Yves Saint Laurent
The name Yves Saint Laurent is synonymous for style, sex and the seventies. He burst onto the scene in the sixties but it was his trademark flowing shapes and safari suiting that helped to define the iconic decade of the 70's and smoothed the transition from hippie to disco. Yves Saint Laurent, born on the 1st of August 1936, was a child prodigy. When most children would have been struggling to develop stick figure drawings, he was already making intricate 3D paper dolls. In 1954 he attended Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, where he was introduced to Christian Dior, an already internationally prestigious designer, and was brought into his studio to work under him.
The creative affinity which Dior felt for YSL was the reason why, when Dior died in 1957, Yves found himself head of the company, at only 21. He excelled in the role and was celebrated for his straight cut silhouettes and soft fabrics (later known as the Trapeze Dress). As he gained confidence he championed design inspirations such as the 'hobble skirt' and beatnik inspirations. The transitions he implemented when he first took up the post at Christian Dior was now a source of contention from press and customers, and in 1960 he was ousted from Dior. This triggered a mental breakdown and he was given electroshock therapy and psychoactive drugs (the latter of which he struggled with for most of his life).
By the end of 1960 however, Saint Laurent and partner Pierre Berge founded their own company (funded by the sum Dior had to pay over for breach of contract) - the eponymous Yves Saint Laurent. During the sixties Yves Saint Laurent popularised street fashion trends such as the beatnik look and thigh high boots, aswell as the famous classic tuxedo jacket for women, Le Smoking. YSL was one of the first couture houses to 'democratise' fashion and used mainstream influences to merge the contrasting lower and higher end markets. He is credited as being the first designer to fashion-ize the safari jacket for men and women; a look which the brand is synonymous with.
YSL was one of the first mainstream designers to use previous eras as reference points; the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. There were classic shapes which were a strong source of inspiration throughout the seventies; Art Nouveau prints, high shoulders and sculpted velvet wraps were reconstructed into silhouettes which we can now identify with as being typically seventies.
In the early half of the decade designs were inspired by the bohemian style of the hippie movement and YSL adopted several key components into his high end looks; flowing fabrics, maxi lengths and bold colours. His organic approach to high quality fabrics and his instinctive adaptive design process drove the designer to amplify characteristics of the hippie look with his own personal design identity;
He famously applied bold hippie prints to the iconic safari suits he was renowned for and these remained a staple item for women right across the decade.
He was inspired by the a-line flare of the maxi dress to create wide leg trousers - flares - which also remained prominent throughout the seventies.
The plunging neckline of the hippie dresses were stripped of their chiffon sleeves to produce dress which were previously risque and seriously sexy.
He applied one shouldered details into fragile twists, all the while using intricate tailoring and exquisite fabrics.
The shapes which YSL adapted from bohemian style pieces during the early seventies soon began to take the form of a whole new look; disco.
It was the mid-seventies and there was only one place in the world that mattered; Studio 54. Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge were regular attendees with some of the most famous women in this world; Diana Ross, Cher, Jerry Hall, Bianca Jagger (to name just the women!). The new styles of YSL were influenced by this 'scene' and in turn influenced said scene.
Hemlines shot back up to mini/knee length, scarves were draped elegantly around the neck, waists were cinched, jumpsuits were feminine and there was a new found love of shiny/metallic fabrics. Le smoking tuxe saw a resurgence and YSL used his creative interjectory to reconstruct his classic safri suit to include oversized pockets, wide wing laps, flared pants and belted waistlines.
Indeed, like most designers past and present, Yves Saint Laurent injected his trademark characteristics into his collections repeatedly, regardless of the 'look' of that year. Two piece suits, tuxedos, flares and a-line skirts were also constantly reinvented through the golden era of the seventies, and some of that credit has to be given to YSL and his distinctive, always elegant and always democratic style.
Yves Saint Laurent continued to influence fashion until his death in 1998. Although the 80's and 90's weren't good for the brand commercially, Saint Laurent helmed the couture lines while some of the industry's leading names; Alber Elbaz, Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati headed up ready-to-wear over the years. When Hedi Slimane took over as artistic director in 2012 he controversially rebranded the ready-to-wear as Saint Laurent Paris but, as one Parisian buyer put it, it 'Ain't Laurent without Yves'.