Yves Saint Laurent: a tribute to a fashion icon

Posted on April 15 2021

When Yves Saint Laurent founded his eponymous fashion house in 1961, he revolutionised women’s clothing. Laurent was inspired by the structure of menswear of the time and his creations were powerful and gender-fluid in a way that had never been seen in fashion. 

 

Algerian-born Saint Laurent was introduced to Christian Dior in the early 1950s, and he rose from his role as Dior’s design assistant to creative director when Dior died suddenly in 1957.

 

A few years later, with his ideas on modern women’s fashion firmly cemented, Saint Laurent released his first couture collection. Five years later, his ready-to-wear line, Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, joined the ranks. 

 

He made an immediate impact in the industry with his gender-blurring approach to fashion and his celebration of female strength. He was at the forefront of the women’s power suit and other traditionally men’s items and women loved it. 

 

The most iconic piece of YSL’s history is undoubtedly Le Smoking, the sharp black tuxedo in his Autumn-Winter 1966 collection. It was clearly inspired by the men’s garment, but designed specifically for the female form.

 

Yves Saint Laurent iconic moments
Catherine Deneuve in Le Smoking. Image courtesy of Alain Nogues/ Getty Images.

 

“For a woman, the tuxedo is an indispensable garment in which she will always feel in style, for it is a stylish garment and not a fashionable garment,” Saint Laurent said about the design. “Fashions fade, style is eternal.”

 

Initially, the tuxedo was too challenging for YSL’s haute couture clients, but the Saint Laurent Rive Gauche version, aimed at younger, more trendy clients, was an immediate hit with celebrities including Bianca Jagger, Catherine Deneuve and Nan Kempner. 

 

YSL Iconic moments
Credit: Photo courtesy of Helmut Newton

 

It was immortalised by photographer Helmut Newton, whose image of the tux has remained iconic. From 1966 to 2002, Saint Laurent included the tuxedo in every collection, making it the most important silhouette for the fashion house.

 

In 1998, Saint Laurent passed the ready-to-wear line to designer Alber Elbaz so he could focus all his attention on the couture line. Elbaz lasted three seasons at the label, before he was replaced by Tom Ford.

 

Ford sent the label in a new direction again, monochromatic and sleek, without the carefully designed accessories that Saint Laurent had emphasised. It’s rumoured that there was tension between the two creatives.

 

Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent AW 2002
Credit: Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurent AW 2002. Image courtesy of Yves Saint Laurent. 

 

After 40 years of designing, Saint Laurent retired in 2002. His final show celebrated his four decades of work and signified the official closure of the couture side of the maison, leaving only ready-to-wear under the moniker Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche.

 

Saint Laurents last show
Credit: Saint Laurent’s final show. Image courtesy of Jean-Pierre Muller/ AFP via Getty Images

 

When Ford left Yves Saint Laurent in 2004 – after creating 16 collections a year for the label – to launch his own eponymous label, he was replaced as creative director by Miu Miu designer Stefano Pilati. Pilati’s first collection went in another direction again, a more feminine silhouette than the brand usually created. 

 

Pilati was replaced in 2012 by French designer Hedi Slimane, who completely overhauled the fashion house. He stripped back the name to Saint Laurent and gave the label the distinctive look we know and love today.

 

In 2015, Slimane announced he would relaunch the couture line, but less than a year later, the fashion world was shocked when it was announced that his contract would not be renewed. He was let go from Saint Laurent in a messy legal process. His replacement, Belgian designer Anthony Vaccarello, is still at Saint Laurent today, and creating stunning ranges that perfectly encapsulate the genesis of the brand. 

 

Bianca and Mick Jagger on their wedding day
Credit: Bianca and Mick Jagger on their wedding day. Image courtesy Getty Images.

 

It’s no surprise that celebrities the world over love Saint Laurent’s timeless silhouettes. Bianca Jagger famously wore an Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo when she married her Rolling Stone husband Mick, and iconic model Kate Moss is still often seen out and about in the sleek silhouette.

 

Kate Moss in YSL
Credit: Kate Moss in Le Smoking. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

 

During Slimane’s tenure, he boosted the brand’s appeal to it-girls, with rock-inspired jackets, glitzy party dresses in powerful shapes.

 

Nicki Minaj in Saint Laurent
Credit: Nicki Minaj in Saint Laurent. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

 

Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Ellen Paige, Hailee Steinfeld, Emma Roberts, Nicola Peltz, Dakota Johnson, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne, and Elle and Dakota Fanning are just some of the hot young stars who love to wear Saint Laurent on the red carpet today. 

 

Cara Delevingne in Saint Laurent
Credit: Cara Delevingne in Saint Laurent. Image courtesy of Getty Images. 

 

To join the list of Saint Laurent-loving fashionistas, shop at Estro, the Sydney home of designer shopping at outlet prices.

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