Dazzled Yet Sober: Yves Saint Laurent, R.I.P.
Born in Algeria, the shy and quiet son of a lawyer and insurance broker, he would grow up to become right-hand man to Christian Dior, and would take Dior's already-groundbreaking example to new places in the 1950s and 60s with his own designs, which ranged from beatnik chic to playfully postmodernist (one famous 1965 show displayed dresses based on the paintings of Mondrian). He would revolutionize women's fashion in the late 60s and 70s by popularizing pants as an essential day and nightime element in women's wardrobes ("My small job as a couturier,” he once said, “is to make clothes that reflect our times. I’m convinced women want to wear pants”), and also make tuxedos and smoking jackets essential elements of the stylish woman's wardrobe. His style ranged from classically elegant and conservative to avant-garde and "street," with a famous stop in 1976 at "Russian peasant." He would eventually design not only haute couture and women's sportswear but perfumes, menswear, jewelry, and costume designs for ballerinas and movie stars like Catherine Deneuve (in 1967's Belle de Jour):
The Times obit suggests that for all his dazzling success, Saint Laurent's philosophy was strikingly simple in its parts: "He often said that all a woman needed to be fashionable was a pair of pants, a sweater and a raincoat." And yet, like a master chef working only with two or three ingredients, the patterns, combinations, tastes and desires he drew from them made Saint Laurent an essential part of fashion culture for fifty years.
R.I.P., Yves Saint Laurent.
(Top left photo: Reuters; top right photo: Phillipe Wojazer/Reuters)