Yves Saint Laurent, Denver Art Museum by: Athena Brownson

Athena Brownson

Contemporary Art

April 25, 2012

Exhibition Paper # 2

Yves Saint Laurent


Yves Saint Laurent has been credited as being one of the most influential designers of the century, and after visiting the Denver Art Museum to observe the internationally respected retrospective of his works, it is evident why. Yves Saint Laurent was a French designer born in French Algeria in 1936. Yves Saint Laurent first broke into the fashion industry by working as an assistant for the house of Dior in 1955. After working with Dior for two years, Laurent came to the decision that it was time to begin his own design house, putting out his first Haute Couture collection in 1962.

Upon entering the Denver Art Museum you are immediately encountered by a modern video of a YSL runway show at the top of the stairs. Viewing this projection at the beginning of the show primes visitors for what is to come, allowing them to see what a fashion empire Yves Saint Laurent really created. The museum also offers free headsets at the beginning of the exhibition that allow for viewers to gain a background and understanding of select pieces throughout the show. Having this headset to explain various works really allowed me to interact with the works and understand their purpose on a level that I would never gain on my own.

The YSL show begins with Laurent’s early days in Paris (1955-1957) when he was designing for the house of Dior. These early works show his meticulous skill and love for the female body, even if they were created at such an early stage in the designer’s career. After viewing these dresses we learn from the recording and wall writings that Yves Saint Laurent decided to leave Dior in 1957 to begin his own house of design. By 1970 Laurent had already successful begun his own line and created one of the fashion staples that we continue to obsess over today: The Couture Leather Jacket. Laurent was inspired to create a feminine leather jacket after encountering a gang of French rebels that called themselves “The Black Leather Jackets”. Seeing these so called rebels inspired Laurent to create a fashionable jacket for women using this typically masculine material. The example of this leather jacket creation in DAM was a waist-length leather jacket with a Mink fur trim. These jackets came as a shock to the fashion world and were initially rejected and critiqued, as no other designer was creating such bold designs for women.

Moving forward into the next room visitors are encountered by a replica of the workspace and desk that Yves Saint Laurent worked at in his Parisian Fashion studio. Here we first begin to focus on Laurent’s adoration and love for the female body, learning of his muses such as Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel. In fitting his designs, Laurent always insisted on using a live model, as opposed to a wooden one, to truly visualize the beauty of a women’s body in his creation. To Laurent the body created the dress, as he was quoted saying “the most important part of a dress is the woman wearing it”.

Entering the next large room we enter the late 1960’s where we observe the “Gender Revolution” that YSL created by making the first suits and tuxedos designed for women. The female suit has become an icon of YSL and was reinvented every season by the designer in different forms. Yves Saint Laurent took the traditional men’s suit and made it high fashion for women, while at the same time pushing for women’s place in the world of business. I never realized that the designs of Yves Saint Laurent had such an impact on empowering women by asserting power and authority by way of dress. YSL’s suits declared that women be treated equally in the workplace, and continue to be a sign of strength and authority. Laurent focused on making sure his works showed the beauty of the feminine physique, while at the same time holding a masculine edge that male peers would take more seriously than the traditional skirt.

After Yves Saint Laurent’s invention of the female suit, his career absolutely took off and he was commissioned to create couture gowns for women such as Princess Grace of Monaco, Baroness Guy de Rothschild and the American actress Catherine Deneuve. The room portraying these creations was filled with elaborate floor length gowns created in rich textures and stunning colors. This collection of dresses was clearly created for royalty and shows the true fame that Laurent had so quickly gathered in his career. Following these gowns was also a closet full of dresses that YSL designed specifically for Catherine Deneuve who seemed to be a lifelong muse and friend of the designer.

Entering the next room, the visitor is confronted by what is called YSL’s most scandalous collection from the of summer 1971. This collection consisted of very seductive creations involving see-through fabrics, furs, and extremely high heels. The dress I was most taken by in this collection was in the center of the room and was a floor length gown consisting of a see-through green fabric with a belt of ostridge feathers. This dress would be extremely revealing on a woman, but would serve Laurent’s purpose of showing little but the beautiful feminine physique. His goal was to free the body of constraints created by everyday clothing. Unfortunately his viewers at the time did not understand this and the collection was rejected for being too sexual.

Moving into the next room of the exhibit, visitors encounter one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit including works that are inspired by all different parts of the world. Laurent supposedly hated to travel but loved to look at books and travel magazines of destinations to help him imagine his foreign creations. This part of the exhibit was split into sections by region including Morocco, Spain, China, Russia and Japan. These collections consisted of elaborate colors, textures, fabrics and designs all accurately portraying the region that they represented. I was fascinated at Laurent’s ability to create so many different types of fashion, all of which are so detailed and well executed. Laurent’s knowledge of color, pattern, and texture allowed him to create some of the world’s most infamous designs that will forever be appreciated and studied.

Moving into my favorite and final room, visitors are encountered by an incredible display of YSL women’s black suits and ball gowns. These black tuxedos are arranged on models stacked three levels high, portraying a suit from each season YSL put out. The attention to detail and variation in design of these suites is breathtaking, and leaves female viewers wishing they could be the proud owner to one of these creations. Looking to the opposite side of the room from these suites is a stunning collection of ball gowns created by Laurent over the years, all breathtaking enough to imagine on any red carpet.

Overall the YSL show at the Denver Art Museum is something that I believe everyone should visit. This show was beautifully curated and Denver is lucky to be one of the three cities internationally to exhibit it. Every aspect of this show was perfectly executed and left me with a great respect for the art of clothing design, and the passion that Yves Saint Laurent clearly put into his work.






2 Responses

  1. Hi,
    I went to see this show too, and I agree with you. People should go to see the show, it is not just about fashion. It show the process of an artist who use fabric to complete his art. He uses fabric to tell the audience what he believe and what human should wear to show their personalty. The work is not really the fashion NOW, but I believe every clothes he design has its own purpose, and if you can see it like contemporary art, it can lead you to different world of art.

  2. I liked the way you formatted your essay, talking about the rooms in the same order that they were set up in the exhibit. That being said, it seemed a little choppy. I think that if you had tried to make more connections between the clothes in the different rooms your essay would have had a better flow.

    Also the outside information that you brought in was really interesting and added a lot to your essay.

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