For most of us indulging in basse couture, the name Yves Saint Laurent signifies much more than a brand — never mind a man behind the brand; it signifies a rarified world that has a different set of aesthetics. With the death of YSL the man — touted by people in the know as one of the “most influential designers” of the 20th century, that world — this aspirational and increasingly attainable in bits and sprays world remains firmly intact.
Born in the French colony of Algeria, YSL first ‘made his threads’ in the House of Dior directly under the hallowed designer Christian Dior. It was in the Sixties that YSL almost single-handedly gave birth to the look of the Swinging Sixties — high boots, the ‘beatnik’ look (“modernism seamed in crocodile and trimmed in black mink”), the unisexual safari jacket, the bolero jacket and smocks. Everyone from characters in Michelangelo Antonioni’s zeitgeist film Blow-Up to pop stars were imitating — if not wearing — the YSL line. (Although iconic British photographer David Bailey maintains that YSL’s Parisian chic and ‘Carnaby Street clothes’, which typified the ‘Summer of Love’ look, were as different from each other as Rohit Bal wrap-flaps are from Sabyasachi Mukherjee patchwork dresses.) But what shot YSL to couture legend was his creation, ‘Le Smoking’ suit, the iconic tuxedo for women inspired by Marlene Dietrich’s tux’n’trousers look from her 1930 film Morocco. If today, you’re wearing a power suit to office, tip your Blackberry to YSL.
It would also be well worth to remember that YSL was the first living fashion designer to be honoured by the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1983. If there’s one person who made fashion — specifically women’s fashion — synonymous with art, it was Saint Yves.