Wednesday, January 11, 2017

On couture fashion: YSL and the perfection of style

Yves Saint Laurent / One of the greatest names
in couture fashion history.
The late French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) is regarded as one of the greatest names in couture fashion history. On the day after New Year's Day, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style" at the Seattle Art Museum. It was the climax of our recent holiday visit to the Emerald City.

In this stunning exhibition showcasing highlights from the legendary couture designer's 44-year career, YSL's fashion featured loads of color and alchemy – and some gender-bending styles, too – and I found it to be plenty of enjoyable, escapist fun. It's no wonder that in 1985 the fashion historian Caroline Rennolds Milbank wrote of YSL: "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." Indeed, YSL adapted his style to accommodate changes in fashion.

Love Me Forever /
Multicolored silk velvet
coat with appliqué.
In "Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style," over 100 haute couture and Saint Laurent rive gauche garments and accessories, photographs, drawings, films and other elements drawn from the collection of the Foundation Pierre Bergé were displayed. Those who were able to score a coveted timed-ticket over the holiday weekend, a week before it closed its three-month run, were treated to a journey through YSL's life, his creative process and his brilliant career.

Presented in a chronological fashion that began with the prodigy's Paper Doll Couture House that YSL created as a teenager (and seen in the U.S. for the first time), the colorful retrospective chronicled the designer's first days at Christian Dior in 1955, followed by his radical designs of the 1960s and '70s, and continued with the splendor of the final two decades of his career. Finally, the exhibition concluded with a collection of YSL's spectacular evening gowns that were arranged in an order from darkness to an explosion of color.

Throughout, there were daytime ensembles and dresses and evening ensembles and gowns. YSL dabbled in African art, Mondrian and Pop art, and a coat worn by Catherine Deneuve in Luis Buñuel's 1967 movie Belle de jour was displayed.

Cocktail dresses / Homage to Pop Art from Autumn-Winter 1966
haute couture collection.

Through a variety of photographs, drawings and production documents, exhibition-goers were treated to a rare behind-the-scenes look into YSL's creative process of his couture fashion house as well as his private life.

Individual shapes as wearable art /
This cocktail dress from Autumn-Winter 1965
was an homage to Piet Mondrian.
One of YSL's most popular dresses – and one which I took great time to study and photograph – was constructed from individual shapes sewn together to mimic the simplicity of a painting. This "wearable art" was inspired by the modern artist Piet Mondrian.

As I walked through the exhibition – where taking non-flash photographs were encouraged! – it became evident to me that, to paraphrase the famous Henry Miller quote, YSL developed an interest in a life of fashion as he saw it, as well as in people. He realized the world was so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.

Note: The multifaceted exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the Foundation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris. It was curated by Florence Müller, guest curator for the exhibition, and the Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art, Curator of Fashion at the Denver Art Museum in collaboration with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM's Deputy Director of Art and Curator of European Painting & Sculpture. 

Fashion photos: By Michael Dickens © 2017.

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