As curators Patricia Mears and Emma McClendon began selecting objects for the exhibition, they discovered striking similarities in the two designers’ work from the early years of the 1970s. Their findings are on view in the exhibition: garments by both designers displayed side-by-side, showing how they tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1970s.
In the #YSLhalston book, Mears describes fashion during the 1970s:
“This dichotomous decade – sandwiched between the counter-culture 1960s and the opulent 1980s – witnessed the demise of haute couture’s majestic reign and the simultaneous ascension of designer-led conglomerates.
…For some, it was and remains the twentieth century’s nadir of style and sophistication, when the postmodern, eclectic mélange of vintage clothing (now a stylistic mainstay) first became an integral part of many women’s wardrobes – accompanied by a pastiche of elements that incorporated menswear, ethnic clothing, and historical revivals of the not-so-distant past. Many, however, believe this explosion of diversity made the 1970s a highly creative period. Still others view the decade as an era of elegance, pervaded by a revival of the streamlined styles of the interwar years.”
Pictured together, these two cape ensembles are a perfect example of how Yves Saint Laurent and Halston responded to the decade with similar stylistic ideas, yet stayed within the distinct parameters of their respective design vocabularies. Both capes have a hooded silhouette, a single closure at the neckline, and are constructed of beige wool. Yet the ensembles, viewed side-by-side, markedly reveal both designers’ individual aesthetic.
Yves Saint Laurent’s designs were often based on romantic notions of the “exotic,” which were rooted in history, theatre, and French literary and artistic traditions. Influenced by the work of Paul Poiret and Léon Bakst, he infused his designs with elements of fantasy, crafted with ornate surface ornamentation and sumptuous fabrics. In this example, the tassel closure and velveteen hood, both trimmed with gold braid, evoke Saint Laurent’s notions of fashion fantasy—a visionary “exotic” fueled by his imagination.
A master of soft construction, Halston was both experimental and expansive in his design methods. With a meditative, in-depth approach, he continually refined his design methodology over the course of his career. The result was clothing that allowed the body freedom of movement—a luxe sportswear that was both effortless and masterfully executed. This cape, with its harmonious proportion and clean lines, is an adroit example of Halston’s modernist sensibility.
Stay tuned for more objects from the exhibition, curatorial insights, and behind-the-scenes interviews. Love this post? Share it on social media with the links below. Check out #YSLhalston on social media by visiting our online exhibition.