• Solange McKenzie

Yves Saint Laurent: Defining 20th Century Fashion


Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, globally known as Yves Saint Laurent was one of the five French based designers chosen for the Battle of Versailles. Designing at a very young age, he submitted sketches to the International Wool Secretariat competition. While Saint Laurent did not win, he networked with Michel de Brunoff who suggested Saint Laurent study fashion at Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. Saint Laurent took this suggestion and attended the school and once he graduated, he submitted to the International Wool Secretariat competition a second time and won. After Saint Laurent's win, de Brunoff saw how Saint Laurents sketches resembled sketches Christian Dior had drawn that morning. Becasue of this de Brunoff recommended Saint Laurent to Dior where Saint Laurent was hired.


YSL Safari Collection, 1968

After Dior's early death, Saint Laurent was chosen to be head designer for the House of Dior. Saint Laurent first collection saved the House of Dior from their financial problems, however following collections was not given the same praise. In fact, they were torn apart by the press. A few years later, Saint Laurent was drafted to join the army, for the Algerian War, where he only lasted 20 days before being admitted to the military hospital. At this same time, he received a letter that he has been fired from Dior. This marked the start of his mental health problems and substance abuse.

YSL Le Smoking, 1983

Once Saint Laurent was released from the hospital in 1960, he started Yves Saint Laurent with the help of his partner, Pierre Birge, and financial help from American millionaire, J. Mack Robinson. After the birth of Yves Saint Laurent, the beatnik fashion trends were popularized. This trend included safari jackets, tight trousers, and most notably the smoking jacket. Saint Laurent was also the first designer to produce a ready-to-wear line. As Saint Laurent became more successful, his mental health and substance abuse got worse as he was often out in the club scene. At this time he also participated in the Battle of Versailles as one of the five chosen French designer. Up until his death, Saint Laurent received many accolades including being the first living designer honored with a solo exhibition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1983 and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy ranked Saint Laurent as Grand officier de la Légion d’honneur in 2007. A year later Saint Laurent died of Brain Cancer in Paris.

-Solange McKenzie

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