Invited to discover the Complete Work of Yves Saint Laurent, one feels admiration and fear. How could it be otherwise? He is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, fashion designers of the 20th century. Both the legendary figure and his work loom before us. Both tower above us, commanding respect. The purpose of this publication is to show the genesis of these eighty-one haute couture collections.
In the beginning, there was nothing - nothing but a 32x12.2 cm sheet of Canson drawing paper and a 2B Staedtler pencil. Then came the drawing, that ill-appreciated and little-known thing called “fashion drawing”.
The fact of the matter is, fashion drawing is not something that is taught at fine arts school, even though drawing is an artist’s “daily prayer” as Delacroix saw it. Fashion drawing was born not so long ago. While it might bend the rules, it is all the more effective in seizing the essence of the subject. A fashion drawing, like a snapshot, fixes a movement to a thousandth of second, suspends motion, captures an expression.
A good fashion drawing is one that shows fabric and cut in an unmistakable way: velvet is not drawn like chiffon, nor bias like the straight grain; and if I say that Yves Saint Laurent had a unique, incomparable gift, if I boldly affirm this with no fear of contradiction, it is because he mastered all these qualities. In the drawing of a dress, there is a whole life already.
After being sorted and selected, these drawings were given to the workroom supervisors, who made up the “toiles”. A “toile” is the reproduction of the drawing made up with white cotton fabric. It served to show the volumes and cut, the direction of the material, cut on the straight grain or along the bias - or else a faux sens, as Balenciaga liked them, that is, neither bias nor straight grain.
Then it was time for the material. On the master’s orders, cuttings and cuts of fabric were unrolled before him until the choice was made. For this a living model sometimes posed for hours in front of a mirror. This stage was, understandably, decisive. The fate of a garment was often played out at this point, in the choice of a material, or color. Once the fabric was selected, it went to the workroom, and was cut; this was the work of the head of the atelier, and he or she would leave it to no other. The pieces of fabric were pinned together and given to a seamstress for sewing - but not to any seamstress; a “première main qualifiée”, who was often assisted by a “seconde main” called an “associée”.
Then came the first fitting day. The head of the atelier paraded a model wearing the dress or suit or coat. I have seen many clothes fail this examination. Fortunately, it usually went quite well. After various remarks and suggestions the garment was returned to the workroom, from whence it returned for a second fitting followed by a third, and sometimes a fourth, until it was deemed perfect.
Afterward it was the turn of the jewelry, hats, shoes, gloves, hair style, and everything that makes the difference between a haute couture design and another.
When a design was accepted, it was transferred to a piece of bristol board. At Yves Saint Laurent, it was the designer himself who drew the design. A fabric sample was attached, and various items noted: the name of the model who wore it, the name of the atelier, and, where appropriate, additional information such as the name of the embroiderer, the leatherworker, or the plumassier (feather maker).
These are the production boards that make up this publication. Looking at them you enter into the genesis of the creative process, you get as close as you possibly could to each of Saint Laurent’s moves, you follow each step of his work. You see the garment as it was shown for the first time, as it was designed, and worn.
The stroke of the pen is visibly swift, sure, and precise. These drawings prove that Yves Saint Laurent was not only the great couturier as we know him but also a dazzlingly gifted fashion draftsman.
Artistic creation, we know, is fragile. Fashion is even more so because it is ephemeral. The only work we usually see is the finished, presented design. This publication enables us to follow its creation, and discover how a simple sketch can become reality. And beauty.
Yves Saint Laurent, 1964
© Maurice Hogenboom