At age 21, he was made the head of the House of Dior. Five years later, he opened his own fashion house, and by the time of his death in 2008, he had become immortalized as one of the most brilliant fashion designers of the 20th century.
He was Yves Saint Laurent, and his innovative designs are on display now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, in the Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style exhibition.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the Paris-based Fondation Pierre Bergé — Yves Saint Laurent, Northern Trust, the Seattle Art Museum and countless others in the fashion and art world, the VMFA is the only East Coast venue where this comprehensive collection of Saint Laurent’s works will be shown.
Featuring the designer’s own sketches, fabric swatches, accessories and garments, the exhibit captures both the intense work ethic, use of color and range of inspirations that marked Saint Laurent’s career.
Chiefly curated by Florence Müller, the curator of fashion and design at the Denver Art Museum, the dozens of works in the exhibit follow the designer’s career from 1958 (the year after Saint Laurent was first pushed to the forefront of Dior) to 2002, and include pieces from YSL rive gauche, the brand that marked the designer’s revolutionary step into catering to a large-scale public as a couturier.
“What you will discover in this exhibition is a way through the creations of Yves Saint Laurent, but also the connections with his life,” said Müller. “You will see how he was intimately connected with his artwork… with his attitude, he was really the first couturier who was acting like a rock star.”
The designer’s willingness to be radically versatile shows in pieces like the Chicago short daytime ensemble (a look inspired by the “Beat” generation of Paris’s Left Bank) and his garments dedicated to Pop Art (doubtlessly inspired by the designer’s friendship with artist Andy Warhol). There was no avenue of interest that Saint Laurent did not explore, and so Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style provides a visual tasting menu of the designer’s presence in film costuming, gender-bending design, and the cultures of Africa, Greece, Morocco, and Russia.
The exhibition’s display of the designer’s process from pencil-on-paper to physical garment gives audience members a streamlined experience, bringing life to the art of fashion design through the lens of one of its most influential names.
“This remarkable exhibition presents Saint Laurent’s exquisite designs in an immersive environment that allows visitors to see firsthand the development of Saint Laurent’s style, as well as his impact on fashion, film, and popular culture,” said VMFA Director Alex Nyerges.
As a testament to Yves Saint Laurent’s influence on fashion today—besides the reorganizability of his initials— his longtime life and business partner Pierre Bergé said this about Saint Laurent’s body of work on France Info Radio:
“Gabrielle Chanel gave women freedom. Yves Saint Laurent gave them power.”
The exhibit is open to the public starting May 6 and will continue through August 27. For more information, you can click here.