Yves Saint Laurent was born on 1st August 1936 in Oran, Algeria, where he spent all his youth.
In 1955, after a period at the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture in Paris, Yves Saint Laurent was introduced by Michel de Brunhoff, then director of Paris Vogue, to Christian Dior, who immediately took him on as his assistant. When Dior died in 1957, Yves Saint Laurent become artistic director of the House of Dior. His first collection, the «Trapèze» collection, presented in January 1958, was an immense success. Called up to do his military service and hospitalised at the Val de Grâce, he was dismissed by the House of Dior in 1960.
In association with Pierre Bergé, whom he had met in 1958, Yves Saint Laurent decided to create his own couture house and his first collection was presented on 29th January 1962 at 30 bis rue Spontini in Paris. They remained there for 12 years during which Yves Saint Laurent invented the modern woman’s wardrobe: the pea-jacket and trenchcoat in 1962, the first tuxedo in 1966, the safari jacket and the first trouser suit in 1967, the first transparent effects and the first jumpsuit in 1968… By making use of male dress codes, he brought women self-assurance, audacity and power whilst preserving their femininity. Wishing to dress all women, not only rich haute couture clients, Yves Saint Laurent opened his Saint Laurent rive gauche boutique in 1966 in Paris, the first ready-to-wear boutique to bear a couturier’s name, thus paving the way to what has today become the fashion world.
From the end of the 1950s and throughout his career Yves Saint Laurent created costumes for theatre, ballet and cinema. He collaborated with Roland Petit, Claude Régy, Jean-Louis Barrault, Luis Buñuel, François Truffaut... and dressed Jean Marais, Zizi Jeanmaire, Arletty, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Adjani and Catherine Deneuve, who became a long-standing close friend.
In 1974, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé moved the couture house to 5, avenue Marceau in Paris, where Yves Saint Laurent would assert his style.
As early as 1965 Yves Saint Laurent paid tribute to artists in his haute couture collections with the famous Mondrian dresses, then in 1966 with the pop art dresses and in 1967 with his major homage to Africa. In the 1970s he presented his Picasso and Diaghilev collections and tributes to Matisse, Cocteau, Braque, Van Gogh, Apollinaire in the 1980s.
Yves Saint Laurent would travel to Marrakech for a fortnight on 1st December and 1st June of each year in order to design his haute couture collections. Morocco, a country he discovered in 1966, was to have a major influence on his work and his colours, as did all his imaginary travels: Japan, India, Russia, China and Spain all provided sources of inspiration for his collections.
In 1983 the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted a retrospective exhibition to the couturier. It was the first time that a living fashion designer had received such an accolade there. Large-scale exhibitions were subsequently held in Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo and, of course, Paris, at the musée des Arts de la mode, in 1986.
In 1998 Yves Saint Laurent presented 300 models on the pitch of the Stade de France on the occasion of the World Cup.
On 7th January 2002 he announced at a press conference that he was ending his career. On 22nd January of the same year, at the Centre Georges-Pompidou, a retrospective show went back over 40 years of creation with over 300 models including his last Spring-Summer 2002 collection.
From then on Yves Saint Laurent devoted his energy to the activities of the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, which was state-approved on 5th December 2002. Its mission is to conserve 5,000 haute couture garments and 150,000 accessories, sketches and other objects making up the collection, to organise thematic exhibitions on fashion, painting, photography, the decorative arts, etc., and to support cultural and educational activities.
On 10th March 2004, the Foundation opened to the public with an exhibition entitled Yves Saint Laurent, Dialogue avec l’Art, which then travelled to the Caixa Galicia Foundation in Spain in 2007. The Yves Saint Laurent Style retrospective was presented in 2008 at the Fine Arts Museum of Montreal, and then at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.
On 1st June 2008, Yves Saint Laurent passed away at his Paris home in his seventy second year.
In 2010 the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent organised a major retrospective of Yves Saint Laurent’s work at the Petit Palais in Paris. This exhibition which would subsequently travel throughout the world.
To download Yves Saint Laurent's landmarks, click here.
Yves Saint Laurent, 1964
© Maurice Hogenboom