the retrospective currently held in Montreal at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts until September 28, 2008. For a fascinating read about his fragile health and career path, pick up The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake that explores his battles with drugs and mental illness. It’s a great read about his life and contemporary Karl Lagerfeld.

Lisa Tant
Lisa Tant

Runway photography by Anthea Simms

MAIN