Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Yves Saint Laurent

The curators and and ancillary staff of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts were unique among those who mourned the recent passing of iconic fashion designer,Yves St Laurent. The death of the fashion great has coincided with a grand 40 year retrospective of his work at the museum this week. What had been intended as a celebration of Laurent's storied career must now stand as an eulogy to a seminal figure in the world of 20th century design.
Born in French Algeria in the town of Oran in 1936 into an upper class family he suffered early on from a familiar pattern of abuse from his childhood peers for his unconventional interests. Undeterred and nurtured by his mother, a life long devotee of his work, he would display a precocious talent. His prize winning design of a cocktail dress would bring him to the attention of world renown designer Christian Dior who instantly recognized a rare perspective in the young designer's work and hired him on for his own team. He was quickly to become an important figure Parisian fashion circles. Following the sudden death of Dior in 1959 Laurent's fortunes would not soon after take an unfortunate turn when he was drafted into the army. In an adult reprise of early school days the brutal hazing Laurent suffered would leave him with permanent emotional scars and a life long compensatory battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
Rescued by Pierre Berge who would become at first a romantic interest and business partner later strictly the latter, Laurent would launch his own fashion house in 1962, the YSL house.

For the next 40 years till his retirement in 2002 Laurent would completely alter the Fashion world in a way that it might even be said left other designers since limited to minor variations of the grand movements that he set into motion.

He launched the first ready to wear collection, in effect, infusing a democratic spirit into the world of Haute Couture which had up until then been the exclusive enclave of the high society world. Today the centripetal seeding out of Haute couture design in every day malls follows in the footsteps of Laurent's initial bold venture.

He took an artist's perspective to the world of clothing design, the first to conceive of fashion shows in terms of themes with colors and design ideas from as varied sources as Picasso and the Mondrian minimalists.

Breaking down the staid walls of Haute Couture, what Bridget Bardot had called old lady clothing he would draw influences from youth culture and in the foment of the 60's it was to be the right choice for the times.
He would bring ethnic elements into design previously ignored from his native Algeria and further afield from places like China and Russia

But more than anything else, Laurent has been being recognized for the revolutionary changes he introduced in the design of women's clothing. He had the striking innovation to feminize the lines of the male wardrobe to suit a female silhouette, suit jackets and pants made to challenge the conservative expectations of a female dress code. Women had been wearing pants in Western society since the 20's but in all that time till Laurent came along the idea had been met with resistance in the workplace, only allowed as a recreational indulgence away from the public world. Sensitive to the inequity of this tradition and the changing political climate he proposed that style should mirror these changes once saying "fashion was not only supposed to make women beautiful, but to reassure them, to give them confidence, to allow them to come to terms with themselves."

For all the revolutionary elements in his career he remained true to a classical aesthetic. The essential idea that always drove him was elegance of an invisible kind. For him style was something that did not fade in the way of fashion.His clothes were beautiful, timeless and functional. This was as true for his designs for men and women.

It's partly because of Laurent I've always liked the style of early 60's in that overlap period between 1950's Cold War inhibition and the late 60's bacchanal, the equidistant point of between the polarities of the Apollonian and Dionysian extremes.

There does appear to be a nostalgia for that period. Witness the musical stylings of Welsh newcomer Duffy whose Bridget Bardot looks and soulful timbre set in early 60's retro setting evoke a different time and place.


Amrita said...

Slightly tangential, but I'm struck by how contest-centric the 20th century was. These days if you win a design contest - like say, Project Runway - then you get to make the rounds for 15 minutes and then go away somewhere and do your own thing and maybe it'll all work out (like it did for the first few American Idols) or maybe it won't (everybody from the past three seasons!). But back then, it actually meant something.

And I mean everywhere... Bollywood found a number of its icons through cheesy talent hunts too.

Anyway, ITA on YSL being the major reason why I'm into the 60s. And yay for pants!

Gagan said...

hey Amrita'
My guess. it was all so much uncharted terrain back then and the media cycle was small and slow moving compared to now. There also seems to be so much "thinking about thinking" going on now.Malcom Gladwell has this great article in the New Yorker about a new venture company that consists of brilliant eclectic people sitting around brainstorming novel solutions to everyday problems and seeing if they can patent them. These guys are just churning out patents for amazing ideas. The whole article then becomes a meditation on the real observation that great scientific discoveries just rise out of the times, as evidenced when patent declarations, published results just beat out similar independently arrived at solutions by others who remain anonymous because they were a little behind the 8 ball. Nowadays they find if you industrialize the process you will accelerate the knowledge explosion.

Interesting thing that gladwell noted was that the whole looking for alogrithims did not work for art. Art was unique and irreplaceable and could only have been produced by the artist in question.
Not sure but I kind of think it applies to the American idol and bollywood stuff is crappy and why YSL would have been cool in any era

not sure if the deconstruction is helping the entertainment industy in the same way. That American idol thing seems like a fad

I love the 60's stuff, elegant tapered gear that never looks bad.

The thing I never mentioned about YSl was that he was such a nice man who the models just adored because he really cared about them, looked them in the eye and really wanted to know their response when he asked them how they felt about the clothes he asked them to wear. That showed how is heart was translated for them in the clothes.
yeah pants for all!! :)