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YVES SAINT LAURENT | Retrospective
BRINGING COUTURE TO THE MASSES
| By Rachel Garcia for Collage Magazine
| July 2, 2012
Couturiers throughout the decades have strived to make their mark in fashion, but it takes an intuitive visionary to revolutionize the industry. Yves Saint Laurent did just that. Creating accessibility to couture with an unconventional, ready-to-wear women’s clothing line and opening the doors for ethnic models on the runway were two of Saint Laurent’s most defining moments in his career.
Born in Algeria, Saint Laurent discovered a love for designing clothes at a young age, often making dresses for his mother and sisters. After moving to Paris as a young adult, he eventually found himself the head designer of the House of Dior crafting cutting edge collections while building a reputation as a designer. Following his wrongful firing from the institution in 1960, Saint Laurent was determined to devote himself to fashion and thus started his own fashion house.
Saint Laurent took the craft of designing couture collections very seriously, but the growing feminist movement of the 1960s fueled the social liberation of women, and his styles quickly followed suit.
In the late 1960s, Saint Laurent fought the tyranny of couture by creating the first ever ready-to-wear line, Rive Gauche. Until this point, within the industry, couture was only attainable by upper class socialites and celebrities. Rive Gauche popularized a masculine inspired trend of trousers, pea coats, berets, blazers and utility outfits. He played with luxurious fabrics and bold colors common in Asian and African cultures. The line accentuated the womanly silhouette with power and elegance. However, this fashion innovation was not intended to make women as equals to men, but rather to serve as a way to fully express their femininity so women might embrace it.
Saint Laurent broke convention by re-imagining the everyday female dress code. He popularized enduring trends like the “beatnik” look, form fitting pants, thigh high boots and safari jackets. In 1966, he re-envisioned the classic tuxedo suit (‘Le Smoking’) for women, bringing silhouettes from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s into the current fashion. He sought to make fashion accessible to all.
These ready-to-wear collections acted as the precursor to the offering of affordable luxury designs to the masses by fashion houses like Versace, Dior and Chanel, to list a few.
Just as the ready-to-wear revolution had begun, Yves Saint Laurent also led the charge of a different battle that was playing out on the runway.
Leading Ethnic Diversity On The Runway |
In the early 1970s, the majority of the fashion industry had a very narrow scope of what beauty was to look like. But beauty had no face to Saint Laurent. Deeply influenced by art and world cultures, he believed that beauty could be found anywhere. He used fashion as a vehicle for change and empowerment and was the first designer to specifically use ethnic black models in his runway shows and editorials. His commitment to cultural diversity is directly responsible for the sustainable careers of supermodels like Iman, Naomi Campbell, Katoucha Niane, Alek Wek, Beverly Johnson, Tyra Banks. Saint Laurent’s conviction ran so deep that he once threatened to pull advertisements from major fashion publications if they refused to use the ethnic models he wanted in his editorials.
In living by his convictions, Saint Laurent was able to make the fashion industry more progressive through his collection of “off the rack” women’s clothing and use of ethnically diverse models.
Today it is commonplace for a designer to be labeled as a “genius” or “revolutionary” but such labels are often an exaggeration.
The genius of Yves Saint Laurent was no exaggeration—it was rightfully earned. Saint Laurent was, and still is, a revolution.
He empowered women through fashion and style. He broke down racial barriers in the professional modeling industry—through his insistent casting of models of ethnic non-white descent—and made fashion relatable to a broader demographic. Characteristic of all great artists, he found beauty in all things. His accomplishments have become the standard by which subsequent couturiers will aspire to and desire to have the social impact of such magnitude that only few will ever achieve.
They are the elements that elevate a designer from one of fashion’s “greats” to a true revolutionary.
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