Yves Saint Laurent: A French Fashion History
Known as the fashion capital of the world, France has been known to produce some of the best designers we have ever known. Yves Saint Laurent is no exception, but even more, he is known as the foundation for this reputation. Yves Saint Laurent was a fashion designer who started the eponymous multi-billion dollar company. Often called just YSL, Yves Saint Laurent is revered by the fashion world. However, this was not always the case. Mr. Saint Laurent had to start his company from the ground up, and it certainly has a bumpy history. Join us as we dive deep into the history of YSL and new brand developments taking place today. We will explore the timeline of YSL. Talk about revolutionary ideas. And learn some inspiring facts about the brand that has enamored many.
The Beginning of YSL, But Not the Brand
Mr. Saint Laurent did not start his fashion empire with himself but rather for someone else. Born in Algeria, not France, Yves was attending fashion school when someone else caught his eye. Christian Dior, the creator of Maison Dior, thought that Saint Laurent’s fashion designs were quite interesting. At 17, Saint Laurent became his mentee and later became the head of The House of Dior after Dior suddenly passed away. Saint Laurent was creating little black dresses for Dior and running things quite smoothly. In 1958 he met Pierre Bergé, who was attending his first fashion show. The two became romantically involved, and life was good. It seemed that Yves would take over Dior, but luck would soon not be in his favor.
In 1960, due to multiple competing reasons, Yves left Dior. Some say that he suffered a nervous breakdown after induction into the French Army. While others claim that he lost his job after going back to Algeria. Either way, he was quickly replaced, leaving him no place in the fashion world. However, this did not stop him. In 1961, alongside Bergé, Yves Saint Laurent started the YSL brand, and so began its iconic history. Needless to say, it boomed. It was with his brand that his designs not only became popular but also revolutionized women’s fashion.
Unique & Rebellious Wardrobes
It was with YSL that Saint Laurent could explore the gender-neutral designs that he was creating. Blurring those lines was one of the things that Saint Laurent was most famous for. But first, in 1965, Yves debuted the iconic Mondrian dress. The sack dress style was evolving, and the designer saw the simple form as the perfect plane for contemporary artist Mondrian’s color blocks. The dress also showcased a feat of dressmaking as each block of colored jersey perfectly seamed together.
Next, in iconic Yves Saint Laurent brand history, he began to put metallic pants and suits on his runway looks. This championed the unisex look for women, allowing women to dress in a more masculine way. Slicked-back hair and pantsuits were the rage.
For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment and a not a fashionable garment. Fashions fade, style is eternal.Yves Saint Laurent
One of the most iconic and influential of these designs was a suit titled Le Smoking. It was both feminine and masculine because Saint Laurent took pieces of both. It was designed for women, so the tailoring was slightly different to fit a female body. However, this design was revolutionary as was completely new. By reflecting his own gender-neutral fashion, Saint Laurent was able to empower women to dress in a more masculine way if they so choose. First released as part of the Autumn/Winter 1966/67 collection, the look quickly became a classic and appeared in each collection until 2002.
Growing a Brand
Saint Laurent worked tirelessly on both the haute-couture lines and the ready-to-wear lines of his house in the later 1960s and early 1970s. In addition to creating revolutionary suits, the brand also released its first perfume, named “Y” in 1964. By getting into perfume, as well as fashion, the House was growing by the year. In 1971 Yves Saint Laurent went for shocking impact again, posing nude for the ad campaign for his first fragrance for men, Pour Homme.
Perfume was not the only new line. Yves also started to dip into men’s fashion and household items. In 1976, Bergé and Saint Laurent split amicably, and Bergé continued as CEO of the brand’s Haute Couture. While YSL was in numerous different areas, they were still well known for their gender-fluid suits and the accessories that came with them. The company was growing, but things always changed at the House of YSL.
A Change Is A-Comin’
Things were going well, but in 1999 the House of Yves Saint Laurent was sold to Kering, who put another man in charge of the ready-to-wear lines. While this still left Saint Laurent to run the haute-couture gallery, he did not have complete creative control as he had before.
Who was put in charge of the ready-to-wear lines? None other than Tom Ford, who at the time worked for Gucci. Tom Ford had different creative designs, causing tension between the two men. Instead of showing the accessories with a more unisex look, Ford wanted monochromatic and more provocative. Ford’s designs were flashy, and Saint Laurent disapproved greatly. It caused much tension in the House, and Laurent even claimed that the brand was ruined. Even though they disagreed very strongly on creative designs, Ford lifted Yves Saint Laurent into a new tax bracket, creating a profit of millions and shaping the brand’s history.
Saint Laurent retired from the company in the early 2000s, and Ford left YSL only a couple of years later. Ford was replaced by a new head, who continued down the path of more feminine fashion pieces. This changed the vision of YSL from unisex to decidedly more feminine collections. It was in the hands of neither Ford nor Saint Laurent that things started to shift for the company, but not without criticisms.
Death and the Aftermath
Sadly Saint Laurent died of brain cancer in 2008. According to The New York Times, shortly before Saint Laurent’s death, he and Bergé married in a same-sex civil union in France. The following years were not great for the YSL brand. Under the new direction of Hedi Slimane, the previous head of Dior, that brand received disapproval from the public for a collection featuring almost sickly-skinny models in pieces that YSL was not known for. The show received criticism both for the look of the models and how completely un-YSL the looks were. Slimane also removed ‘Yves’ from the beginning of the company name, now renamed “Saint Laurent”.
Nonetheless, this disapproval of the public did not stop sales, as the House of YSL was still growing. What did not continue was Slimane’s contract renewal in the 2010s. It later became a court case that was settled, and a new head was placed in charge. As usual, no matter the gossip, The House of Yves Saint Laurent lives to see another day and another leader in its brand history.
So, where is YSL today? Well, in 2016, Italian fashion designer Anthony Vaccarello took on the role of creative director of the brand. And the brand continues to create luxury fashion looks to love!
Vaccarello’s Fall/Winter 2022/2023 collection is one we think and hope Mr. Saint Laurent would be proud of. While it is not the pantsuits he so loved, it is riddled with accessories and purses. There are many different earrings, as well as draping necklaces and sunglasses galore. In addition to the gorgeous jewelry that is in the new collection, the color black is quite prevalent. Even though the pieces are incredibly feminine and figure-showing, it is lots of black. Black jackets, black dresses, even black accessories.
The new FW 22/23 collection is a great mixture of old and new. While there are colors, and the pieces are more form-fitting and shorter, there are callbacks to the past and the visionary Mr. Saint Laurent himself. It would be both a line and a company that he would be proud of, and the reputation of class has not changed. Watch the full 2022/2023 show below!
Words by Alison Morrison
Feature Image: Yves Saint Laurent devant les planches de collection d’un défilé, studio du 5 avenue Marceau, Paris, 1986. © Droits réservés