Born in Oran, Algeria, Yves Saint Laurent became one of fashion’s foremost designers through the delicate work of his eponymous label and other high-profile stints at major luxury houses. At the age of 17, Saint Laurent moved to Paris, France to attend the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture where his designs would garner major attention. It was also during this time that the young designer would be introduced to couturier Christian Dior and would begin to work for the prestigious French house.
In 1957, Saint Laurent was named as the creative director of the House of Dior after Christian Dior passed away at 52. The designer would have a memorable tenure at Dior, filled with new silhouettes and memorable moments, ultimately leaving the house in 1960 after being drafted to serve in the military.
After dealing with the struggles of serving in the military, Saint Laurent opened his eponymous label in 1960 with the help of his partner and financier Pierre Bergé. There, YSL would introduce several trends and silhouettes that still resonate within fashion today—safari jackets, suits for women, thigh-high boots. The designer was the first couturier to debut a ready-to-wear line, a significant move given the decade’s distinct focus on haute couture. Always a visionary, the designer was one of the first to highlight Black models on the runway, working with muses like Iman and Mouina.
After decades of sartorial brilliance, the designer left his label in 2002 and lived between France and Morroco until his passing in 2008. Under the direction of Anthony Vaccarello, the designer’s label lives on today through sleek separates and a paired-back vision of fashion.
Marked by a flowing silhouette and freed waist, the Trapeze Dress was a mainstay during YSL’s tenure at Christian Dior and throughout his illustrious career. The designer reworked Dior’s “New Look” silhouette into a garment that maintained a similar style but was less restrictive to wear. Thanks to the style’s casual yet elegant feel, the dress catapulted YSL into the international spotlight.
Inspired by his Algerian origins and utilizing a distinct ready-to-wear approach, Saint Laurent introduced the safari jacket into the sphere of high fashion. The utilitarian style featured oversized military notions and large patch pockets. The designer would often show the jacket during haute couture collections, a stark departure from the elaborate gowns and creations shown during this period. As one of YSL’s signature styles, the jacket is still reinterpreted by the brand’s current creative director in several innovative silhouettes and cuts.
With an industry-wide shift to sack silhouettes, YSL looked to Dutch painter Piet Mondrian for his Fall/Winter 1965 collection. Specifically, the designer referenced Mondrian’s 1929 painting “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow.” The cubic elements of the painting were well suited for the structured shape of the mini dress and became one of YSL’s most instantly recognizable designs. The dress also highlighted Saint Laurent’s knack for bridging the worlds of culture, art, and high fashion in a sartorial melange like no other.
Working with a distinct sense of androgyny and purpose, Saint Laurent developed the Le Smoking suit for his Fall/Winter 1966 collection. The structured suit was meant to be worn in a smoking room to protect clothing from the smell of cigarettes—a style originally reserved for men. The suit maintained the distinct codes of men’s silhouettes while also adapting to the shape of the female body. Although the look was initially bashed by couture clients and the fashion press, it remains undoubtedly chic and refined to the modern lens.
With the rise of youth-driven fashion, YSL looked to the Beatnik movement as a major source of inspiration for both his Fall/Winter 1960 collection at Christian Dior and also for his eponymous label. Inspired by a counter-culture mindset, YSL referenced the silhouettes and textures that embodied a sense of defiance—crocodile leather, motorcycle jackets, and thigh-high boots. Although these collections were not widely well-received by onlookers, they ultimately laid the groundwork for the cutting-edge aesthetic of the label that remains today.
From L’Officiel USA