With the unshakeable conviction of the truly talented, the young Yves always believed he would be famous. After blowing out the candles at his 9th birthday, he told his family that his name would be written in letters of gold on the Champs-Elysées.
On another occasion, he slipped a piece of paper under the door of his sisters' bedroom. He had carefully written out a bill from an imaginary couture house:
Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent, Haute Couture, Place Vendôme
Première note des commandes de Madame de Henlé
The young Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent saw a production of Molière's The School for Wives, starring Louis Jouvet, with set design by Christian Bérard. The experience triggered a passion for theater that he has never left him.
The Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation has acquired some of the costumes of this legendary production.
I immediately understood that I had experienced a work of genius and whatever I have seen since, nothing has equalled it.
- Yves Saint Laurent interrogé par G. Y. Dryansky en 1982
The young Yves Mathieu-Saint-Laurent was fascinated by theater. One of his heroes was Christian Bérard, a master of set design and costumes. Yves Saint Laurent built a model theater and sketched costumes for imaginary productions in order to practice these disciplines.
At the age of 18 in La Rochelle, I decided to leave my family. The day I arrived in Paris, I went for a walk on the Champs-Elysées when suddenly I saw a man go through a French window, fall through the air, grab at a store sign and crash at my feet. He was bleeding profusely. An ambulance arrived and took him to Marmottan hospital. The next day, I discovered in the newspapers that it had been Jacques Prévert. I have always considered it an omen that the same day I got to Paris, a poet fell on my head.
- Pierre Bergé
L'américain Garry Davis, 'premier Citoyen du Monde', comparaît devant le tribunal correctionnel pour 'infraction à la législation sur les étrangers', le 4 octobre 1949 à Paris. A gauche on reconnaît Pierre Bergé, membre du comité Citoyen du Monde / Garry
Pierre Bergé developed an interest in politics and joined a movement for peace led by Garry Davis.
Davis had gained notoriety by publicly renouncing his American citizenship in 1948.
Pierre bergé was arrested during a demonstration and shared a jail cell with Albert Camus. The next morning, they had breakfast together at the Brasserie du Coq.
Pierre Bergé founded a political paper, La Patrie Mondiale, to which writers like Camus, Cocteau, Giono, and Breton contributed.
Yves Saint Laurent explored and perfected his artistic style. He dabbled in poetry, illustrated Madame Bovary - a breast tantalizingly bared - and wrote a book, L'Amour, in which one of the illustrations is entitled 'You will be a Don Juan.'
Tu auras bien des maîtresses
Dont tu goûteras les caresses
Puis un jour elles t'abandonneront
Et ce sera d'autres qui t'aimeront
Ne sois jamais l'amant de femmes mariées
L'adultère est toujours vilain...
Tu chercheras les lèvres carmin
Des femmes brunes ou blondes
Il n'en manque pas dans ce monde
- Yves Saint Laurent in “Pourquoi parler d'amour”
He was constantly mocked by his classmates who perceived his homosexuality.
In 1954, a 17-year-old Yves Saint Laurent began corresponding with Vogue magazine director, Michel de Brunhoff, whom he had met the previous year when visiting Paris. The exchange of letters show a talented and ambitious young man caught up in the uncertainties and fragility of his youth and an established figure of French fashion who generously seeks to help him.
The full correspondence is available on this page's gallery. Here are two excerpts:
Dear Sir, I was very interested by your sketches, and I can only repeat what I told you during your visit to Paris, that you are undoubtedly gifted for fashion. I marked with a cross the drawings that I considered the most successful. If I were you, I would use this year during which you will be at the mercy of your baccalaureate, to work as much as possible from real models, not just drawing fashion figures, but also landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. I am worried that the gifts you have may incite you not to work sufficiently on your drawing skills. I see that you are still influenced by Bérard. All the better. He was an old friend and you could not have chosen a better master. I have to say that he worked very hard on his drawing skills and the few magnificent portraits which he has left us make us regret that he concentrated solely on set design, costumes and fashion towards the end of his life.[...]
- Letter from Michel de Brunhoff, the editor of Vogue, to Yves Saint Laurent, 24 February 1954
Dear Sir, I am sorry I did not respond earlier, but I preferred to wait for the results of my exams before doing so. As I had hoped, the grades are very decent and I will be moving to Paris in the beginning of autumn. My projects are perhaps too broad. Like Bérard, I would like to be involved in several fields, which in reality are related: costumes and set design, decoration, illustration. I am also very attracted to the world of fashion. My career choice will come from opportunities derived from one or another of my capabilities. Whatever happens, do you still think that I should start at the couture school of the Chambre Syndicale? If you think otherwise, I would be happy to receive your views. As you advised, I am painting a great deal, but I'm also continuing to draw set designs and costumes as well as dresses which I will send to you soon. [...]
- Letter from Yves Saint Laurent to Michel de Brunhoff, 1954
Yves Saint Laurent draws cartoons to amuse his friends at Dior. Their favorite is a nasty little girl called Lulu (she would appear in a book, La Vilaine Lulu, in 1967). Dior himself regularly asked for the latest installment in Lulu's adventures.
Pierre Bergé and YSL are photographed at Christian Dior's funeral, the two men do not know each other yet.
Pierre Bergé would later write: “I have always considered our being photographed together unawares as an omen. If either of us had been told what our lives were to become, we would not have believed it.”