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Yves Saint Laurent, 
1960s cocktail dress,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

   
       
 

Yves and the Apple

   
 

Prêt-à-Manger! 

   

 

  

 

Saint Laurent died in 2008 at the age of seventy-two.  But the legend and style live on. Yves Saint Laurent brings to mind images of elegance and exquisitely-tailored clothing.  A dream of moonlit nights spent in cafés smoking cigarettes and drinking ruby-red wine with friends, the elegance always given a raffish edge with a certain bohemian luxe.  Born in Algeria, Saint Laurent moved to Paris in his teens; his star was on the ascendant early - he won a leading fashion competition with a design for a cocktail dress, and, interestingly, he outdid another young designer named Karl Lagerfeld.  He was hired by Christian Dior and later named his successor and head designer at the age of 21 in 1957 after Dior's death, taking Paris by storm with his first collection in the following year. 

At Dior, Saint Laurent's phenomenal versatility meant that he was able to both update his brilliant predecessor as well as bring in entirely new ideas of his own.  Some of his first designs for Dior modernized the so-called New Look, which reproduced the Belle Epoque ideal of long skirts and tiny waists, by making it less formal and more comfortable to wear.  Saint Laurent opened his own fashion house in 1961.  Through the years, at Dior as well as with the YSL label, he created iconic images that live on - flared trapeze dresses, the Mondrian dress, simple jersey shifts, architecturally-constructed cocktail dresses, the pea jacket, the safari dress, the beatnik look, African-inspired dresses (he was also the first to use darker-skinned women as models), the wardrobe for Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour.  Also the famous tuxedo-inspired Le Smoking pantsuit for women which hasn't aged quite as well as some of the images that live on in new interpretations every season - the safari dress which has become a staple of the modern woman's wardrobe, and today's delightful luxe boho-chic look which owes more than a little to Yves Saint Laurent. 

Saint Laurent's most revolutionary contribution to fashion may well have been the very idea of pret-à-porter - he introduced his Rive Gauche stores in 1966.  He realized that the decline of couture, today worn by a few thousand women at most, was inevitable, and saw that more accessible ready-to-wear lines were the wave of the future! 

 

Read: Yves Saint Laurent Style  

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