History before 1962
Pierre Bergé was born on 14 November 1930 in Ile d'Oléron. His mother was a teacher and his father a tax inspector. After a short stay in Lisieux, Normandy, the family moved to La Rochelle, where Pierre attended high school. A serious student, he was passionate about literature and politics. His parents hoped he would attend one of France's top universities, but a few weeks before obtaining his baccalaureate, Pierre dropped out of school to devote himself to a literary career.
His encounters with Jean Giono and Jean Cocteau would leave a significant mark on him. He remained their friend until their deaths and he retains the droit moral covering all of Cocteau's work.
Our world then was Oran, not Paris. Not Algiers, Camus’ metaphysical city of white truths, nor Marrakesh with its benevolent pink magic. Oran, a cosmopolis of trading people from all over, and mostly from elsewhere, a town glittering in a patchwork of all colours under the sedate North African sun. It was a good place to be well off, and we were well off. My summers swept by as if mounted on clouds, at a villa on a beach, where my relatives and friends with similar roots formed an enclave. My father, who owned an insurance business and who was also involved in a few movie productions, was descended from Alsatians who had left Colmar, France, when the Germans took it in I870. Lawyers, judges, notaries, they had worn the robe of public office. One of my ancestors wrote the marriage contract between Napoleon and Josephine and was made a baron for it. In our baggage there had been a certain civilization and an uprooted prestige. Like colonials elsewhere, like provincials, we maintained a lot of ties to our civilization. There were many lovely dinner parties at our comfortable house in town, and I can still see my mother, about to leave for a ball, come to kiss me goodnight, wearing a long dress of white tulle with pear-shaped white sequins.
- Yves Saint Laurent, 1983
A few months before graduating, Pierre Bergé leaves high school and goes to Paris. He moves into an apartment in the République neighborhood and starts selling second-hand books. In an interview with American Vogue in 1980, he says, “I didn't want to get caught up in the system. I'd decided that I wanted to become a writer or a journalist. So I went to Paris to get on with it.”
Yves Saint Laurent becomes increasingly interested in Parisian fashion. He copies garment models in his mothers' magazines, before sketching his personal creations.
Just after his 17th birthday, Yves Saint Laurent saw an advertisement in Paris-Match magazine for the Wool Secretariat's annual competition, whose judges included famous couturiers like Balmain and Dior. He sent three sketches: a dress, a suit, and a coat.
He went on to win third prize in the dress category.
Accompanied by his mother, he visited Paris for the first time to claim his prize. He met Vogue magazine's director, Michel de Brunhoff, who was to have a decisive influence on his life.
De Brunhoff exhorted Yves Saint Laurent to obtain his baccalaureate before entering the world of fashion.
Yves Saint Laurent attends courses at the Chambre syndicale de la haute couture for three months.
Yves Saint Laurent wins again at the Wool Secretariat's annual competition: first and third prizes in the dress category.
The design which is awarded first prize - a black crepe cocktail dress - is later made in Hubert de Givenchy's ateliers.
The same year, Karl Lagerfeld, 21, obtains the first prize in the coat category.
Le jurydu concours du Secrétariat de la laine. Michel de Brunhoff est debout en costume sombre, Christian Dior assis à l'extrème droite / The jury of the Wool Secretariat competition. Michel de Brunhoff is standing in dark suit, Christian Dior is sitting
Yves Saint Laurent had signed up for fashion courses, much to the consternation of his father Charles who had hoped Yves would become a lawyer. But Yves was fast becoming bored with his courses and was thinking of leaving the Chambre Syndicale school.
Charles asks Vogue director, Michel de Brunhoff, to intervene.
Yves visits Brunhoff with new drawings that amazingly resemble the “A” collection that Christian Dior is secretly preparing.
Brunhoff immediately calls Dior and asks his friend to meet Yves before going on vacation.
Yves Saint Laurent began working for Christian Dior as an assistant designer who had not even finished his Chambre syndicale course.
One of his first assignments was to decorate the shop.
His two best friends at Dior were Anne-Marie Muñoz and the famous model Victoire. Yves Saint Laurent: “There was laughter all the time. Our studio was just above Monsieur Dior’s office. He’d hear us and sigh. èWhat are you up to again ? I wish I could join in.’”
Christian Dior exercised strong authority which Yves Saint Laurent admired. “On the surface he appeared to be gentle and slightly fragile, but underneath he had tremendous strength,” said Munoz of Dior.
Interestingly, Yves Saint Laurent is often described in the same way.
Yves Saint Laurent moved on to designing accessories for licensees and garments for the couture collections.
One of his earliest designs was photographed by Richard Avedon during the 'Dovima with Elephants' shoot in the Medrano Circus, Paris, in 1955.
He would return to his hometown of Oran, Algeria for a few weeks before each show and work at his old school desk.
The trips would be extremely productive, Anne-Marie Munoz recalling that he showed her a suitcase full of sketches after such a trip when they were in a café.
Christian Dior was increasingly weary and nervous with his growing success. Yves Saint Laurent contributed more and more designs to the collections. In 1957's Autumn collection, he had 35 designs.
Christian Dior told Yves' mother, Lucienne : “Yves will be my successor.”
Several days later, he died of a heart attack in a spa in Montecatini, Italy.
Upon Christian Dior's death, the textile magnate Marcel Broussac considered closing down the fashion house. But the license-holders came to Paris and convinced the general manager, Jacques Rouët, to urge Broussac to reconsider. On 15 November 1957 at a press conference at the fashion house's Avenue Montaigne headquarters, Rouët declared that Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent would be in charge of all designs at the House of Dior.
When Christian Dior died, the chance to create my own collections pushed me to set aside my projects to work in the theater. At the age of 21, I entered a kind of fortress of celebrity that was to become the trap of my life. My love for the theater would never leave me, but in the mean time, Dior had taught me to love something other than fashion and design: the fundamental nobility of the couturier's profession. I believe that a creator who is not also a couturier, and has not learned the most subtle secrets of the actual creation of his models, is like a sculptor who gives his sketches to another, an artisan, who realizes them. For him, the truncated creative processwill always appear as an interrupted act of love, and his style will always bear a brittleness and paucity.
- Yves Saint Laurent, 1983
Yves Saint Laurent leaves for Oran with nine weeks to go to the next show: 'I prepared for that collection in a complete state of elation. I knew I was going to be famous.'
Yves Saint Laurent had already introduced the softer 'chemise' look under Dior. For the first collection he decided to go halfway between the formal Dior look and a more comfortable design. A frenzy of anticipation was building in Paris and by the time the day of the show arrived - 30 January 1958 - the salon was jampacked.
Cars blocked the street and bystanders stared at the arriving celebrities. The Trapèze line is a sensation. 'An American fashion editor sitting in front of me rose to her feet with tears in her eyes. There were two French women next to me also crying. One turned to the other and said, “my dear, France is saved. It’s Joan of Arc.”
- Marie-José Lepicard
Yves Saint Laurent went to a balcony over Avenue Montaigne where his photo was taken with people cheering him from the street below. Photographers perched on the other balconies to take shots.
The New York Times: "Today’s collection has made a French national hero out of Dior’s successor, Yves Saint Laurent and comfortably assures the future of the house Dior built."
The Herald Tribune: "It seemed impossible that Dior himself wasn’t coming out at the end... Everybody was crying. It was the emotional fashion binge of all time."
Though the two men had been present at Christian Dior's funeral the previous year, they had never formally met.
After a brief handshake at the Trapèze show, the two men attended a dinner organized by Marie-Louise Bousquet, French representative of Harper's Bazaar.
Pierre Bergé was managing the career of Bernard Buffet at the time.
Yves Saint Laurent created six collections at Dior, including lower hemlines (1958), raised skirts (1959), black jackets and the Beat Look (1960).
France was embroiled in the Algerian War when Yves Saint Laurent was drafted into the army. He suffered from a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized at Val-de-Grâce military hospital.
The French press accused Saint Laurent of being an elitist who was avoiding the same responsibilities that many of his generation had accepted.Dior replaced him with the couturier Marc Bohan.
Yves Saint Laurent would later successfully sue Dior for breaching his employment contract. Pierre Bergé waged a one-man campaign to have Yves Saint Laurent released from hospital.
During a visit to his bedside, he and Saint Laurent decided to start their own couture house.
Discover the image gallery of this wonderful tale's first moments. It begins Rue Spontini and today, the Foundation explores its history...