Yves Saint Laurent (nee Henry Malthosier), probably one of the most widely known haute couturiers of the late 20th century, ironically started out as the mere protege of the late Christian Dior. He recently announced to a shocked fashion community his retirement after forty years behind his self-titled design powerhouse.
Yves Saint Laurent was born 1936 in Oran, Algeria, displaying a passion for fashion from the day he picked up a Crayola. After winning first prize in the International Wool Secretariat contest for his asymetrical cocktail dress in 1954, Saint Laurent went immediately to work for Christian Dior. Saint Laurent became Haute Couture designer when Dior died in 1957. He introduced the trapeze dress in his first collection for Dior in 1958, a "high pressure effort" that immediately put Yves on the map. He was replaced by Mark Bohen in 1960, when he fulfilled his military obligations. Afterwards, he opened his own couture house, financed by Pierre Berge (his lifelong lover), in 1962.
The Rive Gauche boutiques for women were established in 1966, and men's wear was added in 1974. His CEO is still Pierre Berge, volatile critic of the Chambre Syndicale. He cites his muse as Catherine Deneuve. Many names and faces have worked for Yves's famous in-house marketing campaign, including Deneueve, Linda Evangelista, Estella Warren, and French icon Laetitia Casta.
Saint Laurent frequently uses ethnic themes in his garments, as well as bright colors contrasted with black. His day clothes have a slightly masculine flavor, and his luxurious evening wear is tinged with fantasy. He is famous for "Le Smoking" tuxedo jacket, see-through blouses, peasant blouses, bolero jackets, pantsuits, and smocks, fashion staples that are taken for granted in the industry today.
Although a shy person, Saint Laurent believes he is the last true couturier. Says Pierre: "Yves is his own personal nervous breakdown... but I love him." Yves's fashion endeavors possess a sort of ethereal timeliness that distinguishes his designs from other ephemeral fashion fads.
In 1996, Yves made fashion history by revealing his collections in ways previously unheard of in the profession. In Summer of 1996, Saint Laurent was the first courturier to show his Haute Couture show live on the Internet. The other move was the decision to stop making big fashion shows for his Pret-a-Porter collection after 30 years of doing so. He now shows his new models only to a few selected journalists on appointment basis, a move criticized even by Yves supporters.
Yves's love life with Pierre has often been turbulent, with their working and personal relationship sometime at odds. The house has had its share of foibles. Pierre Berge was sentenced to a 1 million Francs (about $197000) fine for insider-trading in 1996. In 1992, he sold Yves Saint Laurent shares right before alarming economic figures about the company were published. This saved the company, and thankfully it is flourishing today.
Yves Saint Laurent died on June 1, 2008, at the age of 71.
Honors and Awards
* Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1983), the first living designer so honored with a retrospective exhibit
* Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
* Musee des Arts de la Mode, Louvre, Paris
* Victoria and Albert, London (1995)
* Neiman-Marcus Award (1958)
* Council of Fashion Designers of America (1981)