Saint Laurent at work in his studio, 1976. Photo: © Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent, Paris/Guy Marineau.
Soggy Seattle sits about five thousand miles away from Paris, the City of Light, a distance that will be temporarily bridged with the opening of “Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style,” at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). The exhibit, curated by Florence Müller with SAM’s Chiyo Ishikawa, spans the designer’s nearly 50-year career and features pieces from the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, including some new, never-seen-before acquisitions. One can’t help but feel the choice of setting is particularly apt: Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, a trend that initially seemed like a blip on the fashion radar, but which has come to define Postmodernism in dress. (During his tenure at Yves Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane riffed on the grunge look more than once.) In contrast, Saint Laurent, who Vogue dubbed, “the genius of style,” is credited with making fashion modern. This the designer did in aesthetic and structural ways. An early proponent of ready-to-wear, he launched his Rive Gauche line in 1966, six years after being shown the door at Dior for designing a trickle-up collection inspired by Left Bank Beat street culture that included a mink-lined crocodile jacket (which arguably inspired the moto toppers Maria Grazia Chiuri just showed at Dior).
Though Saint Laurent grew increasingly reclusive with age, through the 1980s his finger seemed to be on the pulse, and he never shied away from controversy, whether he was translating art into fashion or putting women in pantsuits, tuxedos, transparent shirts, and body jewelry signed,“Lalanne.” As Saint Laurent pushed fashion forward, he drew women closer. He did so by keeping them always in his line of sight, a lesson that designers in these selfie-rich, social-media-obsessed days could learn from. “If one tries to impose one’s own interests ahead of those of women, one’s own fantasies, one ends up with disguises,” Saint Laurent told Vogue in 1983. “It means keeping a little distance from the thing you create, pushing it toward others, toward the woman.”
“Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style” is on view at the Seattle Art Museum through January 8, 2017, after which it will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
(L) Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior Haute Couture Elephant blanc short trapeze evening dress, Spring 1958. (R) Power dressing from the designer’s Spring 1985 Haute Couture collection.
Rive Gauche evening ensemble, Fall 1977.
(L) Evening ensemble, Spring 1981 Haute Couture. (R) Evening ensemble, Fall 1979 Haute Couture.
(L) Susan Moncur in Saint Laurent’s homage to Piet Mondrian cocktail dress, Fall 1965 Haute Couture. (R) YSL’s “First” pantsuit, Spring 1967 Haute Couture.