Today we bring you an excerpt from our Special Exhibitions Gallery on Yves Saint Laurent + exoticism:
Yves Saint Laurent’s use of the ‘exotic’ was deeply rooted in the French artistic and literary tradition of orientalism. Within this tradition, clothing—punctuated by distinctive accessories, prints, and vibrant colors—plays a crucial role in creating an exotic fantasy that is immediately recognizable to a western audience. Saint Laurent turned to “exoticism” during the 1960s in order to challenge the traditional evening gown. By the mid-1970s, he was using the exotic to inform some of his most opulent and fantastical creations, such as his “Ballets Russes” and “Opium” couture collections. … During this period, Rive Gauche was Saint Laurent’s laboratory, a place where he could experiment freely with new themes and ideas.
In the book accompanying the exhibition, curator Emma McClendon discusses ensembles from MFIT’s permanent collection:
This evening ensemble, for example, from the winter collection of 1964, evokes the style of a sherwani coat worn by men in India, with its front button closures, vibrant brocade textile, and overall silhouette. Likewise, Saint Laurent’s early interest in folkloric traditions can be seen in the elaborate patchwork skirt of this couture ensemble from 1969.
This early experimentation in couture resulted in a rich lexicon of exotic-style separates that became part of Saint Laurent’s signature style during the 1970s. His exotic essentials included peasant blouses, tunics, pajama sets, harem pants, and a multitude of ethnically inspired accessories.
McClendon points out fashion historian Florence Müller’s assertion that, “Saint Laurent’s travels were essentially imaginary ones, those preferred by a resolutely stay-at-home man.”1 Yves Saint Laurent’s “exotic” was an imaginary creation, crafted from an assemblage of French literary and artistic allusions. McClendon:
Halston and Saint Laurent arrived at the exotic from very different directions: Halston looked to the dress of non-Western cultures to expand his methods of construction. Saint Laurent, however, viewed the exotic through the thick lens of French culture, and used it to transform the look of his clothes through multifaceted bricolage.
1. Florence Müller, “Exoticism in the Designs of Yves Saint Laurent: A Lesson in Fashion,” Yves Saint Laurent. New York: Abrams, 2010, p. 256.
For more on YSL + Halston and their use of exoticism, be sure to read the essays in the book Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s. Love this post? Share it on social media with the links below, and don’t forget to tweet us with #YSLhalston.