03.06.2015 - Deniss Zelenkovs


Yves Saint Laurent


Being on the top of all-things-fashion for nearly three decades, he singlehandedly shaped the European fashion industry, redefined the meaning of Parisian luxury, proposed the notion of power dressing and broke the limits of couture culture once and for all.


Yves Saint Laurent was born in 1936 in Oran, Algeria. He spent his adolescence by the Mediterranean, primarily surrounded by women of all ages, including his aunts and two younger sisters Michelle and Brigette, who significantly contributed to the development of ongoing evolution of Yves incipient fashion preferences. Walking through the process of design sketching enabled him to find his own unique sense of style later in life. 

Yves moved to Paris at the age of 18, where he enrolled in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, seeking the guidance of an experienced mentor. Michel De Brunoff, the editor of French Vogue, introduced the star pupil, who was already an International Wool Secretariat’s contest triumphant, to Christian Dior who hired the emerging talent without giving a second thought. Working alongside Dior was extremely challenging, yet fulfilling. "I couldn't speak in front of him,” Yves recalled. “He taught me the basis of my art. Whatever was to happen next, I never forgot the years I spent by his side."

Shortly after the couturier’s death in 1957, Yves succeeded as head designer of the house of Christian Dior, introducing a new era in Haute Couture with hobble skirts and a major Trapeze dress trend. Prior to launching his signature label in 1961, Yves launched six Dior collections in a row, yet five of them were not nearly as successful as the debut.

Saint Laurent was conscripted into the French Army in order to fulfil his military obligations, although the term given was short-lived, considering Yves’s fragile mind and health issues. Upon his arrival, Yves realized that at Dior he had been replaced by Mark Bohen. Saint Laurent was stealthily fired from Dior. It took a while for him to come to terms with his own personal setback. Years of therapy helped him partially recover from nervous breakdown. Laurent sued Dior for breach of contract and ended up winning the case.


Finishing off the rehabilitation process, Saint Laurent luckily retrieved his fashion narrative in 1961. With the financial help of Pierre Berge - Saint Laurent long-time business and life partner - and the massive outpouring of famous clientele support, the newborn brand YSL entered the fashion scene and stole the show right away. The Mondrian haute couture collection for fall winter ‘65 raised Yves Saint Laurent worth to a whole new level of influence. “I am no longer concerned with sensation and innovation, but with the perfection of my style,” Laurent manifested.



Yves Saint Laurent set up a new standard of accessibility by stepping into Prêt-à-Porter spotlight earlier than his French counterparts, staying way ahead of competition. He went on reinventing timeless silhouettes, outfitting cosmopolitan women in cropped boleros, tuxedo-inspired jumpsuits, unisex safari jackets and iconic Le Smoking attired with sheer band collars. The Rive Gauche boutiques for women were established the same year (1966) and menswear department was added the following year, making YSL as a brand more accessible to the average customer. Furthermore Yves explored two opposite artistic frontiers at once, drawing comic strips (Naughty Lulu), creating stage costumes, theatrical props, and decorations for ballets and award-winning movies.

Yves wasn’t striving neither for relevance nor for social acceptance, but rather for the freedom of artistic expression and equality, boldly embracing diversity in a time of a political change by recruiting ethnic minorities as top models, featuring daring images of full-frontal nudities (both male and female) for his fragrance campaigns (“Pour Homme” and “Opium”), which were often unfairly branded as “sexually degrading and offensive”.

The year 1983 signifies Yves Saint Laurent’s infinite legacy. He became the first living fashion designer to be given a solo retrospective exhibition "Yves Saint Laurent 25 years of Design" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, organised by Diana Vreeland herself, former editor-in-chief of American Vogue.

Unarguably, the year 1987 was by no means a disappointing one for Yves Saint Laurent and his business venture. The stock market crash was definitely was a contributing factor to YSL’s cavalcade of future failures. Later on, highly repetitive sequences of YSL collections were snubbed by press. In addition to that, Yves couldn’t keep up with his work pace any longer. At some point, he was even incapable of decent walking, mainly because of an addition to drugs and alcohol that nearly broke him. It was a painful, yet rightful decision to sell his company to the pharmaceutical company Sanofi (1993). The deal paid off generously in the long run, however the lingering crisis of Saint Laurent’s clinical depression proceeded and had apparently never ended.

Saint Laurent participated in his final show and then retired for good in Marrakech, Morocco. He spent his late years in recluse and self-imposed isolation. A fashion historian, an author Caroline Rennolds Milbank describes the genius Yves Saint Laurent: “The most consistently celebrated and influential designer of the past twenty-five years, Yves Saint Laurent can be credited with both spurring the couture’s rise from its sixties ashes and with finally rendering ready-to-wear reputable.”

The house of Yves Saint Laurent in Marrakech that is now a museum and well visited tourist spot.

Short Facts


His monochrome creations can be instantly recognised by several key attributes, such as having a special vintage feel, but at the same time remaining modern, highly versatile and none-the-less practical. Yves Saint Laurent was famous for crafting unified, strong, yet purely feminine silhouettes, with an emphasis on slick tailoring, refined, almost theatrical aesthetics, delicate lace and transparent chiffon, alluring silk, bits of handmade embroidery.


Yves Saint Laurent envisioned himself as an aloof loner, self-stigmatized by his own abnormal behaviour and vastly secluded lifestyle. “I'm so secluded. Very alone. I'm a little too distant, I guess. I like to place myself outside.”


Yves was quoted saying ‘We must never confuse elegance with snobbery’ wise words to remember! 


1954 International Wool Secretariat Award
1958 Neiman Marcus Award

Yves Saint Laurent's final show, pictured here with Catherine Deneuve.


1936 - Early roots

Yves Henri-Donat Matthieu-Saint Laurent is born on 1 August 1936 in Oran, Algeria to Charles and Lucienne Saint Laurent.

1953 – Education

Yves moves to Paris at the age of 18, where he enrolls in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. He is already an International Wool Secretariat’s contest triumphant eagerly pursuing further possibilities of expanding his fashion portfolio. The inventor of the “New Look”, Christian Dior, hires the young talent right away.

1957 - Christian Dior

Yves Saint Laurent succeeds Dior, shortly after the couturier’s death. His first show as creative director is attended by the businessman Pierre Berge. Both of them fall in love and become life partners.

1960 - Lawsuit with Dior

Saint Laurent is conscripted into the Army in order to fulfil his military obligations. During his absence he was stealthily fired from Dior and replaced by Mark Bohen. Laurent sues Dior for breach of contract and ends up winning the case.

1961 - House of YSL

With the financial help of Pierre Berge the brand YSL is born.

1966 - Pioneer of Prêt-a-Porter

Yves Saint Laurent invents Prêt-à-Porter and sets up a new standard of accessibility to average customers. The Rive Gauche boutiques are established the same year. In the year 1966 Yves and Berge also bought a house in Marrakech, Morocco. The exotic colours in the environment reminded him of his sheltered childhood in Algeria. Casa de la Serpiente became Yves Saint Laurent’s safe haven and his source of inspiration and creativity. After his death the extraordinary house became a museum and well visited tourist spot.

1971 - Pushing boundaries

To boost the sales for his first fragrance “YSL Homme” Saint Laurent himself models for the campaign - naked. The famous picture is taken by Jeanloup Sieff.

1983 - Living legend

He is the first living fashion designer to be given a solo retrospective exhibition "Yves Saint Laurent 25 years of Design" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Former editor-in-chief of American Vogue, Diana Vreeland, is the curator.

1998 – World cup

Hardly anyone can forget a 300-model fashion extravaganza at the final match of the World Cup football tournament in the Stade de France, which was a particular highlight of Yves illustrious career.

1987 - Downs

Yves cannot keep up with his work pace any longer. His additive disorder towards drugs and alcohol almost wear him down completely. 

1993 – For sale

Berge and Saint Laurent decide to sell the label to the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. The lingering crisis of Saint Laurent’s clinical depression proceeded.

2002 - Curtain Call

Saint Laurent participated in his final show and then retired for good in Marrakech, Morocco. He spent his senior years in recluse and self-imposed isolation.

A sad end

The genius dies of an incurable brain tumor at the age of 71.




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