Yves Saint Laurent Exhibition Paper: Nicole Avant

For the exhibition I attended the show titled, “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective”. I was very excited to go to this event because this is the only place and time that it is showing in the United States. YSL is one of the greatest names in fashion history and one of the greatest designers of our time. His works while simple still invited scandal with his use of ethnic models in his shows. YSL gave women freedom through giving them fashion and mixing the men’s tuxedo with the seduction of women’s clothing. YSL was born in French Algeria in 1936, this was one of the largest influences for the tribal nature of his works, and one of the reasons that he chose to use ethnic models in his works; he admired their beauty, movement and behaviour. At a time when civil rights movements YSL helped to propel the ideals of black beauty.
When you walked into the Denver Art Museum there was a YSL runway at the top of the stairs. It was a modern show that was shot recently. From there you are immediately taken into the past of YSL when you enter the first section of the exhibit. The DAM gave people the option to wear headphones throughout the exhibit to gain more knowledge than the statements next to the pieces have to offer. I thought that this was a nice touch for those who want to learn more, but it eliminated some of the opportunity of conversing to others about the work.
The first section was titled, Birth of a Revolutionary Career. This was the beginning of YSL’s career in fashion. This part covers the years that YSL worked for house of Dior. The “trapeze” collection that YSL designed in 1958 for Dior saved the enterprise from financial ruin; with this we see that YSL anticipated the freedom movement of the 1960’s. Also in this piece we see one of YSL’s most iconic creations, the women’s leather jacket. YSL desired to take something that was manly and show it in a feminine way. Although it was originally rejected and thought of as crass, it obviously gained popularity and as it is one of the most popular pieces in women’s clothing today. After working for the house of Dior, YSL left to create his own house of design.
In the next room the viewer is confronted with a replica of the workplace that YSL had in Paris. Here we really begin to see his love and appreciation of the female body. Also that he rarely used wooden models and instead chose to real person because to him, “the most important part of a dress is the woman wearing it”. We also see his muses in this room. I thought the fact that he did not use a wooden mannequin was very interesting because he is so concentrated in women in their real form, not a wooden thing that is shaped like a woman. I also think that it is good because he is considering the fact that, unlike a wooden mannequin, women move and breathe and no one likes a dress that is too tight.
As we move through the exhibit the next thing we see is the gender revolution that YSL created. He gave women the power and freedom to express themselves through clothing by combining the flair of the men’s suit with the sensual aspects of women’s clothing. In this room we see the evolution of the woman’s tuxedo or “le smoking”. Through the evolution of the women’s tuxedo YSL wanted to assert the woman in the workplace. I thought this was interesting because until I saw this exhibit I never thought of clothing as something that could change someone’s status in the workplace. By wearing a pantsuit instead of a skirt or dresses women were subtly stating that they wanted to be treated as equal and have the same respect in the office. Personally I thought many of these suits were hideous and something that I would never wear, which I thought was also interesting because it shows the evolution of clothing over time.
I liked the part that showed the women who wore and supported YSL. I think that it is fascinating that throughout such a long period of time so many women have supported him and his work. I also liked to see how many women commissioned him to make clothes for them. This goes to show how his career really took off when he started his own house of design. I also was fascinated by the fact that even though he was famous for his pantsuit, which is work attire, most of these dresses were long floor length gowns that were meant for significant peoples. The fact that all of these rich and famous women commissioned and supported YSL is what propelled him into the realm of a high fashion and desirable designer.
The next section is called, ‘Creating a Furor’ and it is center in the 1971 scandal collection. This collection is reminiscent of the 1940’s during the time of war and occupation for France. Many of the clothing for the women include sheer dresses and flamboyant feathers. The dress in the center of the room with the sash of ostrich feathers caught my attention because it did not seem like something that women would have worn during that time it was highly revealing and would have shown off every aspect of a woman’s body. Looking at this dress and the dresses around the room I would say that this collection was aptly named the scandal collection. While I think that many of these dresses are gorgeous when they were released in the 1970’s the press denounced them as being too scandalous for the public. On the other hand many of YSL’s patrons loved them.
The next section was about YSL’s interest in the exotic. Although he did not travel much, he used the clothing designs from China, India, Morocco, Russia and Japan to make exotic pieces. For these pieces he used things like fur and feathers to show where they originated. I found these designs interesting because he used very exotic styles for India, but then used recognizable styles for Morocco and only added feathers or Morocco prints. I thought that he would use more exotic and bold styles for this section because he went to Morocco so much and called it his place of salvation. I loved this section though; out of the entire show it was by far my favorite, especially the gold piece from the India collection. The fact that YSL could take so many different styles and still execute them so flawlessly only stands to support what a fantastic designer he was. I just adore in his designs that even though at this time the white world was not very accepting of minorities he still used them in his designs and made their cultures something desirable.
The final room of the exhibit was titled ‘The Last Ball’. This room was a sequence of evening dresses from the glory days of haute couture. I really liked this room because while you see haute couture in movies and in pictures I’ve never gotten the chance to see it in person. I loved the color; they are so rich and vibrant. I thought this was interesting because this was the first room that we really got to see the men’s wear that YSL designed. Until this point the show was mainly focused on women. I liked the ‘Le Smoking’ section in which the visitor saw 40 years of YSL’s creations of men’s tuxedos. I was impressed at how many there were. I liked the fact that from the first le smoking, made in 1966, still looked highly fashionable compared to the other 30 plus suits.
All in all I really enjoyed this exhibit. I think that it is something that everyone should go to see especially since Denver is the only U.S city that it is being displayed in. YSL has always been one of those designers to me that I never really knew about, but liked their clothes. After going to this event I have much more respect for him as a designer. I have a new appreciation for the love and passion that YSL put into every aspect of his work. The colors that he used in the ‘Last Ball’ section will be in my mind forever never before have I seen such deep reds and dark blacks. The colors of YSL at the end of the exhibit was amazing, there were at least 100 swaths of fabric that he had used in his work. Seeing them all side by side made me realize how broad of a color base he used and what an amazing and respectable designer he was. I hope that his legacy will continue on with the current works that are being produced in his name.

2 Responses

  1. I enjoyed the way that you went through the works in a visual way, I was very sad to have missed this exhibition, so it was great to be able to follow it in the way you laid the work out.

  2. This exhibit seems brilliant! I really want to see it, especially after reading this review. I really appreciate what YSL did for womens’ fashion and its great more people are discovering him and finding out his impact on society.

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