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Yves Saint Laurent, the Man You Didn't Know

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Yves Saint Laurent Revolutionized French Fashion

Yves Saint Laurent was a Tortured Artist

     Pronounced ( eve sant low-rahnt; with the t’s nearly silent ),  Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent’s internationally acclaimed life and career are as aptly characterized by the events at the end of his life, and the words of his life and business partner, Pierre Berge, as they were by the media and fashionista clamor throughout the second half of the twentieth century.  While scant little is made of his youth in Algeria, until migrating to Paris at the age of 17,  he is known to have been born of modest French settlers in Oran, Algeria in 1936. His mother purportedly was a Montessori teacher and his father a business man, some report an insurance sales man. Yet, Marie-Dominique Lelievre’s unauthorized biography of Yves does begin to plumb the depths of possible beginnings of the agony which characterized all of his life, as it has the lives of many tortured artists like Yves. While Yves was able to occasionally have contact with other homosexuals as a youth in Algeria, family suggests that his obvious sexual orientation, combined with his sensitive and artistic nature, made him a target of tortuous taunting and teasing throughout his youth. Yves attempted to suppress his homosexuality, and purportedly struggled with self acceptance during his entire life. 

      However, Paris would put an entirely different spin to his world. As with the majority of great success stories, timing is as much of a factor as talent and hard work. After enrolling in the Parisian Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture School in 1953, Yves won a significant prize for designing a cocktail dress in an industry sponsored competition, beating out others including Karl Lagerfeld. French Vogue editor, Michel de Brunhoff, was sufficiently impressed with Yves work that he recommended Yves to work with Christian Dior, a preeminent French designer of that moment. Fate and timing intervened on Yves’ behalf further, when Dior died in 1957, and Yves, the heir apparent, became design director of Dior at the age of 21. That was initially a successful experience for Yves, and his early collections were widely accepted and acclaimed, although his later collections for Dior were considered disappointing. 

      Meanwhile, Yves met Pierre Berge, whose purported complimentary characteristics and strengths destined him to become Yves’ life partner and life long business manager. Yves reign over the House of Dior ended in 1960, however, when he was summoned to military duty. This experience evidently had calamitous effects upon Yves, which both added to the persecution which he experienced as a youth, and would affect his behavior for the rest of his life. Yves’ physical and emotional condition was wholly unsuited to military action and he ultimately succumbed to emotional and physical collapse, and was hospitalized because of it. Yves reportedly received radical treatment in the hospital, including electroshock therapy and an array of psychoactive drugs. Yves attributed this experience as the genesis of drug addictions which would plague him for the rest of his life. 

      After release from the military and returning to Paris, however, Yves, with Pierre’s help and other financial backing, launched their own couturier business. Thus began the revolutionizing of French fashion, which the effects of would reverberate throughout the fashion world for at least the rest of the twentieth century. Since the accolades and achievements of Yves Saint Laurent fashion have been written and rewritten about, a Google of Yves Saint Laurent will afford one with a library of information on the subject. Online Wikipedia, Infomat Fashion, Biography.com and others reiterate how Saint Laurent revived French couture in the 60‘s. They cite that he was the first to announce the launching of a ready to wear collection; which was destined to become mainstream designer wear. Even though Marlene Dietrich had immortalized the image of a woman wearing a man’s tuxedo, Yves popularized his interpretation of it for women. He also popularized ethnic wear as high fashion with the peasant blouse, the bolero jacket, and ethnic jewelry. Indeed, he was the first to send ethnic models, most notably black ones, down the runway wearing his fashions. He popularized color blocking with the Piet Mondrian paintings inspired collection. And, he revived and reinterpreted the outstanding fashions of the first half of the century. 

      All of this activity and success made Yves and Pierre far more wealthy than they had ever anticipated, particularly the ready to wear line which was a huge international success.  In 1993, Yves and Pierre sold YSL/SCA to a French government controlled group for 650 million dollars. But during this time, and thereafter, Yves was given numerous awards and honors for his designs and achievements within the fashion world, culminating with Nicolas Sarkozy awarding him the Grand officier de la Legion d’honneur in 2007.  But on June 01, 2008, Yves died at home in Paris with brain cancer, at the age of 71. Saint Laurent’s mourning and funeral mirrored the tone of a state occasion, with the French lamenting the passing of an icon, revered internationally.  His coffin was carried through the streets of Paris with a ceremonial guard and celebrities from around the world attended the service.  Later, his ashes were scattered about the beloved Majorelle Garden in Marrakech.  Only then did Pierre speak publicly of the deep depression that Yves struggled with throughout his life and the “torture” which Yves experienced while striving to keep pace with the demands of designing what the world demanded of him.

      Before Yves death, and with their riches, both Yves and Pierre collected art and treasures from around the world, with particular emphasis on the best of the twentieth century. Ultimately, this penchant for collecting would garner as much worldwide attention and acclaim as their fashion did. After Yves death, and a late in life civil ceremony between he and Berge, Christie’s would auction what was considered to be the most extensive single collection of art and antiquities of that caliber in modern history. After three days of continuous auctioning and bidding from around the world, Christi es reported to have set records on prices and lots sell through, with many items doubling their estimates and some quadrupling. The fervor reached it’s pitch with a Chinese government uproar over the offering of two bronze heads which were stolen from the Chinese summer palace at Beijing, when the French and British burned and looted it at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860. Over Chinese official protest, the French government authorized their sale, but when a Chinese collector was the high bidder, he later refused to pay for them. Berge had maintained all along, that he would gladly giver them to the Chinese in exchange for the liberty of Tibet. Thus, Yves Saint Laurent lives on beyond his 71 years, in both his designs which numerous contemporary clothing designers interpret, and for sparking an international controversy between the French and Chinese.




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