The today’s fashion world cannot imagine its existence without the input of a well-known fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. His name is widely known internationally as he was an artist and the best master of tailoring female dresses. His unique style, which often had the features of androgyny, had never crossed the borders of a fancy dress and some wearable clothes. His creations were the embodiment of the French elegance and chic. Yves Saint Laurent is a magnificent person in the sphere of fashion. So this paper will discuss a creative personality of the master and his contributions into fashion; particularly, an emphasis will be put on iconic fashion look Le Smoking.
Yves Saint Laurent was a founder of branding. He was the first one to introduce branding using his initials, i.e. YSL. At the beginning, a female look by YSL was very extravagant, confident, and glossy. One of his muses was Catherine Deneuve who was sophisticated and elegant in her look. According to the designer, she was always flawless and caused only admiration. Among other muses were Paloma Picasso, Loulou de la Falaise, and the model Victoire Doutreleau.
The designer was inspired by many sources. He created unique pieces of art from anything he had seen and touched. Moreover, among his famous fashion collections the most interesting were those where he had united fine art and fashion. The works of Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, and Christian Berard were the inspiration for such collections.
In order to understand the master of tailoring as a personality, it is necessary to study some facts from his biography. Yves Saint Laurent was born in 1936 in Algeria. His parents were the wealthy people, but it was his mother who had introduced the notion of beauty to him. Later he followed his dream; and, in 17, he went to study design. His first recognition came to him when he took the first prize in the International Wool Secretariat competition. The editor of French Vogue was astonished by the similarity of Saint Laurent’s and Dior’s drawings. After such acquaintance, Yves Saint Laurent became Dior’s assistant. It was a great experience as the brand Christian Dior had been very famous worldwide. It had many ateliers. Moreover, Saint Laurent stated that working with Dior was very interesting as he considered Monsieur Dior as a father in the fashion industry.
After the death of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent became his successor at the age of 21. It was a complete success when he introduced his trapeze collection. Mass media and people were raving about his creations. This fabulous period was interrupted by the conscription to the French army. Thus, because of a complete mental and physical breakdown he was discharged from the army. However, his place at Christian Dior’s House was given to Marc Bohan.
Yves Saint Laurent proved to be a strong personality and did not disappear without trace. The meeting with Pierre Berge turned his life around. The latter one was a businessman, so he believed in a gifted designer. In 1962, he opened a salon; and later Saint Laurent’s couture collection was introduced. It was called the best suit collection after Chanel. Since then their life-long partnership in the sphere of fashion had started. Furthermore, the brand was prosperous due to the highly profitable perfumes and cosmetics. Finally, in 1966, he was the first designer who turned from sophisticated ateliers to prêt-a- porter. He opened Rive Gauche, a boutique of ready-to-wear clothes.
Afterwards, the famous designer, who stated he had stage fright, introduced a number of sensations. First of all, in 1968, Saint Laurent created a fantastic full-length chiffon dress with ostrich feathers, which did not hide the model’s bare breasts. Later he himself posed nude for the launch of his aftershave. He wore only spectacles and the photo pictured his beautiful nude body. Furthermore, as the branding YSL was developing, the initials later started to appear not only on clothes, but on accessories as well. Among them were: scarves, belts, and sunglasses.
Figure 1. “Le Smoking” photo by Helmut Newton.
Source: “Le Smoking.”
In addition, Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer who witnessed the retrospective of his works in Metropolitan Museum in New York during his life. The exhibition was a great triumph. Despite the fact that it attracted a large number of visitors, it also traveled worldwide.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the business changed hands. The company was first sold to Elf Sanofi, and later to Gucci. Yves Saint Laurent did not remain at the helm anymore. He was in charge of couture collections as he did not believe in new generations of designers. However, in 2002, he announced his retirement and introduced his final collection in Paris. Many designers and celebrities considered him the founder of Paris couture standard.
Yves Saint Laurent became famous for such clothing like: trenchcoat, safari suit, and, in 1966, Le Smoking. It is an evening female suit, though with present features of masculinity. Observing this set, it becomes obvious that the designer always challenged the conventions of the fashion industry protesting to clichés and norms. Here the understanding of femininity is rather controversial.
This well-known tuxedo was first shown in 1966 as a part of his collection. It was something different from an elegant dress or suit. However, it was not deprived of sexuality and confidence with no ruffles or naked parts. On the contrary, the jacket and trousers were perfectly tailored and emphasized all necessary parts of a female body.
Undoubtedly, it was a great success of the designer and sensation in the fashion industry. Many celebrities wore Le Smoking. Thus, it was a mutual success of Yves Saint Laurent, a photographer, and a model who managed to make the look iconic and astounding. Helmut Newton succeeded to make an excellent photo of the Scandinavian model Viveke, which expressed a complete message of the look. In 1975, the photo appeared in French Vogue. An androgynous strong woman is standing in a Parisian street slightly lit by the lanterns. Her hair is slicked back with no hint of curls or waves; her blouse is with bow, and no naked body is seen. Her look is restrained, yet provoking. She looks very strong and confident with her hand in the pocket of high-waisted trousers. The model holds a cigarette in her hand. The photo was done in a monochrome palette with no bright colors as the main accent had been done on the centre. So, the participation of the photographer and the model is significant as well. Helmut Newton managed to capture the right moment and create an iconic fashionable image.
The cooperation of Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Newton is more than just simply successful. Its results are magnificent. They have challenged the norms and standards of the fashion world. Furthermore, Helmut, as well as Saint Laurent, was provocative in his expression. So that Le Smoking black-and-white photo burst with both commentaries and critics after its production. However, the goal has been achieved as a new look of a stylish woman was introduced. It was so mysterious, but erotically filled. Le Smoking was published not only in Vogue, but in other publications too.
Le Smoking was not simply a tuxedo; it was the first tuxedo for women. It was a classic jacket mainly in the dark palette made of wool or satin and satin trousers. The tuxedo replaced the little black dress. Before, women could choose either the little black dress or evening gowns . Such an alternative like Le Smoking was very attractive, as it was something absolutely new and fresh. It did not distort a female silhouette. Catherine Deneuve was in love with YSL’s three-pieces-suit. She said it was simultaneously virile and feminine. The tuxedo made her feel different and changed her gestures.
Moreover, Yves Saint Laurent developed the ideas of feminism spread in the 60s. Despite such revolutionary ideas in the society, it was still not common to wear trousers in public. Only a few restaurants and hotels allowed this on women inside. So, the suit was a challenge for strong and confident women who could declare their equality with men. It was not only a revolution in fashion, but also shifts of control in the society. Pierre Berge even stated that Chanel had given women freedom, but it was Yves Saint Laurent who had given them power.
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Initially, Niki de Saint-Phalle was the inspiration for the designer. She was an avant-garde artist who wore masculine suits with high heels, i.e. the way Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich did in the 30s. However, Yves Saint Laurent was the first couturier who had made the classic tuxedo a part of formal black, i.e. tie events and public affairs. Celebrities and wealthy women accepted this iconic look and often introduced it in public. Moreover, Le Smoking became so popular that every further collection included some elements of it. Even today the tuxedo is not forgotten. It is reinterpreted in many other fabrics. There have appeared new variations: trousers turned into shorts with a jacket or bolero, a dress or trench coat with leather or velvet elements, overalls or a jacket with a pencil skirt.
To sum up, the contributions of the well-known designer are significant. His ideas and clothes have inspired and challenged the world simultaneously. Le Smoking was a completely new breathing into the consciousness of people. It was revolutionary; and its introduction has changed the perception of a female, in general. Yves Saint Laurent realized the importance of Le Smoking when he created it. It was not simply a garment. It was a part of personality, mode, and atmosphere of that time period. The tuxedo was rather a style, and not fashion. Finally, it was the manifestation of rights and the equality of rights expressed in clothing.