Posts in the Yves Saint Laurent category

Balenciaga evening gownThere are a number of reasons I decided to conclude Paris Refashioned in 1968. One was a consideration of aesthetics: by this time, the hard-edged geometry of earlier designs was giving way to softer, more eclectic styles influenced by the hippie movement. Even more important, however, were changes to the fashion industry itself. Cristóbal Balenciaga, the reigning leader of Paris couture, closed his house in 1968, lamenting that it had become impossible to design true couture.

Although he was clearly frustrated, Balenciaga’s work from the 1960s is exceptional. A dress from The Museum at FIT, created just before Balenciaga’s retirement, provides an example of the canted hemline he refined over the course of the 1960s. When the wearer moved, the dress would swing to create a perfectly conical shape. When she stood still, the fabric fell into soft vertical folds. A video from the same period offers a glimpse of the designer’s stunning work in motion.

Balenciaga evening gown
Gift of Mrs. Ephraim London, Mrs. Rowland Mindlin, and Mrs. Walter Eytan in Memory of Mrs. M. Lincoln Schuster

Many other designers – including Pierre Cardin, André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent, and Emanuel Ungaro, among others – had not abandoned couture, yet they understood that ready-to-wear was the future of fashion. Each of these designers had launched ready-to-wear labels by 1968, and it was largely those offerings that allowed their businesses to thrive. While couture collections continue to fascinate lovers of fashion, the current number of couture clients worldwide is estimated at less than 2,000. High-end ready-to-wear labels – based in Paris and abroad – dominate fashion, and prove that the changes to the industry highlighted in Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 continue to resonate.

Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Yves Saint Laurent’s Vinyl Raincoat

Yves Saint Laurent launched his ready-to-wear line and corresponding boutique, both called Rive Gauche, in 1966. Translating to “Left Bank,” the name Rive Gauche indicated the boutique’s location in relation to the Seine river, a part of Paris with a large student population that was known for its Bohemian sensibility. Rive Gauche centered strictly on mass-produced, ready-to-wear clothing, and as such, one might imagine that its offerings were designed to be affordable. Saint Laurent himself proclaimed that Rive Gauche fashions were designed for young women “from 15 to … still young at heart,” but his prices were in fact better suited to wealthier – and somewhat older – women.

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche raincoat
This raincoat is one of the earliest Rive Gauche designs. It highlights the playful, vibrant aesthetic that characterized many 1960s creations for the label. Made from bright yellow vinyl with crocheted wool sleeves, it cost $90 U.S. dollars in 1966 (the equivalent of $675 in 2017). Saint Laurent intended his Rive Gauche designs to be more fun than luxurious – but, as the journalist Marilyn Bender wryly observed in her 1967 book The Beautiful People, “Like the goose that lays golden eggs, Saint Laurent has pretty expensive notions of fun.” Nevertheless, Rive Gauche was a great success. Saint Laurent’s designs for the label were widely covered by both the French and American fashion press, and he opened a New York boutique in 1968.

Saint Laurent Rive Gauche raincoat
Fall 1966
Gift of Ethel Scull
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
Yves Saint Laurent pea coatThe links between fashion and celebrity culture during the 1960s are most often associated with London, with stars such as the Beatles and Twiggy becoming international sensations. Yet there was a vibrant and influential youth culture in France as well. Film stars including Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve became fashion icons, as did singers such as Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan.

Brigitte Bardot’s impact on fashion was firmly established in 1959, when she married fellow actor Jacques Charrier in a full-skirted, pink gingham gown by Jacques Estérel. While the look of the dress itself was not innovative, the use of humble cotton fabric for a bridal gown flouted tradition. Only one month after her wedding, the New York Times reported, “You can’t buy a yard of checkered gingham in Paris, not even enough for kitchen curtains, since Brigitte picked the fabric for her wedding dress.”

Catherine Deneuve’s 1960s style was defined by her relationship with Yves Saint Laurent. She wore the designer’s clothing on- and off-screen, such as his original “le smoking” suit and a gown from his renowned “Pop Art” collection. She also owned some of Saint Laurent’s more subdued styles, including a navy wool pea coat with brass buttons from 1966. The Museum at FIT’s collection houses an example of this same design.
Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan were associated with a musical genre known as yé-yé, which took its name from English-language songs that included the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” – most famously, the Beatles song “She Loves You.”

Yves Saint Laurent pea coat
Gift of Doris Strakosch

Paris Refashioned Installation View

Similar to the way the term “mod” in England and the United States, yé-yé became used as a term to describe various aspects of French youth culture. Particular clothing styles were identified as yé-yé fashion, including trench coats, striped t-shirts, and flat, Mary Jane-style shoes. Two trench coats included in the Paris Refashioned exhibition – one from Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, the other from André Courrèges’s ready-to-wear line, Couture Future – were selected to represent an aspect of the yé-yé style.

Left: trench coat by Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, circa 1967
Right: trench coat by Couture Future (André Courrèges), circa 1968
Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2017 The Museum at FIT
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

Yves Saint Laurent’s “Mondrian” Collection

Models wearing Saint Laurent-inspired ensembles at the Detroit Auto Show, 1966 Photograph © Car & Driver

Models wearing Saint Laurent-inspired ensembles at the Detroit Auto Show, 1966
Photograph © Car & Driver

Piet Mondrian, Composition C, 1935 Public domain

Piet Mondrian, Composition C, 1935
Public domain

Simple 1960s shift dresses often acted as canvasses for bold adornments, an idea that Yves Saint Laurent took quite literally. His fall 1965 collection became known as his “Mondrian” collection, in spite of the fact that it contained only six dresses that resembled the Dutch painter’s work.

Saint Laurent had previously experimented with color-blocking while he was working for the house of Christian Dior, but he was not the first designer to be inspired by Mondrian: several years earlier, the American milliner Sally Victor had created a series of hats that took their cue from his paintings. Nevertheless, Saint Laurent’s colorful, geometric dresses became some of his most famous – and copied – works. Saint Laurent himself licensed his design to Vogue patterns, and cheap, mass-manufactured imitations of the style proliferated during the 1960s, as evidenced by the fashions worn to promote the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado at the Detroit Auto Show that same year.

"Mondrian" dress

Yves Saint Laurent dress
Fall 1965
Gift of Igor Kamlukin from the Estate of Valentina Schlee
Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 runs through April 15, 2017 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.