Yves Saint Laurent

Born: Oran, Algeria, 1936
Died: Paris, France, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent Designer Biography

Copyright © AFP / Jean-Régis Roustan / Roger-Viollet

With an early interest in fashion, Yves Saint Laurent was inspired by Moliere’s Ecole des Femmes, impressed by the costumes and sets.

In 1953 Saint Laurent won first prize in a competition sponsored by the International Wool Secretariat for a black cocktail dress.

Encouraging his aspirations, Saint Laurent travelled to Paris in 1955, enrolling in a professional cutting school for three months.

That same year, Saint Laurent’s drawing’s caught the attention of French Vogue editor, Michel de Brunhoff. Struck by the similarity of Christian Dior’s forthcoming collection, Brunhoff introduced Saint Laurent to Dior, who immediately hired him as an assistant.

In 1957 Christian Dior unexpectedly died of a stroke. His sudden death left Saint Laurent named as head designer of the house of Dior.

Saint Laurent presented his first collection in January 1958. At the time the house of Dior was responsible for nearly 50% of French fashion exports, making Saint Laurent’s success crucial for the French economy. The show featuring the “trapeze” look was deemed triumphant with the Parisians, proclaiming that Yves Saint Laurent had saved France.

Saint Laurent’s second collection for Dior saw drastically lowered hemlines and an emphasis on the décolletage. The following autumn/winter 59 collection saw skirts raised to the knees and belted waists.

In 1960 Saint Laurent was conscripted into the army. After only two months he was discharged due to ill health. Replacing Saint Laurent at Dior was Marc Bohan.

The following year the house of Dior refused to reinstate Saint Laurent as head designer. Saint Laurent sued the label, eventually winning a share of the profits for the period during which he designed.

Announcing plans to open his own couture house, Saint Laurent partnered with Pierre Berge and J Mack Robinson. Saint Laurent presented his first collection in 1962. The press were encouraging; with Life magazine calling his designs “the best suits since Chanel”. In 1963 Diana Vreeland of American Vogue praised his collections, hailing it beautiful and charming. This started Vreeland’s continuous extolment of Yves Saint Laurent.

In 1966 Saint Laurent opened the first Saint Laurent Rive Gauche boutique in Paris. The line successfully reinvented Saint Laurent’s couture style to ready-to-wear.

Throughout the following years Saint Laurent created pivotal trends and styles including the Le Smoking jacket from 1966, which heralded the arrival of androgynous elegance and the safari look in 1968, featuring the shirt dress and safari jacket.

In 1971 Saint Laurent shocked the public with the advertising campaign for the first YSL men’s fragrance. ‘Pour Homme’ featured Saint Laurent himself posing nude.

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In 1982 Saint Laurent celebrated the 20th anniversary of the house of Saint Laurent. Diana Vreeland personally presented him with the International Fashion Award of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The following year the Metropolitan Museum of Art honoured Saint Laurent with a retrospective, “Yves Saint Laurent, Twenty-Five Years of Design”. The exhibition marked Saint Laurent as the first living designer to be honoured by the museum.

In 1985 Saint Laurent was awarded the medal of the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur at the Elysee palace. Saint Laurent was again honoured with another retrospective, put on by the Musee des Arts de la Mode, in 1986.

Saint Laurent sold his fashion house in 1993 to the pharmaceuticals company, Sanofi.

In 1998 the company held a 300-model fashion extravaganza at the final match of the football World Cup. The following year Saint Laurent’s timeless achievements were recognised by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, awarding him a Lifetime Achievement award.

That same year Gucci bought the YSL brand, appointing Tom Ford as designer of ready-to-wear, while keeping Saint Laurent as designer of the Haute Couture collections.

In 2002 Saint Laurent retired, choosing to spend most of his time in Marrakech, Morocco.

Tom Ford left the company in 2004. Succeeding Ford was Stefano Pilati,

In 2007, Saint Laurent was again honoured, being made a Grand Officer de la Legion d’honneur by French President Nicholas Sarkozy. The following year Saint Laurent died of brain cancer, aged 71.

In 2007, Yves Saint Laurent was honored with the rank of Grand officier de la Légion d’honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He and Pierre Bergé also established a foundation in Paris dedicated to preserving the history of the YSL brand, housing an impressive collection of 15,000 objects and 5,000 pieces of clothing.

Yves Saint Laurent passed away on 1 June 2008 due to brain cancer at his residence in Paris. Prior to his death, he and Bergé entered into a same-sex civil union in France. Knowing that Saint Laurent had only a short time left to live, Bergé and the doctor decided not to inform him of his impending death, believing he would not be strong enough to bear the news.

Saint Laurent’s funeral was held at Église Saint-Roch in Paris and was attended by notable figures, including former Empress of Iran Farah Pahlavi, Bernadette Chirac, Catherine Deneuve, and President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni. His ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, Morocco, a place he co-owned with Bergé and often found solace and inspiration.

In February 2009, Christie’s held an auction of the couple’s extensive art collection, with the proceeds intended for a new foundation for AIDS research. The auction set records, including the sale of Matisse’s painting Les coucous, tapis bleu et rose, which broke the previous world record for a Matisse work. The subsequent auction included items from their Normandy villa, showcasing some of the designer’s personal belongings.

Yves Saint Laurent was posthumously rated the top-earning dead celebrity in 2009 by Forbes. His legacy continues to live on in the fashion world and beyond.

Yves Saint Laurent Biography

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Written by Saxony Dudbridge

Saxony Dudbridge was one of the first contributors to the Catwalk Yourself project, Saxony studies International Fashion Marketing and she is responsible for our great History and Designers Biographies sections.

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