Fashion History: Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion Series #1: “Fashion fade, style is eternal”

Photo by Aleksandra Rupar on Unsplash

Welcome to the first chapter of the fashion series! In this series we will discuss all things fashion history from luxury brands and/or in general any brands that spark my interest. I hope you’ll join the journey!

I recently stumbled upon this image of Rosé from BLACKPINK on Twitter. If you follow her career closely, you’ll know that she’s one of the ambassadors for YSL. Before I became interested in learning about this brand, I remember seeing their high heels with the YSL logo as the literal heels. Ever since that day, I was curious to learn more about their history and how it evolved into what it is today.

The best way to learn about their history is to start in the way beginning…

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu Saint Laurent was born in Oran, Algeria on August 1, 1936. He was born into a fairly well off family to a father who was a lawyer and two younger sisters. There’s not a lot of information about his mother’s occupation but apparently, she had a great personal style and she was one of the reasons why Saint Laurent got his big break (which we’ll dive into later).

Saint Laurent’s childhood was pretty rough because he was often bullied for being homosexual. However, he had an active imagination as a child where he would imagine his own fashion house. He would also use cut-outs from his mother’s fashion magazine to dress the models in his designs too.

In 1948, Saint Laurent attended the Collège du Sacré-Coeur. While he was in school, he designed his first dress which was a stage costume for paper puppets. In 1949, he created his first few dresses for his mother and his two sisters. At 17 years old, his life took an exciting turn when his mother opened a whole new world to him. Saint Laurent’s mother took him to Paris to meet the editor of French Vogue, Michael De Brunhoff.

Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

At 18 years old, Saint Laurent won the international Woolmark prize. This was an iconic moment for YSL because he beat the legendary Karl Lagerfeld for the best dress design. As evidence shows, Saint Laurent was making a name for himself and he quickly caught people’s attention in the fashion industry.

In 1955, Dior took Saint Laurent as his assistant because he was impressed with his drawings (via Biography). Unfortunately, in 1957 Dior passed away which meant that his spot needed to be filled in. There was no doubt that Saint Laurent was going to be appointed as the head of the house for Dior. His first collection was a great success, however, his designs were a bit too young for an average Dior customer.

Through time, Saint Laurent opened many doors towards women’s fashion and for Dior. In some sense, he kind of challenged the fashion industry with his designs and creativity. While Saint Laurent was designing six collections for Dior, he also pursued his love for theatre by designing stage costumes too.

In 1960, Saint Laurent was enlisted into the Paris Army. However, due to nervous depression, he was exempted from the army. Soon after, he and his partner (Pierre Bergé), decided to venture into their own business and that was when YSL (the brand) came into the picture.

On December 4th, 1961 (some sources say it was 1962), YSL’s doors were opened and ready for the public. For anyone curious, the iconic YSL logo was designed by Cassandre and the enterprise was underwritten by an American entrepreneur named J. Mack Robinson.

In 1964, YSL made a bold move for releasing a perfume called “Y” for women (via LoveToKnow & The New York Times). Unfortunately, the perfume received negative criticism. In 1966, Saint Laurent unveiled “Le Smoking” which is a women’s tuxedo with a ruffled white shirt. This style was shocking to many people because women typically didn’t dress like that at the time. So, it was an iconic moment for Saint Laurent because he became well-known for that style. He was undeniably bold with women’s fashion and he wanted them to feel empowered, elegant, but sexy at the same time.

Photo by Srinivasan Venkataraman on Unsplash

In 2008, Saint Laurent passed away due to brain cancer. After his passing, his partner (Bergé,) raised 300 million dollars for AIDs research by auctioning some of their collections (via Boston Public Library).

Even though Saint Laurent has passed away, his iconic fashion moments will always be remembered. From popularizing women’s trousers and pantsuits to becoming one of the first major designers to feature a black model on the runway in 1978, Saint Laurent has contributed so much to the fashion industry and he brought a new definition to luxury fashion.

Sources: Business of Fashion | Biography | Boston Public Library (BPL) | lovetoknow | Britannica | Cr Fashion Book | The New York Times

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