Yves Saint Laurent’s childhood paper dolls. (All Photos: Hamish Bowles)
Not wishing to let grass grow under my feet after the odyssey of the Spring collections, I took a flight from Paris to Seattle for three celebratory days related to the opening of the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition “Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style,” co-curated by Florence Müller (on view through January 8, 2017; the show will subsequently be presented at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond May 6 to August 27). It includes extraordinary ephemera—some of it very recently rediscovered—from Saint Laurent’s teenage years in Oran, Algeria, including examples of the fully accessorized paper dolls that he created to delight his sisters and friends. Some of these were the genesis for designs that the designer would later realize as the dauphin to Christian Dior himself, and ultimately the creative director of the house of Dior after its founder’s death in 1957. Largely drawn from the breathtaking holdings of the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, the exhibition also features some items from my own collection, including the iconic, gender-bending pin-striped pantsuit from Spring 1968. It is always thrilling to see the pieces come to life in the context of a thoughtfully curated show such as this.
Some upbeat wonders from Saint Laurent’s legendary Rive Gauche ready-to-wear collections were supplied by Anouschka, whose own Paris-based reference library of 20th-century fashion is a go-to resource for many of today’s most cutting-edge designers. Anouschka, a striking former model, worked a dramatic wardrobe of Rive Gauche pieces herself throughout the weekend festivities, proving how enduringly stylish they really are. Those events included the SAM gala, as well as visits to some remarkable private art collections in Seattle, a city rich in cultural philanthropists. Imagine my excitement walking into the home study of a stylish Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired house on the water and discovering a Robert Rauschenberg valentine to Jasper Johns on one wall and Edward Hopper’s iconic Chop Suey (1929) on another. Or another house brimming with furniture by the great French Empire maker Bellanger, and the enchanting genre scenes of the little-known later-18th- and early-19th-century artist Martin Drolling, of whom I am now an even greater fan.
Seattle adventures continued at the Chihuly Boathouse—the waterfront glassblowing establishment and showplace of glass artist extraordinaire Dale Chihuly—which showcases not only his whimsical, fantastical work, but also his own collections of early-20th-century collectibles, including children’s toys, string dispensers, vampy LP record covers, Pendleton blankets, and Native American basketwork. Somehow all these elements work in perfect complement to Chihuly’s highly colored creations. I was also able to take in the twinkling splendor of the cityscape after dark from the glamorous aerie of the dynamic SAM trustee Roberta Sherman.
Naturally, I fortified myself every morning with coffee from the original Starbucks, and was thus able to face days of architectural exploration. I was bedazzled by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus’s inspiring 2004 Seattle Central Library building and by the Seattle Art Museum’s independent Asian Art Museum, designed by Carl F. Gould in 1933, a triumph of optimistic American Art Deco, where even the pissoirs are the last word in chic. It was a giddy introduction to a fascinating city.
Yves Saint Laurent’s Fall 1966 Pop Art dresses on view at the Seattle Art Museum’s “Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style” show.
A teenage Yves Saint Laurent’s invitation to a fashion show.
A piece from Hamish's own collection on view: Yves Saint Laurent’s pin-striped suit from 1968.
Yves Saint Laurent’s sketches for his Spring 1976 Couture show.