1: any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences
2: a source of inspiration; especially: a guiding genius
In the companion book to Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s, Emma McClendon discusses the vital presence of YSL’s muses:
Like Halston, Saint Laurent had a close-knit group of female friends, clients, co-workers, and companions, who acted as endless sources of inspiration. Among these women were Nan Kempner, Catherine Deneuve, Clara Saint, Talitha Getty, Lauren Bacall, Mary Russell, and Marina Schiano, but none were more important to Saint Laurent’s style than Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, and Paloma Picasso.
In a way Catroux, Falaise, and Picasso represented three different “types” of woman to Saint Laurent, each with her own unique style…Each, in turn, became one of Saint Laurent’s new archetypes of the fashionable woman. Through Rive Gauche, women around the world could try on these different personalities, experiment with aspects of each look, and adopt them according to mood.
The first of Saint Laurent’s muses to influence his style was Paloma Picasso. The youngest daughter of Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, she was an eclectic dresser and pioneered the idea of incorporating vintage styles into her wardrobe, especially looks from the 1940s. Saint Laurent took inspiration from the emerging trend for “vintage” on the streets of Paris, particularly as Picasso wore it. According to Pierre Bergé, when Picasso and Saint Laurent first met in the spring of 1970, her vintage style gave Saint Laurent an “aesthetic jolt.”1 His spring 1971 “Forties” couture collection, heavily influenced by Picasso’s look, was a new and modern take on historicism that would resonate throughout the fashion world.
Menswear was another of Yves Saint Laurent’s most important contributions to fashion. Many credit Betty Catroux for being the catalyst that helped codify the menswear look he popularized. Saint Laurent and Catroux considered themselves “twins,” each one the physical embodiment of the other as the opposite sex. In the book Yves Saint Laurent (Abrams, 2010), the designer wrote, “…we were both very skinny and very pale [. . .] with an androgynous side.”2 The two would often appear together in similar attire: pantsuits, jumpsuits, and safari ensembles.
Exoticism was yet another key element of the Saint Laurent oeuvre and nobody inspired this part of his work better than Loulou de la Falaise. In 2002, Judith Thurman wrote in the New Yorker that she was “the quintessential Rive Gauche haute bohémienne.”3 Falaise first met Saint Laurent in 1968, and in 1972 she moved from New York to Paris to work for him, designing jewelry, accessories, and clothing. Her free-spirited style and eclectic vision had a lasting impact: she remained at Yves Saint Laurent for nearly forty years. Lauren Hutton recalled, “At first sight of Loulou, you knew she was one of a kind, a rare evolutionary wonder.”4
Saint Laurent once said of Falaise, “Loulou’s true talent, other than her undeniable professional qualities, is her charm. Unique. Moving. She has an extraordinary lightness of touch, along with a faultless critical view of fashion. Intuitive, innate, individual. Her presence at my side is a dream.”6
Yves Saint Laurent was a famously private man. In addition to Loulou, Betty, and Paloma, he kept a close-knit circle of colleagues and friends dubbed his “Private Five” by Vogue. Among them was Marina Schiano. Schiano first worked with Saint Laurent as a model, and quickly rose to become the director of his New York operations. Schiano remained with Saint Laurent, America for 11 years, during which time she collected an astounding assortment of his work. She donated a large holding of these pieces to the museum – many of which can be seen in the exhibition. MFIT senior curator Fred Dennis wrote about Marina Schiano’s gifts to MFIT in the #YSLhalston book:
[An] important and influential donor to the museum…the former model, muse, and close friend of Saint Laurent…became the director of Yves Saint Laurent, America. During the 1980s, Schiano was hired by Vanity Fair magazine, where she became a highly respected stylist. Her numerous donations of Yves Saint Laurent haute couture and Rive Gauche pieces have built up the museum’s YSL holdings into one of the strongest in the collection.
Among the garments donated by Schiano on view in #YSLhalston, include the dress she wore to the launch party for Saint Laurent’s “Opium” perfume in 1978. The lavish celebration was held aboard the Peking, a four-mast ship docked at the South Street Seaport in New York’s east harbor. Guests were invited to revel among thousands of orchids, a giant bronze Buddha, and red Chinese-style lanterns.
Clients also played a crucial role in the development and expansion of Saint Laurent’s style. Among one of his most important clients was actress Lauren Bacall. Bacall was, in fact, a crossover client of Yves Saint Laurent and Halston. Her gifts to MFIT, given between 1968 and 1986, include ensembles from both designers.
Bacall first met YSL in 1968, while filming the television special “Bacall and the Boys” in Paris, and she called their meeting “the start of a valued friendship.”7 Many key Yves Saint Laurent pieces in #YSLhalston were donated by Bacall and others can also be seen in the graduate student exhibition Lauren Bacall: The Look, on view in Gallery FIT until April 4, 2015.
To learn more about Yves Saint Laurent and Halston visit the exhibition Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s on view in MFIT’s Special Exhibitions Gallery through April 18th, 2015.
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1. Pierre Bergé, quoted in Farid Chenoune, “Spring–Summer 1971: Anatomy of a Scandal,” Yves Saint Laurent (New York: Abrams), 2010, p. 200.
2. Yves Saint Laurent, quoted in Farid Chenoune, “Yves Saint Laurent, A Life – ‘Entirely Intensely,’” Yves Saint Laurent. New York: Abrams, 2010, p. 73.
4. Ariel de Ravenel, Loulou de la Falaise. New York: Rizzoli, 2014, p. 12.
5. Ibid, p. 108.
6. “Loulou de la Falaise,” The Telegraph, November 6, 2011.
7. Lauren Bacall, By Myself and Then Some. New York: HarperCollins, 2006, p. 154.