YSL Exhibit Paper – Dasha Silva

Dasha Silva

ARTH 3539

Exhibition Paper – YSL at the Denver Art Museum


“I have always placed respect for this profession above all else – it is not all together an art, but it requires an artist to exist.” Yves Saint Laurent, born Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was born on August 1st, 1936 in Algeria to parents Charles and Lucienne Andrée Mathieu-Saint-Laurent. From the time Saint Laurent was a young boy, he wanted to be a designer. Living in a villa near the Mediterranean with his parents and two younger sisters Michelle and Brigitte, he liked to create paper dolls with clothes. By his early teenage years he was designing dresses for his mother and sisters. When Yves turned 18, he moved to Paris to design clothes at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. With his designs already becoming popular, the editor of French Vogue, Michel de Brunhoff introduced him to Christian Dior, and his whole world changed.

In 1955 Yves became Dior’s assistant and continued to work under the company even after Dior died in 1957. Originally, he was supposed to take over after Dior’s passing, but he got replaced instead, so he made the bold decision to start his own line. Yves ended up founding a house with his business partner and friend, Pierre Berge in Paris. In 1962 at 26 years old he created his first haute couture collection, which featured pea coats and pants, as well as the popularization of blazers and pant suits for women. Mixing pop culture with high fashion, and being the first designer to use ethnic models in his runway shows, YSL revolutionized fashion for 40 plus years. In 1974, he moved his fashion house from rue Spontinl to a townhouse on avenue Marceau where it stayed until 2002. Located on the second floor was his studio with a large mirrored wall and a simple desk where he ultimately created over 15,000 pieces.

Although Dior’s works were designed to flatter the figure of a woman, YSL took his clothes to the next level by removing the “nipped-in” waists, creating the look that we know today as “baby-doll.” Once his designs took off, he hired a woman named Cassandra to create the ever-popular logo “YSL,” made up of interlacing letters. By making men’s work clothes popular for women in the fashion world, Yves created the women’s tuxedo, or “le smoking” in 1966, the first safari jacket and pant suit in 1967, and the first jumpsuit in 1968. Two hundred of his outfits were chosen to be displayed at the Denver Art Museum, and I am very happy that I had the opportunity to see them all.

YSL started working with sheer fabrics in 1966, and one piece that I particularly loved was a black lace dress that was number 074 in the show. This see-through floor-length gown is held together in two places, at the hip and at the waist, by two light pink bows. This dress is incredibly sexy because it is entirely transparent save for a pattern of black sequins in the shape of flowers, and it is completely open on the left side, except for the bows. In my opinion, I think that YSL was incredibly ahead of his time, and he shows that in this dress by designing it as one-shouldered with a cap sleeve, which is still very popular today. The dress comes together by being paired with very large, long, sparkly hanging earrings and a pair of pointed toe three inch black suede heels. I would absolutely wear this dress if I had the opportunity to.

Saint Laurent created clothes for every type of woman and to express their individual personality. One quote that I love of his is, “The most important part of the dress is the woman wearing it.” I really enjoyed visiting this exhibit, and I am planning on going back to see it again because I loved it so much. My favorite part was that I really enjoyed how the space was set up. The room was divided into a maze of smaller rooms that curved around, making a sort of squiggly line shape, if someone where to view the space from a bird’s eye view. This made the exhibit very exciting because while walking through it, you couldn’t see what was in the next room until you had finished viewing the room that you were currently in. This made me very excited for what was to come next, and since each room had different categories of clothes, it was all very organized. Each room also had different sizes of risers for the mannequins, different colored lights, and even music that was coming from short videos that were playing on the walls. Overall, I really loved how everything was set up, and I can’t wait to go back and see it for a second time.

Another piece that I really loved was a short black velvet dress, number 080. This sweetheart shaped dress had a deep “V” cut and a large caramel colored bow at the waist. I also really liked the way that this dress was displayed, hanging in a make-shift closest, rather than on a mannequin. There was also another short feathered dress that I liked from Saint Laurent’s Africa collection. This dress was about mid-thigh length with spaghetti straps, and full with brown feathers, number 143.

In 1971, Yves created a fragrance for men titled “Pour Homme,” which means “for men” in French. To make the advertisements for his new product, he became his own model by posing nude for the photo shoot. At age 35, this nude ad was only featured in a few French magazines because it was so sensual. However, after the November 1971 issue of Vogue came out, the photo created such a stir that many magazines and newspapers started to offer to publish it for free. Although YSL didn’t do much traveling in his time, he did end up buying multiple houses in Morocco with Pierre Berge. He was so inspired by colors, art, and his own imagination that he created a line of very ethnic clothes for different countries. With the countries Morocco, Russia, Japan, China, Spain, India, and Africa (and set up in this order at the DAM) Yves created a line of colorful and gorgeous outfits to fit with these cultures. Saint Laurent would experience with interesting color combinations based on “harmony, nuance, and compatibility.”

Although I really enjoyed most of the pieces in this exhibit, one dress that I was completely obsessed with was the dress that was shown in all the advertisements for the exhibit, or number 196. This floor-length black velvet strapless gown was the very last outfit that was displayed. The dress was cut in a very sleek-looking pencil shape, with the top half of it a light pink silk with folds in the fabric on the front of the dress. The pink silk wraps around to the back to form a low back with a very large bow at the back hip. This was by far my favorite piece, and evert time I’ve seen a picture of it I’ve wished it was mine.

Over his four decade career, Yves Saint Laurent has truly changed and enhanced fashion. His clothes have withstood the test of time, and he has invented looks that are still popular today. His fashions were definitely ahead of their time, and through this exhibit, can still be enjoyed today. Overall, I absolutely adored this exhibit and I would highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in fashion. I plan to go back and see it again, and I hope to someday be able to learn even more about the amazing YSL and his fascinating life.

4 Responses

  1. Wow. I really wish I had seen this exhibit. Your vivid description gave me such a visual idea of what the rooms were like; it sounds magnificent. I have always seen fashion as one of the best kinds of art there is because it is so relatable to anyone. Everyone will have some reaction to it. The visual descriptions of the dresses you saw also painted a perfect picture in my mind of what they actually looked like. I really appreciated how you gave an informative background on Saint Laurent’s life. Quoting him also made him seem like a person not just a designer brand, which is how I normally think of him. The only thing I wish you did was explain more pieces because I enjoyed your descriptions so much.

  2. I cannot wait till school is out so i can see this exhibit. YSL is such an innovator in the fashion world and such an inspiration on such a spectrum. i really love how detailed you are with your writing and how in depth you are. the vividness of the exhibit sounds mind blowing and YSL is truly an innovator to the fashion and art world. You go so into describing the works to the point where i can actually visualize it in my mind. really beautiful writing dasha!

  3. Your paper continued my wish that I had enought time to head out over there to see this exhibit. Well done on going in depth on both the exhibit and the artist. It was well thought out and writen.

  4. I was vaguely aware of Yves Saint Laurent before reading your review but now that I a know a little bit more I’m intrigued to do more research on him. It’s also interesting the way exhibitions are constantly evolving, especially in terms of what is deemed “exhibitable.”

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